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The Warsaw Voice » Special Sections » October 31, 2013
Rural Tourism
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Lubuskie Province
October 31, 2013   
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Lubuskie province in western Poland has a wealth of natural assets that create superb conditions for rural tourism, but in order for this sector to develop the region needs more farms offering home-stay vacations for tourists.

Nestled in the basin of the Oder River, Lubuskie province is the most heavily forested part of Poland—almost half of it is covered with woodlands. The province also boasts picturesque rivers such as the Oder, Nysa Łużycka, Bóbr, Warta, Noteć and Obra, in addition to 519 lakes. Twenty-six lakes in the province are over 100 hectares in size, the largest one being Lake Sławskie, which covers an area of 817.3 hectares. The lakes are a major tourist attraction, forming canoeing routes, among them the 200-kilometer Lubuski Water Trail, which meanders between the towns of Sława and Skwierzyna and crosses Lakes Sławskie, Chobienieckie, Zbąszyńskie and Bledzewskie.

The most valuable parts of Lubuskie are designated as protected areas, which account for 38.9 percent of the province. However, 80 percent of these are so-called landscape protection areas, where regulations are not very strict, so different kinds of tourism services can be developed without harming the environment.

Lubuskie province is home to two national parks, Ujście Warty (Warta River Mouth) and Drawieński National Park (named after the town of Drawno). Established in 2001, the Ujście Warty National Park spans wetlands that are one of Poland’s prime sanctuaries for water and marsh birds. A total of 245 bird species are known to live in the park, including 26 species classified as critically endangered around the world. The park is a nesting ground for 174 bird species.

The Drawieński National Park, located on the border of three provinces, was established to protect forest and water ecosystems.

The tourist appeal of Lubuskie province is further boosted by its rich cultural heritage, especially towns and cities with a historic street layout such as Babimost, Bytom Odrzański, Drezdenko, Iłowa, Kożuchów, Ośno Lubuskie, Szprotawa and the provincial capital of Zielona Góra. There is also a host of castles, palaces, manor houses, churches and old fortifications in the province. Some of the most noteworthy castles include those in Kożuchów, Sulechów and Świebodzin and the castle of the Order of St. John in Łagów. The finest palace-and-park complexes include those in Brody, Lubniewice, Międzyrzecz, Żary and Żagań, while the most famous park in the region is the Mużakowski Park. Straddling the border between Poland and Germany, it is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Lubuskie is famous for its defunct military structures, such as the Kostrzyn Stronghold and the Międzyrzecz Fortified Area. Even though the Międzyrzecz fortifications are the only complex of its kind in Europe, they are still waiting to be properly adapted for tourism purposes.

High, but undeveloped potential
The many natural and cultural assets of Lubuskie, coupled with the province’s western location in Poland, make it a highly attractive destination for tourists. The German border, which used to obstruct tourist traffic, now works to the region’s advantage, especially after Poland joined the Schengen Area of visa-free travel. However, for the time being tourism in Lubuskie province is limited to well-established vacation centers. Rural tourism is only starting to take off and few farms offer home-stay vacations. At the same time, recreational tourism services are poorly developed. The region has few widely known tourist products and the local cuisine has yet to be promoted internationally.

Experts say Lubuskie should take greater advantage of its long-standing wine-making tradition. Efforts to this effect have been made by the Zielona Góra Wine-Making Association, which in 2008 joined forces with local beekeepers to promote a tourism product called the Lubuskie Wine and Honey Trail. The idea is to combine services provided by local wine makers, beekeepers and rural tourism farms. “Wine tourism” and traditional products are becoming increasingly popular among visitors from Poland and abroad, which presents an opportunity for the tourism sector in Lubuskie. The region has all it takes to develop a strong rural tourism sector, according to a report compiled by the Polish Tourism Development Agency and entitled A Study of the Potential of Rural Tourism Products in Poland and Their Competitiveness on the Regional, National and International Markets for Tourist Services. According to the report, the natural beauty of Lubuskie and its location across the border from Germany—which accounts for the largest number of tourists visiting Poland—could easily turn the province into a leading rural tourism destination and make rural tourism one of the province’s flagship tourist products. The report’s conclusions match those in the Marketing Strategy for Poland’s Tourism Sector in 2012-2020, which identifies tourism in rural areas as a priority product.

Despite its huge potential, other than vineyards, Lubuskie province is not commonly associated with any specific tourist attractions for now. According to the report by the Polish Tourism Development Agency, tourism in Lubuskie should focus on recreation combined with wine tasting.

Compared with other Polish regions, Lubuskie has a poorly developed network of rural tourism farms and lodgings. Lubuskie has only two rural tourism farms (28 beds) per 100 square kilometers, while the national average is eight farms with 104 beds. Most of Lubuskie’s rural tourism farms and lodgings are in the counties of Świebodzin (Łagów and Lubrza districts), Krosno Odrzańskie (Gubin and Bytnica districts), Międzyrzecz (Trzciel and Bledzew districts) and Strzelce Krajeńskie (Drezdenko and Dobiegniew districts).

