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The Warsaw Voice » Special Sections » June 27, 2013
Polska… tastes good!
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Rural Tourism: Świętokrzyskie Province
June 27, 2013   
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Rural tourism plays an important role in the Świętokrzyskie region, which offers an appealing mix of natural beauty and cultural attractions.

Located in the southern part of central Poland, Świętokrzyskie province boasts pristine nature, clean air, vast woodlands and varied landscapes dotted with rivers and lakes. The heart of the region are the Świętokrzyskie (Holy Cross) Mountains, which are one of the oldest mountain ranges in Europe. The peaks of Łysa Góra and Łysica are examples of a rare rock landform known as “stone run” and feature treeless slopes covered with rocks, boulders and stones. The Raj (Paradise) Cave, one of the region’s most famous sites, is lined with stunning stalactites, stalagmites and so-called cave pearls formed from Devonian limestone.

Świętokrzyskie province is home to nine scenic parks, 62 nature reserves and a number of protected areas with native flora and fauna. Thanks to growing environmental awareness and considerable funds spent on environmental protection, the local natural environment has been restored to what it was decades ago, resulting in the reappearance of rare plant and animal species such as the white-tailed eagle.

Alongside its natural beauty, Świętokrzyskie province is widely known for its historic sites and cities and towns with remarkable architecture. An architectural gem is the town of Sandomierz perched atop a hill overlooking the Vistula River. Its most notable buildings include the Kazimierzowski Castle and the Opatowska Gate, both dating back to the 14th century. The House of Długosz, built in the latter half of the 15th century, houses a museum with a valuable collection of art.

The town of Chęciny holds the ruins of a castle that was once used as a royal residence as well as a stronghold and prison. Meanwhile, the town of Jędrzejów boasts Europe’s second-largest clock museum and the oldest Cistercian monastery in Poland.

Some of the most significant historic buildings in Kielce, the key city in the region, include the Cathedral Basilica from 1171 and the Palace of Cracow Bishops, which is home to the Kielce National Museum with its extensive collection of arts and crafts and one of the largest collections of Polish painting.

Kielce also has one of the largest toy museums in Europe with a collection of more than 18,000 items.

Other towns in Świętokrzyskie province worth visiting for their architecture include Pińczów and Szydłów.

In several locations in the region, visitors can see well-preserved industrial machinery from decades and centuries ago. Tourists interested in the region’s folk traditions and customs should visit the Ethnography Park in the village of Tokarnia. Those with health issues will find a variety of modern spa facilities and treatments in the resorts of Solec-Zdrój and Busko-Zdrój.

Those with a preference for active forms of relaxation will find many bicycle and hiking trails across Świętokrzyskie province, and there are also numerous locations with sports facilities. Aquatic sports are particularly popular in the northern and eastern parts of the province, while the towns of Michałów, Borków and Kurozwęki are well known for their stables which offer horse-riding opportunities.

Nature, history and tradition

Świętokrzyskie province has vast and highly diversified tourism potential based on a combination of historic and cultural attractions, according to A Study of the Potential of Rural Tourism Products in Poland and Their Competitiveness on the Regional, National and International Markets for Tourist Services, a document compiled by the Polish Tourism Development Agency and commissioned by the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development.

Under the Strategy for the Development of Tourism in Świętokrzyskie Province in 2004-2016, rural tourism plays a crucial role in the region. It can be developed all over the province, but prime locations include the Świętokrzyskie Mountains, the Ponidzie area along the Nida River, areas along the Czarna Konecka and Czarna Staszowska rivers, and the counties of Włoszczowa and Starachowice.

The strategy says that the key attributes of Świętokrzyskie province in terms of rural tourism are its natural beauty, peace and quiet and the varied traditions of local farmers.

Many of the province’s most remarkable historic sites are in rural areas. Spending vacations at farms in the Świętokrzyskie region is just as popular as other forms of tourism centered on culture, health and recreation. Consequently, the Marketing Strategy for Poland’s Tourism Sector in 2012-2020 assigns top priority to rural tourism in the region.

Picturesque landscapes and bucolic nature are in a sense a reward for local farmers for having to cope with soils whose quality is lower than in the rest of Poland. Land cultivation as the sole means of making a living has been steadily declining and small, unprofitable farms are searching for new sources of income. Rural tourism is one of the most important ones and has, in fact, been a major success in the Świętokrzyskie Mountains and surrounding areas, with vacationing opportunities available at over 400 farms. Enterprising farmers in the area are aided by the Regional Tourism Organization and a number of local tourist organizations, including those based in Pińczów, Sandomierz, and Nowa Słupia, as well as the Lokalna Grupa Działania-Wokół Łysej Góry local action group and the Czym chata bogata (“Happy to Share”) organization. Assistance is also available from organizations specializing in rural tourism, such as the Śladków Rural Tourism Association and the Dolina Czarnej (Czarna Valley) Association.

