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The Warsaw Voice » Special Sections » September 30, 2013
Rural Tourism
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Podkarpacie Province
September 30, 2013   
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Podkarpacie province in southeastern Poland has all it takes for rural tourism to develop, including lush nature and a varied landscape where numerous historic sites testify to the region’s multicultural past.

The province is where Poland borders on Ukraine to the east and Slovakia to the south. There are no large cities in Podkarpacie, except Rzeszów, the provincial capital with a population of 180,000. Podkarpacie does not have heavy industry, so there are no tall chimneys to pollute the air with plumes of smoke. As a result, the province is one of the cleanest regions in Poland, boasting clean rivers, creeks and pristine nature that has remained virtually intact for centuries. Woodlands cover around 35 percent of the province’s area.

Almost half of the province is made up of protected areas in the form of 10 scenic parks, around 100 nature reserves and 17 landscape protection areas. There are also 1,500-odd sites designated as natural monuments and the province is home to two national parks.

One of these, the Bieszczady National Park in the Bieszczady Mountains, is one of the largest and oldest national parks in Poland. In 1992, it became part of the Eastern Carpathians UNESCO biosphere reserve along with the Cisna-Wetlina and San Valley scenic parks. The Bieszczady National Park spans the tallest summits of the Bieszczady Mountains, including Tarnica, Krzemie, Halicz, Bukowe Berdo, Wielka Rawka, Rozsypaniec, Mała Rawka and the Caryńska and Wetlińska massifs.

The Magura National Park, in turn, is covered by vast forests with a prevalence of beech and fir trees. In terms of landscape and natural beauty, the Magura National Park represents the most distinctive features of the Lower Beskids mountain range in the southwestern part of the province.

The forests of Podkarpacie province, especially those in the Lower Beskids and Bieszczady Mountains, are inhabited by many rare mammals such as the brown bear, the European bison, and the Carpathian deer, in addition to beavers and wolves. Rare bird species found in the area include the golden eagle, the white-tailed eagle and the black stork. The Bieszczady Mountains area is also a natural habitat of the Aesculapian snake, which is an extremely rare species in Poland and the largest reptile living in the country. The Kołacznia reserve near the town of Leżajsk is, in turn, the only place in Poland where the yellow azalea plant grows naturally.

Podkarpacie is one of the least polluted regions in Poland and its waters are classified as the cleanest. The province has a wide variety of mineral water springs and a number of health resorts such as Iwonicz-Zdrój, Rymanów-Zdrój and Polańczyk. Vacationers coming to Podkarpacie are particularly fond of Lake Solińskie, the largest manmade reservoir in Poland which draws novice sailors and fans of other aquatic sports. Hikers are encouraged to visit the region and try its many tourist trails, including the most picturesque ones which meander among the Bieszczady summits. Horse riding is also popular with a total of 140 kilometers of routes and trails designed especially for horse lovers.

The region’s finest sites of tourist interest include historic churches and palaces. The most recommended ones for visitors are the palaces of the Lubomirski and Potocki families in Łańcut near Rzeszów, which, combined with a park complex, stand as one of the best preserved aristocratic residences in Poland. Other remarkable buildings include Renaissance palaces in Baranów Sandomierski and Krasiczyn.

For centuries, the Podkarpacie region was a melting pot of nations, cultures and religions. Poles and Ukrainians lived here side by side with Jews, Vlachs, Armenians, Germans and other immigrant groups. The mix produced a unique and diversified cultural heritage reflected in a multitude of large and small Catholic churches, Eastern Orthodox churches and synagogues. The most remarkable ones include the wooden churches in Blizne and Haczów, which are seen as gems of medieval architecture and have been listed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites since 2003.

Few know that the history of the world’s oil industry can be traced back to Podkarpacie where in the village of Bóbrka near Krosno, the world’s oldest oil rigs can still be seen at the local open-air museum. Visitors to the museum can also see the house where Ignacy Łukasiewicz, the inventor of the kerosene lamp, used to work.

Getting to know any region takes a lesson or two in its folk culture and the best places to learn about Podkarpacie province are the open-air museums in Kolbuszowa, Sanok, Markowa and Zyndarowa. Other than giving a picture of Podkarpacie’s countryside, these sites provide visitors with fine examples of traditional wooden architecture. The long-lasting interplay of different cultures in Podkarpacie is also evident in a wide variety of folk songs, music and dances. Folk traditions and customs are still alive in many local villages and towns.