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

One is Winnica Kinga (Kinga Vineyard) in Stara Wieś near Nowa Sól. This family wine-making farm was founded in 1985 and is managed by Kinga and Robert Koziarski with the help of Kinga’s parents, Halina and Wojciech Kowalewski, who started the local vineyard.

The Kinga vineyard stands out among similar sites in the region because it offers tours to visitors apart from standard rural tourism services. Guests can visit a vine nursery and check out how wine is made and processed. They can also find out that table grapes are cultivated differently than wine grapes. During a tour of the vineyard, they can learn about the history of the family and region and try specialties such as stuffed grape leaves and other treats. After the tour is complete, the hosts invite their guests to dinner in an old, wooden building which overlooks the Oder Valley. Accommodation is not available on site, but on request the owners can arrange rooms in the neighborhood.

The second tourist product on the “greatest hits” list is Weekend w Rzeczypospolitej Ptasiej (A Weekend in the Bird Republic) in Słońsk where visitors get to explore the biodiversity of the Ujście Warty National Park. The main target group are families with children who like active forms of recreation. The facility also welcomes nature lovers who like to relax in the open. Visitors are offered an activity package covering biking, canoeing, hiking, visits to museums and educational activities. Guided tours are also available, providing visitors with bird-watching opportunities in the Ujście Warty national and scenic parks. Accommodation and meals are available in rural tourism lodgings.

The third recommended rural tourism farm is Rancho u Zapotocznego (Zapotoczny’s Ranch) in Łagówek. Apart from accommodation, the farm offers horse riding, rides in horse-drawn carts, sightseeing trips and different sports. Visitors to the farm can see vintage household items and farming tools such as trunks and chests, cauldrons, spinning wheels, scythes and sickles. Domesticated ponies, donkeys, fallow deer and other animals that run free around the farm add a bucolic feel to the place.

Regional cuisine
Distinctive traditional cuisine and original food products are a major selling point of every region. The Polish Agriculture Ministry’s list of traditional products features 18 entries from Lubuskie province. This may not be much compared with other Polish regions, but that is only natural because Lubuskie is a mixed bag in terms of culture and traditions. Many of its inhabitants are from families that, after World War II, were relocated to the region from eastern parts of Poland incorporated into the Soviet Union. The new inhabitants brought with them the culture and cuisine of their home regions, so that present-day traditional foods in Lubuskie province originate from different parts of prewar Poland, including those that are now part of Lithuania, Ukraine and Belarus.

For a product to be officially classified as regional, a number of conditions need to be met. To begin with, a given dish, beverage or other food product has to be prepared according to a traditional recipe that has been in use for at least 25 years. The product also needs to be part of the local community’s identity. Examples of such products in Lubuskie include the wschowskie beer, brewed in Nowa Wieś near Wschowa where brewing traditions date back to the 11th century. Apart from hops, yeast and water, the beer is made from pilsen malt, which has a distinctive grayish shade of yellow and the scent of grain.

Other regional specialties from Lubuskie province include schab słubicki, a loin of pork dish named after the town of Słubice. This cold meat is prepared according to a recipe from the eastern provinces of prewar Poland. Pork for schab słubicki is traditionally obtained from pigs weighing around 120 kilograms. Seasoned with salt, pepper, garlic and fenugreek, the meat is first put in a fridge for four to five days, after which it is cold-smoked in membranes extracted from pig’s fat. The recipe can be found in old cook books, which show that pork has been prepared in this way since 1868.

A local specialty called paska bukowińska, pascha or chleb bukowiński is a traditional bread variety baked by a Polish group of highlanders from present-day Slovakia who in the 19th century emigrated to the historical region of Bukovina in the eastern Carpathians. In 1945-1946, they returned to their homeland and then settled in communities in western Poland, keeping the traditions of their ancestors alive. Paska bukowińska bread can be seen on family photographs from more than 50 years ago when it was used to bless newlyweds. Women in the villages of Wichów and Stanów in Brześnica district still prepare such bread for church holidays and local weddings. In a bid to preserve the tradition, local homemakers demonstrate the entire baking process, from kneading the dough to baking and tasting the bread, at the Ethnographic Museum in Ochla near Zielona Góra.

Famous regional products from Lubuskie also include the White Transparent apple in syrup. Sharp in taste and with a hard texture, this apple variety is vulnerable to damage in transport, which is why it is mainly used locally. White Transparent apple trees could be found in every orchard in the Santok district and mothers in the village of Janczew liked to prepare apples in syrup as a side dish and as a treat for children. The tradition has now been passed over to a new generation and new apple trees are being planted in the area. White Transparent apples in syrup are a local tourist attraction and a staple dish of Lubuskie province that is regularly showcased at trade fairs and harvest festivals.
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