Trip Highlights:

Warsaw was site of one of the many tragedies of World War 2 –
the fighting ravaged this majestic and beautiful city and almost
the entire old historic centre disappeared under the barrage of
bombs. Within years of the end of the war, however, the
restoration effort started and for 14 years, from 1949 – 1963, a
massive reconstruction took place with workers sifting the rubble
to find any architectural fragments that could be put into the
renovations. Walking around the
Old Town Square, with its
elegant Renaissance, Baroque and Gothic buildings, it is hard to
imagine that fifty years ago; all that remained were the walls of
two houses. Today the square is alive with open-air cafes, art
stalls and street entertainment and is a fabulously atmospheric
place to while away an afternoon.


Miraculously, Krakow got through the war almost unscathed and
its magical
Old City has one of the best preserved medieval city
centres in Europe, with dozens of churches covering almost
every architectural period and surrounded by monasteries and


Walking around
Wawel hill, home to Poland’s rulers for more than
500 years, you get a real sense of Poland’s astonishing history
and as you jostle for space with local tourists, staring in
veneration at their national heritage, you start to get an idea of
the deep national pride that most Poles have. The first cathedral
to be built on this site was erected a thousand years ago and the
Polish rulers lived and were buried here from that time until the
capital moved to Warsaw at the end of the 16th Century.


Poland was once home to one of the most vibrant Jewish
communities in Europe but during the Second World War, the
vast majority of the Jewish population was shipped to one of the
Nazi ‘extermination camps’. Now known as Oswiecim,
was one of the largest camps and it is believed that between one
and two million people perished here during the early 1940s. The
camp has now been converted to a memorial and museum and
although a visit is inevitably traumatic, it is well worth journeying
out there to visit the poignant remains of this extermination camp.
It is estimated, that in total, this death factory eliminated some 1.5
million people of 27 nationalities, including 1.1 million jews,
10,000 Russians, 145,000 Poles and 20,000 Roma. It is now
considered to be the largest mass cemetery in the world.


The Wieliczka Salt Mine, located in southern Poland near the city
of Krakow, has been worked as a source of rock salt since the
late 13th century. Over the centuries, miners established a
tradition of carving religious sculptures out of the native rock salt
and as a result, the mine contains entire underground churches,
altars, bas relief’s, and dozens of life-size or larger
statues. The
largest of the chapels, the Chapel of the Blessed Kinga, is an
amazing sight, located 101 meters below the ground. It is over 50
meters long, 15 meters wide, 12 meters high, and has a volume
of 10,000 cubic meters. The mine itself features over 200 km of
underground passages, connecting more than 2000 excavation
chambers on 9 underground levels extending down to 327m
below the surface. It is no wonder that UNESCO have added this
to their list of World Heritage Sights.


Tatra Mountains, which straddle the border of Poland and
Slovakia, offer some of the most spectacular scenery in Europe
with tall spiky peaks, deep gorges, limestone towers, open ridges
and thickly forested slopes. The area is a hiker’s dream.
Zakopane provides a delightful base for some excellent hiking. At
1894 metres, Mt Gierwont is the most popular mountain top
climbed on foot in the Tatras and is the symbol of Zakopane


Torun is famous within Poland for three things. The first is that it
was the birthplace of the renowned astronomer
Copernicus; one
of Poland’s many distinguished ancestors, and you can still see
his house, which dates back to the 15th Century. The second is
its delightful old town, a rich jumble of sumptuous old buildings in
a range of architectural styles, painted in pastels and richly
decorated. The last is its reputation for the delicious local ginger
bread (piernik), which is mouthwatering and comes in a myriad of


In the early 13th century the Teutonic Order launched its first
crusade in the territories around present day Malbork in an
attempt to convert the local inhabitants to Christianity. A huge
castle was built to house the knights and this remains remarkably
well preserved still to this day. Situated on the edge of a river the
impressive brick
castle has had a number of functions in the
intervening centuries – as a royal ‘hotel’ during the 16th and 17th
century and as a prisoner of war camp during the second world
war. It is a now a museum and is a fascinating place to explore.


This ‘land of a thousand lakes’ is a sparsely populated area of
thick forest, countless lakes and rivers, rolling woodland and
traditional farmsteads. Although it is a popular summer
destination for Poles it is easy to escape the hordes and you can
spend wonderful days exploring some of the loveliest scenery in
Mikolajki, the most attractive town in the region, is
perched between two lakes with a wonderful harbour dotted with
boats. Travelling from Gizycko to Mikolajki by boat is a wonderful
way to see this truly stunning area.
Poland - June 2005