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The Warsaw Voice » Special Sections » August 29, 2013
Rural Tourism
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Lower Silesia Province
August 29, 2013   
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Lower Silesia province in southwestern Poland is one of the country’s most popular tourist destinations with vibrant cities, a rich cultural life and renowned health resorts, but it also has the potential to develop a strong rural tourism sector.

Lower Silesia is located at the foot of the Sudety mountain range and borders Germany to the west and the Czech Republic to the south. Poland’s second longest river, the Oder, cuts right through the province, as do two intersecting, centuries-old trade routes leading from east to west and from north to south. Today, the historical routes play a key role in the transportation system of Europe. Regarded as one of the symbols of Lower Silesia, the Oder River links the region to seaports on the Baltic coast and, over a network of canals, to the entire waterway system in Europe. The main city of Lower Silesia is Wrocław, a major center for business, culture and education with a population of over 600,000.

Lower Silesia is a highly attractive region that each year draws thousands of Polish and foreign tourists keen to see its scenic landscapes and lush nature, learn the fascinating history of the region and take advantage of the local health resorts. Over the centuries, different cultures interacted and mixed in Lower Silesia, leaving behind a legacy of thousands of historic buildings, urban areas and other structures. These include well-preserved palaces and castles that account for a quarter of all palaces and castles in Poland. The most famous ones are located in the towns and villages of Książ, Bolków, Kamieniec Ząbkowicki, Sucha (Czocha) and Grodziec and atop Mount Chojnik. These are like a living history lesson for fans of medieval reenactments and people interested in architecture. Almost every palace and castle has its secrets and legends and are reputedly haunted by the ghosts of their former owners.

Lower Silesia is also home to many historic churches, shrines and monastic buildings, such as magnificent abbeys and monasteries left behind by the Cistercian monks who came to live in Lower Silesia in the 12th century. The sites include the abbeys in Krzeszów and Henryków and Europe’s largest former monastery complex in Lubiąż. Gems of the region include the Churches of Peace in Świdnica and Jawor, both listed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites. A highlight of the town of Kłodzko is the unique Vang stave church, brought to Lower Silesia from Norway in the 19th century as a well-preserved testimony to Medieval Viking culture. Visitors to Lower Silesia like touring the renovated centers of local cities, including the Old Town and Ostrów Tumski (Cathedral Island) in Wrocław.

Lower Silesia is a perfect destination for any history lover, boasting sites such as the Kłodzko Fortress, built in the 17th and 18th centuries. Tourists like to explore the World War II-era underground Riese (Giant) compound in the Sowie Mountains whose purpose remains unclear to this day. According to the most popular hypotheses, the compound was designed either as Hitler’s secret headquarters or as an underground weapons factory. Its corridors have a total estimated length of 9 kilometers. Other increasingly popular tourist sites include the drift mines in Kowary, Złotoryja, Walim, Głuszyca and Nowa Ruda.

Lower Silesia has a lot to offer to nature lovers. For example, areas around the centuries-old fish ponds near Milicz and Przemków are a birdwatcher’s heaven with many rare bird species, most of them protected. Many are also delighted to tour the almost primeval Lower Silesia Wilderness and the varied landscape of the Kłodzko and Jelenia Góra valleys.

Many pristine, natural areas which survive in Lower Silesia are protected as national parks, scenic parks and nature reserves. Two national parks have been established in the Sudety Mountains, spanning the two most remarkable ranges: the Karkonosze and the Stołowe mountains. The region’s most popular scenic parks are Przemków and the Barycz Valley parks and ones located in the mountains, including the scenic parks of Chełmy, Rudawy, Mount Śnieżka, Sowie, Wałbrzych Sudety and Mount Ślęża.

Lower Silesia has since the Middle Ages been known for a rich variety of mineral waters that in the 18th and 19th centuries started drawing clients from across Europe to health resorts emerging in the area. Therapeutic waters from Lower Silesia are used in the treatment of rheumatism, neuralgia, cardiovascular problems, skin diseases and diseases of the digestive tract. The main health resorts of Lower Silesia include Kudowa-Zdrój, Polanica-Zdrój, Duszniki-Zdrój, Lądek-Zdrój, Cieplice-Zdrój, Świeradów and Czerniawa-Zdrój.

With a varied landscape and a pleasant climate, Lower Silesia encourages active forms of tourism and recreation such as airborne sports, canoeing, rock climbing, hiking and biking in the mountains, skiing and other winter sports.

Discovering the countryside
According to a study conducted by the Polish Tourism Development Agency, Lower Silesia is one of Poland’s most attractive regions in terms of its tourist appeal. Most people associate Lower Silesia with its main city of Wrocław, the local health resorts and recreation in the Sudety Mountains. Consequently, tourism services in Lower Silesia are based on cities, culture, business, recreation and health resorts, while rural tourism is regarded as a sector worth pursuing. The Tourism Development Program for Lower Silesia Province divides Lower Silesia into 13 subregions with clearly defined priorities for tourism development. Rural tourism is given priority in four of the sub-regions: the Trzebnica Hills with the Barycz Valley, Mount Ślęża, the East Oder River and the Sowie Mountains. Events, crafts and industries which the document classifies as “traditional” and “rural” while distinctly Lower Silesian include St. John’s Eve on Mount Ślęża, the World Goldpanning championships in Złotoryja, pottery from Bolesławiec and Wałbrzych, wine-making in Środa Śląska, brewing in Świdnica and Lwówek Śląski, weaving, cloth-making, handicrafts from Święta Katarzyna and the glassworks in Szklarska Poręba and Piechowice.