Close to nature
Awash in cultural and natural attractions, Podkarpacie province has a strong rural tourism sector, especially in the southern part of the region. Indeed, most rural tourism farms are located in the southern counties of Lesko, Sanok, Krosno, Jasło, Brzozów, and Strzyżów, in addition to the Bieszczady Mountains area. In total, there are almost 1,000 rural tourism farms where guests can find a wide choice of opportunities to relax in the open, get a firsthand experience of rural life, try regional specialties, and hear stories from local storytellers.

Compared with other regions in Poland, Podkarpacie has relatively little business and other commercial activity going on. As such, it is particularly appealing to all those who, instead of entertainment and adrenaline, are looking for peace and quiet away from their daily routines, 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. The study identifies the Bieszczady Mountains as the key factor which shapes the image of the province as a whole. Podkarpacie is commonly regarded as a hospitable vacation destination that welcomes tourists from across Poland and Europe. According to the study, Podkarpacie still lacks infrastructure, but has plenty of distinctly rural attractions.

Greatest hits of rural tourism
Podkarpacie province is home to rural tourism farms with original products and activities for guests. Four of these have been put on the “Greatest Hits of Rural Tourism” list compiled by the Polish Tourism Development Agency.

One is the Wilcza Jama (Wolf’s Lair) farm in Smolnik on the San River, within a stone’s throw from the Bieszczady National Park. Accommodation is provided in seven log cabins and meals are served in an inn whose menu includes game dishes, traditional Polish specialties and locally farmed trout.

Another “great hit” is the U Flika (Flik’s) farm in the village of DĽwinacz Dolny. It is a genuine Bieszczady-style farm that specializes in baking leavened bread in a wood-fired oven on horseradish and cabbage leaves. For 12 years, the farm has organized a Bread Festival during which visitors can see the entire bread-making process and hear live music performed by folk bands from Poland, Slovakia, Ukraine and Romania.

Rural tourism highlights in the province also include a farm called Bazyl in Bóbrka where visitors can try their hand at the local craft of making crepe paper decorations. The farm also conducts highly popular pottery classes.

Finally, the Pod Lip± (Under the Linden Tree) farm in Przychojec offers visitors a Rural Museum, in addition to a flower arranging studio and an educational herbal garden with 40 or so varieties of herbs. The herbs are used fresh and processed (dried and as teas and infusions) in cooking, treatments and flower bouquets. The hosts also bake pancakes in a traditional bread oven. The hosts live in a large brick house that also has guest rooms. The remaining buildings, including two historic cabins, a cellar, a stable and a barn, form a small outdoor architecture museum. Historic items have been used to furnish the house and the yard. The barn houses an exhibition of dying professions and is used as a venue for team-building and training events.

Regional cuisine
Podkarpacie province boasts a distinctive regional cuisine with a variety of traditional products, 146 of which have been put on the Agriculture Ministry’s list of traditional products. The region is famous for foods with puzzling names given to rather uncomplicated dishes. Many local specialties are sold by local farmers and are also available from grocery stores and rural tourism farms.

Podkarpacie dishes with recipes passed down from generation to generation include proziaki, flat cakes that smell and feel like bread and are baked on a hotplate. They are made of wheat flour, eggs, soured milk and cream with a pinch of salt, sugar and baking soda. Currently seen as a traditional Polish delicacy, proziaki cakes are still highly popular in Podkarpacie, especially when served with fresh butter or cream.

The locals also like a kind of bread called flisacki and traditionally made in the village of Ulanów. Its name refers to the profession of a rafter (flisak in Polish) and dates back to times when women would supply their husbands with bread that never got dry. The dough for it was made from wheat flour, yeast, eggs, milk, fatback and sugar.

Podkarpacie specialties also include a plum preserve from Krzeszów. Traditionally, the preserve was prepared in large copper pots in which it was cooked for hours and stirred with special wooden ladles. You knew the preserve was ready when it stuck to a ladle held upside down. No sugar was added in the process and the shelf life of the Krzeszów plum preserve was said to be longer than a decade.

The local population also like kukiełka (puppet), a calzone-like pie stuffed with millet grits and baked mainly on special occasions such as religious festivals. In the old days, kukiełka used to be prepared in large baking tins on weekends and served to children as a treat. Farmers also liked to take it to the field, as it is a very filling dish.

Yet another Podkarpacie delicacy is kacapoły—dumplings lavishly sprinkled with fat, pork scratchings and fried onions. Milk is said to be the best drink to go with them.
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