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The Warsaw Voice » Special Sections » November 28, 2013
Rural Tourism
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Mazovia Province
November 28, 2013   
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Mazovia province in central Poland has the kind of picturesque landscapes and natural environment that are perfect for rural tourism to flourish, but for this to happen it needs more products and services targeted at such visitors.

Straddling the middle section of Poland’s longest river, the Vistula, the historical region of Mazovia is one of the oldest in Poland. It was incorporated into the kingdom of the Piasts, the first dynasty to rule Poland, at the end of the 10th century. Between the 12th and 14th centuries, Mazovia was frequently invaded by Prussians, Lithuanians and other tribes and then divided up by local noblemen. Eventually, Mazovia became part of the Polish Kingdom in 1526.

With a city charter dating back to 1237, Płock in eastern Mazovia is the oldest city in the region. Warsaw, on the other hand, rose to prominence in the mid-16th century when King Sigismund III Vasa decided to move the royal court, and thus the capital of Poland, there from Cracow.

Scenic landscapes and natural beauty are some of the main attractions of Mazovia. It is home to one of Poland’s largest national parks, the Kampinos National Park. It also has several scenic parks, including the Nadbużański (Bug River), Mazovia, Brudzeń, Chojnów and Kozienice parks. Two more scenic parks are partially located in Mazovia—the Gostynin-Włocławek park in the northwestern part of the province and the Podlaski Przełom Bugu park in the northeast. The vast woodlands in the northeastern part of Mazovia are sometimes referred to as “the green lungs of Poland.” Many valuable natural sites are also located along the Vistula River between Płock and the town of Wyszogród northwest of Warsaw. This stretch of the river is very wide, with many islands where nature reserves have been established to protect rare bird species.

One of the region’s most popular vacation and weekend destinations is Lake Zegrzyńskie located 20 kilometers north of Warsaw. Its shores are dotted with popular bathing sites in the towns of Nieporęt, Rynia, Zegrze and Serock. While Lake Zegrzyńskie is a manmade reservoir, there are also natural lakes in the slightly hilly area around the town of Gostynin. Mazovia residents also enjoy short trips to the valleys of the ¦wider, Wkra, Liwiec and Pilica rivers.

Mazovia is home to just one health resort, Konstancin-Jeziorna, located just outside Warsaw. Widely known as a major physiotherapy center, this suburban town also offers treatment for rheumatic diseases and boasts a unique graduation tower that is well worth a visit, especially by anyone suffering from respiratory problems.

Natural beauty aside, Mazovia has a wealth of remarkable cultural heritage sites such as historic churches and secular buildings, indoor and outdoor museums and towns with historic street layouts. In terms of the number of historic buildings, Warsaw is only rivaled by Cracow, Wrocław, Gdańsk and Poznań. The Old Town in Warsaw, rebuilt after World War II, is the only reconstructed quarter in Europe to be listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site. Warsaw’s other valuable historic sites include the park and palace complexes of Wilanów and the Royal Łazienki Park and the many palaces and Baroque churches along the elegant Royal Route.

Many sites of historic interest can be found in the region’s smaller cities and towns and include the Wzgórze Tumskie (Cathedral Hill) in Płock, where a Renaissance cathedral stands next to the remains of an old castle. The region’s most valuable religious buildings include a monastery with a church in Czerwińsk on the Vistula, Renaissance churches in Brok and Brochów, and Baroque churches in Węgrów and Karczew. The town of Pułtusk north of Warsaw boasts, in turn, the longest market square in Poland.

Visitors to Mazovia should also check out historic fortifications such as the ruins of medieval castles of the Mazovian dukes in Czersk and Ciechanów and the Gothic Liw castle. More recent military structures include the Modlin Stronghold commissioned by Napoleon Bonaparte.

In ethnic terms, the inhabitants of Mazovia do not form a uniform community. The folklore of the Kurpie area—with the towns of Myszyniec and Kadzidło—differs from that of the rest of Mazovia with its lavish folk outfits, songs, dances, customs and distinctive architecture.