“Greatest hits”

Świętokrzyskie province is home to a number of highly recommended rural tourism farms with inventive products and activities for guests. The best such products have been put on the “Greatest Hits of Rural Tourism” league table compiled by the Polish Tourism Development Agency.

One of the most inventive tourism products is the Polish Countryside Gallery at the Ostoja Dworska farm. A perfect place to embark on a motorcycle, bicycle and hiking expedition to the Świętokrzyskie Mountains, the farm offers its guests live demonstrations of folk culture, customs and rural traditions. Ostoja Dworska is located where the administrators of the historical Małogoszcz county used to have their once-famous residence. The oldest historical record of the place dates back to 1377. The farm preserves several natural and cultural relics of the past, including a traditional orchard with ancient fruit trees, a unique ring of 120-year-old linden trees and the ruins of historic farm buildings. Local tree-growing traditions are cultivated at Ostoja Dworska, as are folk crafts such as weaving and sewing.

Artists and rural art lovers can get together at the Szkoła Wrażliwości arts center in the village of Kapkazy, which is also home to a theater. Nearby are several other rural tourism farms. Along with accommodation, the center offers visitors a pottery gallery and a theater where theatrical productions, concerts and art exhibitions take place. The center also organizes pottery classes, theater workshops, art presentations and outdoor painting sessions.

Rural tourism highlights in Świętokrzyskie province continue with the Zbrodzice Vineyard near Busko-Zdrój. This is the largest Polish producer of wine made from grapes, selling its products under the label Herbowe. Between May and October, the vineyard rents suites to guests who can taste wine from selected vintages.

Near the town of Chęciny is the Gród (Stronghold) farm whose owners help tourists explore the local history. The main draw of the site are faithfully recreated medieval buildings, including a smithy with a large collection of old weapons such as falconets, bombards and fortress cannon. The display is completed with traditional weapon-making tools on display. There are rooms for guests and facilities to hold feasts and celebrations. Further attractions include a fish pond and barbecue, campfire and tent sites.

Traditional cuisine and dishes

Every local culture benefits from its culinary traditions based on products particularly popular in or unique to a given region. For centuries, the Świętokrzyskie region thrived on dishes made from potatoes, different kinds of flour and a variety of groats. Dairy products, fruits and vegetables were also popular, whereas meat was eaten far less frequently.

Probably the most distinctive Świętokrzyskie dish is the zalewajka świętokrzyska soup, a variation of the popular żur sour soup with diced potatoes, smoked bacon or sausage and diced onions. It is often served with sour cream and pork scratchings.

Consumers from Poland and abroad have grown to like many other traditional dishes from Świętokrzyskie province. The Agriculture Ministry’s list of traditional and regional products features 58 specialties from the region and several of those are also protected under EU law. Products with the EU’s Protected Geographical Indication include beans grown near the village of Nowy Korczyn in the Ponidzie area. Growing beans has been popular in Ponidzie for centuries, but the most famous local variety, piękny jaś, was not developed until several decades ago.

An EU certificate has been also granted to dried plums from Szydłów. Originally smoked on filbert sticks over campfires, the plums have since the 1950s been processed in special drying sheds where far more fruit can be dried at a time. The smoking method, however, remains unchanged. Wood for the smoking process comes from broadleaf trees, which gives the plums their distinctive smoky-sweet flavor.

The most famous meat products from Świętokrzyskie province come from the town of Wąchock, well known for its butchers and cold meats since before World War II. Recipes have been handed down for generations and the most famous cold meats include the wąchocka biała white sausage variety, the swojska wąchocka sausage, traditional smoked sirloin, and the local variety of ham.

Traditional Świętokrzyskie foods also include the chleb wiejski konecki farmhouse bread of Końskie, a favorite among bread connoisseurs. Until the mid-20th century, the bread was baked in special ovens found in most homes in the Końskie area. Small bakeries used the traditional recipe to bake bread which they sold or exchanged for other goods. Baking bread at home has since been mostly discontinued and only a handful of farmers still do so to keep the tradition alive. At some bakeries in Końskie county, the bread is still baked in the traditional way, in special brick ovens fired with hardwood.
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