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The Warsaw Voice » Travel » April 25, 2013
Rural tourism
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Appeal of Wielkopolska Province
April 25, 2013   
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The Wielkopolska region in western Poland boasts a diversity of natural beauty as well as many places of historic interest, some of which date back to the earliest days of Poland’s history as a state. With so many assets drawing visitors, Wielkopolska is a perfect setting for the rural tourism business.

Wielkopolska province is located on lowlands in the basins of three major rivers: the Warta, the Noteć and the Prosna. Abundant in lakes, forests and hills, the scenic region is the right combination for those who like active forms of relaxation. Tourists with interest in the cultural heritage of Poland come to Wielkopolska to see numerous sites dating back to the earliest days of Christianity in Poland and the beginnings of the Polish state. Some buildings in Wielkopolska date back as far as the 10th and 11th centuries. Other highlights include castles, palaces and charming cities where history is around every corner. Other than the region’s principal city of Poznań, many places of special interest can be found along the Piastowski Trail, named after the Piast Dynasty, Poland’s first rulers. This tourist route passes through Gniezno, one of the oldest cities in Poland which is inseparably linked to the country’s history and culture. The first three kings of Poland were crowned here.

The next highly recommended stop on the Piastowski Trail is the village of Biskupin, famous for archeological excavations that revealed remnants of a fortified settlement from 747-722 B.C., which has been reconstructed on the site.

The forests and lakes of Wielkopolska are regarded as some of the most beautiful in Poland. Vast areas in the province have been designated as scenic parks and nature reserves, including the Zielonka and Notecka forests, the Buki (Beeches) Nature Reserve on Lake Lutomskie and the Międzychód-Sieraków Lake District, nicknamed the Land of 100 Lakes, where the water is clean and teems with fish. Wielkopolska also has plenty of natural monuments, such as the famous Oaks of Rogalin which are named Lech, Czech and Rus after three brothers who, as legend has it, founded the three Slavic states of Poland, Bohemia and Russia.

Natural beauty, archeological sites and historic architecture, including palaces, castles and manor houses in the countryside, make Wielkopolska an attractive destination for enthusiasts of rural tourism. Farms with accommodation for tourists promote the region’s natural beauty and rich history along with the cultural heritage of rural Wielkopolska with its local traditions, cuisine and dialect.

More farm stays

At the end of last year, the Wielkopolska Center for Agricultural Consulting in Poznań conducted a survey on rural tourism, finding that the province had 693 rural tourism farms with 8,271 beds. In 2011, the figures stood at 614 and 7,276, respectively, an indication there is room for more and the rural tourism sector in Wielkopolska province could continue to grow.

The development and promotion of rural tourism in Wielkopolska is supported by several organizations and associations of rural tourism farms, including the Wielkopolska Agritourism and Rural Tourism Association, the “Krajna” Association of Agritourism Farms of Northern Wielkopolska in Złotów, the Association of Agritourism Farms of Nowy Tomyśl County, the Association of Family-Oriented Agritourism Farms in the Warta and Pilica River Basin, the Eastern Wielkopolska Association of Agritourism Farms, the Agritourism Association of Kobyla Góra District and the Szamotuły Agritourism Association. The organizations define accommodation and food standards for farms, conduct inspections and assist members in preparing facilities for guests through consulting, training and sharing expertise.

The Tourism Development Strategy for Wielkopolska Province, a document prepared for the province council by a team at the Pozńan School of Economics, identifies conditions that favor rural tourism, taking into account criteria such as the type and intensity of agriculture in a given area, distances to major cities and the extent to which natural landscape has been transformed by human activity. According to the document, appropriate criteria are met by the counties of Czarnków-Trzcianka, Międzychód, Wolsztyn, Złotów, Chodzież, Gniezno, Grodzisk Wielkopolski, Kościan, Leszno, Nowy Tomyśl, Oborniki, Ostrzeszów, Piła, Rawicz, Słupca, Szamotuły, Śrem and Wągrowiec.