Visitors to Lower Silesia province can reconnect with nature and get a taste of rural life and local customs at over 630 farm stays. Several years ago, the province launched a successful project called Rural Revival in Lower Silesia in which rural tourism is seen as a way to encourage new forms of business, create new jobs, protect the environment and preserve the legacy of the past.

Similarly to other regions in Poland, rural tourism in Lower Silesia is supported by local enterprise groups which devise and introduce development strategies and are in charge of selecting projects eligible for grants. There are over 20 such enterprise groups across the province and in their tourism-related activities, they are assisted by the Lower Silesia Tourist Organization along with a host of local tourism organizations and associations.

Greatest hits of rural tourism
Two rural tourism products in Lower Silesia province have made it into the “Greatest Hits of Rural Tourism” list compiled by the Polish Tourism Development Agency. The first are the Milicz Ponds, located in what is one of the finest natural habitats in Poland and Europe. The ponds are a sanctuary and breeding ground for rare water bird species such as the Greylag goose, the black-necked and red-necked grebes, the western marsh harrier, the Eurasian bittern, the little crake and the ferruginous duck. More than 60,000 migrating birds come to the Milicz Ponds every year, making the place ideal for bird watchers. In an effort to reconcile tourists’ curiosity with efforts to protect the local environment and biodiversity, a number of lookouts for bird watchers have been built in the Barycz Valley, where the ponds are located. Other than birdwatching opportunities, the Milicz Ponds are known for fish farms dating back 800 years.

The other “greatest hit” of rural tourism in Lower Silesia is the Sudety Horse Riding Trail, which is one of the most difficult ones in Europe. Spanning 360 kilometers, it meanders amid the picturesque Sudety Mountains all the way from Karpacz to Lądek-Zdrój, cutting through the Stołowe Mountains National Park and the scenic parks of Śnieżnik, Rudawy and the Sowie Mountains. Steep and narrow paths covered by stones in mountainous sections are a challenge for both riders and horses and as such, the Sudety trail is more suitable for seasoned riders. The 360-kilometer distance can be covered in a week when divided into eight sections. Apart from offering spectacular views, each section has its own attractions appealing to fans of historic buildings (the distinct architecture of the Sudety area), World War II history buffs, nature lovers (the Stołowe Mountains National Park) and tourists in interested in churches and pilgrimages. Accommodation available on the way includes rural tourism farms where visitors can take the opportunity to explore the local folk culture and the cuisine of the Lower Silesia region.

Regional cuisine
The present-day Lower Silesia region was incorporated into Poland after World War II and a vast part of the local population were brought here from distant parts of prewar Poland. The new ethnic makeup changed the regional cuisine, which, several decades later, reflects the multicultural background of the local community.

The most distinctive Lower Silesia dishes include the keselica variety of the traditional żur sour soup, known since the 17th century. Keselica, usually prepared at Easter and Christmas, was brought to Lower Silesia by the Łemko people, who used to live in the southeastern borderlands of prewar Poland. The traditional recipe involves yeast-based leavening which, when ready, is put in lukewarm water together with oatmeal and wheat flour. After two days, the mixture is boiled with a pinch of salt, garlic, laurel leaves and caraway.

A favorite meal in the Wrocław area are Królewiec (Königsberg) meatballs which originated from the historical region of East Prussia. The golf-ball-sized meatballs are formed of minced meat, white bread, eggs and spices and then cooked in lightly salted water in a covered dish. The meatballs are served with a sauce prepared from flour and butter roux, capers, lemon juice, salt and pepper with cream and yolk added at the end.

Lower Silesians also like the tasty and healthy soup made from the spelt variety of wheat. Once very popular, spelt was since ancient times known to be valuable in the treatment of cardiovascular diseases and problems with the senses. Spelt for the soup is first soaked in vegetable broth for several hours, after which it is boiled in water with carrots, celeriac, fennel, salt, pepper, nutmeg, lemon juice, Worcester sauce and a bit of cream.

Well-known regional foods from Lower Silesia include sudecki cottage cheese, which since 1945 has been made in Kamienna Góra according to a traditional recipe. The cheese is used as the basis for several simple yet nutritious dishes, such as potatoes with cottage cheese and flaxseed oil, which used to be the favorite food of linen weavers from the Kamienna Góra neighborhood.

Regional specialties also include the gogołowicki bread, made by a family that three generations ago came to Lower Silesia from the eastern frontiers of prewar Poland and settled in the village of Gogołowice near Milicz. The bread is made from leavened dough and baked three times a week on cabbage and horseradish leaves in chamotte brick ovens fired with wood. The bread stays fresh for a long time and has a thick and crunchy crust.

Traditional foods from Lower Silesia also include meats and the best meat products come from the town of Niemcza. The signature Niemcza specialty is marinated fatback made according to a recipe which in 1945 was brought here from the Volhynia region in present-day Ukraine. The fatback is obtained only from young pigs fed on natural feed. It owes its distinct flavor to traditional methods employed at every production stage. Marinated and brined, the fatback does not require any additional preservatives. Niemcza is also famous for its galicjanka sausage, named after the historical region of Galicia in the southeastern part of Poland, where the recipe came from. The main ingredients are pork and a special blend of herbal spices which are mixed and then stuffed into animal intestines. The ends of the sausage are twisted and fixed with a wooden pin, after which the sausage is rinsed and carefully smoked in alder smoke to ensure a unique scent and flavor.

Although Poland is not known as a wine-making country, wine has actually been made in Lower Silesia since the Middle Ages. In the town of Środa Śląska, grapevine has been grown since 1216 and the town was famous for its wine for 200 years, a fact still reflected in the Środa Śląska coat of arms. The region’s wine-making tradition has been lately revisited by new vineyards near Środa Śląska which produce wine from grape varieties such as Chardonnay, Traminer, Sauvignon Black, Merlot and Zweigelt.
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