Experts from the Polish Tourism Development Agency say that, apart from Warsaw, the main selling points of Mazovia should include rural tourism as a complement to other forms of tourism such as recreational and culture tourism.

Greatest hits of rural tourism

Even if Mazovia still lacks the range of accommodation, services and products necessary for rural tourism to flourish, it is nevertheless home to many good rural tourism farms with inventive tourism products. Two of these have been put on the Greatest Hits of Rural Tourism list compiled by the Polish Tourism Development Agency.

One is the Pod Kogutem (“Rooster’s”) education and health center in Krępa near the Chojnów Scenic Park. Pod Kogutem comprises four hectares of forest with recreational facilities for people who like to relax in quiet and peaceful surroundings close to nature. This rural tourism farm is particularly appealing to families with children, who can enjoy the local mini-zoo with pheasants, peacocks, pigeons, ostriches, geese, turkeys, guineafowl, chickens, rabbits, goats and sheep. Kids can also play with a pony and a donkey.

The other rural highlight of Mazovia is the Mazowieckie Sioło “Julianówka” (Julianówka Mazovian Hamlet) farm in Julianów, 50 kilometers east of Warsaw. Located amid the wild forests and meadows of the Mińsk Mazowiecki Landscape Protection Area, this farm is a perfect destination for kids, parents, adolescents and adults. Visitors are welcome to use facilities ideal for holding parties in the open. The local attractions include accommodation on haystacks in a barn, pony rides, an archery and air gun shooting ranges and wood chopping and sawing contests.

Traditional cuisine and regional dishes

Since Mazovia was always a heavily forested region, the locals frequently ate game, honey, mushrooms and blueberries. Those living in villages mainly ate dishes made from flour, groats, peas, potatoes, red beetroot and cabbage. Until the mid-20th century, the local cuisine could be described as modest and somewhat monotonous with a prevalence of bread, pancakes, soups, dumplings, pierogi and a variety of other dishes made from flour, peas and vegetables thickened with flour. The food was usually washed down with water, milk and the low-alcohol juniper beer that was highly popular across Mazovia. Stronger alcoholic beverages, when available, included barley beer, rye vodka, mead and the krupnik variety of vodka with spices and honey.

In time, the cuisine of Mazovia came to be recognized as traditional Polish cuisine with such distinctively Polish dishes as czernina soup of duck or goose blood, boiled groats, roast duck stuffed with offal, parsnip and bread rolls, forest mushroom soup and żur sour soup. Other staple dishes from Mazovia include soup made from Yellow Knight mushrooms in the Kurpie region, Kurpie bread with potatoes, served with fried onions and eggs, roast goose with apples or red cabbage, and chicken stuffed with offal, parsnip, bread rolls and eggs. The krupnik kurpiowski variety of spicy, honey-based vodka is considered a Mazovia specialty as well, as are liver larded with fatback and fafernuchy potato-and-flour dumplings served with sugar beet sauce.

The rather simple cuisine of rural Mazovia is inseparably linked with the more sophisticated cuisine of Warsaw. Being a royal city located at the intersection of main trade routes, Warsaw was quick to embrace dishes from other parts of Poland and from other countries. Some of the best known Warsaw specialties include “Jewish-style” carp with raisins and almonds, and tripe soup with savory spices such as ginger and nutmeg.

Mazovia boasts a number of traditional food products, some of which have been officially recognized as regional products by the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development. These include the sójka mazowiecka calzone-style pie stuffed with cabbage and millet groats; mead and pork sirloin from Kurpie; beer from Ciechanów; and chickens, eggs and noodles from Radziwiłłów.

The village of Sobienie Jeziory is famous for the highly popular paté made from pork, beef and poultry. Apart from the three kinds of meat, the product owes its distinctive flavor to a spice blend made according to a traditional recipe handed down from generation to generation. Popular meats from Mazovia also include traditional pork sausage from the town of Szydłowiec. The sausage tastes just the way it did years ago thanks to a special mix of spices and a smoking process involving alder wood.

Popular regional dairy products from Mazovia include goat’s cottage cheese from the village of Cegłów.
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