In order to assess opportunities for rural tourism to further develop in Poland, the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development has commissioned the Polish Tourism Development Agency to compile an “Expert Analysis of the Potential of Rural Tourism Products in Poland and their Competitiveness on the Regional, National and Foreign Markets for Tourist Services.” According to the document, rural areas in Wielkopolska province have a vast potential that is yet to be discovered. Experts from the Polish Tourism Development Agency believe that rural tourism in Wielkopolska should be primarily focused on the region’s natural beauty.

“Greatest hits”

Wielkopolska province is home to highly recommended rural tourism farms with inventive products and activities for guests. Three such products have been put on the “Greatest Hits of Rural Tourism” list compiled by the Polish Tourism Development Agency.

The first is the Stara Chata u Kowala (Blacksmith’s Old Cottage) farm in Kluczewo, which offers visitors with a rich educational program. It is particularly popular as a field trip destination among schools in both Wielkopolska province and other regions. Schools can choose from several activity packages whose common theme is “See What Life Looks Like in the Countryside” and which last three to four hours each. The farmers teach students about how farm animals are bred and looked after, what they eat, where they are kept and so on. The visits include a tour of a 100-year-old cabin with traditional Polish furnishings. Children are interested in watching farm chores such as spinning wool and making cheese and butter. In the local smithy, they are fascinated to see how a blacksmith turns a piece of metal into a horseshoe.

The second “greatest hit” of rural tourism in Wielkopolska is the Karczma Kaliska (Kalisz Inn) recreational area with almost two hectares in size and whose main attraction is a cluster of wooden buildings. They include an inn, a granary, a smithy, a homestead and buildings where visitors can watch staff performing traditional jobs and making food using traditional cooking methods. The Karczma Kaliska also has an activity program during which children and adolescents can learn some history.

The third product to be acknowledged by the Polish Tourism Development Agency is a palace-and-park complex in Baborówko near Szamotuły, part of a 600-hectare rural tourism farm. Apartments for guests are housed in the palace outbuilding and farm buildings. The local attractions include the experience of a working farm, horse riding, trips to a nearby lake, campfire parties and bicycle trips along local tourist trails. If they choose to, guests can prepare their own meals in a kitchenette and hold social meetings and celebrations in an old smithy building with a fireplace. As a special treat, they can taste natural and organic cuisine and traditional fruit preserves.

Traditional cuisine and dishes

Culinary traditions can say a lot about the history and culture of a region, which is why tourist are always encouraged to try regional specialties. The safest bet to try genuine Wielkopolska cuisine is via restaurants, taverns and rural tourism farms bearing the logo of the Wielkopolska Culinary Heritage Network.

The Wielkopolska region takes pride in its distinctive cuisine and a range of unique, traditional food products. The Agriculture Ministry’s list of traditional and regional products features 86 specialties from Wielkopolska. Several of those are protected by EU law, that is, they have been granted the Protected Designation of Origin, Protected Geographical Indication and Traditional Specialty Guaranteed labels by the European Commission. The products include the rogal świętomarciński crescent-shaped sweet bun, the Wielkopolska fried cheese, wafers from Kalisz and camelina oil, a traditional regional oil high in Omega-3.

Probably the most famous specialty of Wielkopolska consists of dishes made from potatoes, or pyry, as the locals call them (potatoes are ziemniaki in standard Polish). The dishes include different kinds of potato soup, potato pancakes, potato dumplings filled with meat or served with gravy and even bread made from potatoes. Wielkopolska is also well known for its meat and dairy products. One of the most famous local dishes, gzik, is finely ground cottage cheese, made from cow milk, mixed with sour cream, green onions, radishes or onions and a pinch of salt and pepper. It is usually served with jacket potatoes as pyry z gzikiem. The locals also like goat cottage cheese from the village of Witoldzin, made of fresh and warm goat milk subjected to a traditional souring process.

Wielkopolska is famous for delicious sausages, especially Polish smoked sausage, steamed white sausage, juniper flavored sausage and other varieties originating from different towns and villages. As similar as they all might seem, each sausage is different thanks to a unique, secret recipe and ingredients. Other Wielkopolska specialties include the czernina duck blood soup, the siemieniucha flaxseed soup with millet groats, and roast duck with apples.
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