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The Warsaw Voice » Special Sections » June 3, 2014
Rural Tourism
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£ód¼ Province
June 3, 2014   
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£ód¼ province in central Poland has the potential to develop a strong rural tourism sector with a wealth of sightseeing opportunities and convenient access to other parts of the country.

Located in the center of the country, £ód¼ province is less popular with tourists than other destinations in Poland. Most Poles know little about the region, despite its scenic landscapes, lush natural beauty and important role it has played in the history of Poland, particularly in the history of Polish industry.

The province’s most appealing sites include the picturesque valleys of the Pilica and Warta rivers, the Sulejów Reservoir and the Niebieskie ¬ród³a (Blue Springs) nature reserve in Tomaszów Mazowiecki. Nature lovers enjoy the Jeziorsko Reservoir and like to stay at vacation centers in Spa³a, Sulejów and Inow³ódz. Some of the most scenic areas in £ód¼ province can be seen along right-bank tributaries of the Bzura River and the Rawka River, which cuts across the Bolimów Forest. £ód¼ province has many protected areas, including 65 nature reserves and the scenic parks of Za³źcze, Przedbórz, Spa³a-Inow³ódz, Sulejów, £ód¼ Hills and the Warta and Widawka River System.

Sites of historical and tourist interest in the £ód¼ region include the towns of Inow³ódz, Przedbórz and Piotrków Trybunalski as well as Rawa Mazowiecka, Uniejów, Sieradz and Wieluń. The history of all these towns dates back many centuries. Tourists also come here to see former aristocratic residences, such as a palace in Nieborów and a Romantic-style English landscape park in the nearby village of Arkadia. Historic manor houses are located in Walewice and Poddźbice, while local folk art is showcased at museums in the towns of £owicz, £źczyca, Opoczno, Sromów and Sieradz.

The province’s principal city of £ód¼ holds a special place in Polish history and has a distinctive flavor created by eclectic, Art Nouveau architecture that dates back to the 19th century. That was when £ód¼ began to rapidly develop into a center for industry and turned into a melting pot of nations, including Poles, Germans and Jews. Surviving to this day in £ód¼ are glamorous palaces and huge red-brick factories left behind by 19th- and early-20th- century industrialists.

£ód¼ is home to some of Poland’s finest relics of Jewish culture as well as unique attractions such as a comic book center, a filmmaking museum and the trendy Manufaktura shopping mall. Housed in a converted factory complex, Manufaktura combines a regular mall with a center for arts and culture and is the largest such facility in Europe. Many stores are also located along Piotrkowska Street, a famous shopping street that cuts across the center of £ód¼ and has more than 100 pubs, cafes and restaurants.

West of £ód¼ is the town of Uniejów, which has recently become one of the province’s chief attractions thanks to local hot springs. Using EU funds, the town has built the largest water park in Poland, with thermal waters and swimming pools. The complex is located at the foot of a 14th-century castle that has inspired Uniejów’s other major attraction, a medieval-style tournament held in summer. Medieval culture fans can take in a similar event 30 km away in £źczyca, a town boasting a 14th-century castle built by Polish King Casimir III the Great. Legend has it that the castle’s dungeon is inhabited by Boruta the devil, who guards a hidden treasure. £źczyca is a stone’s throw away from Tum, whose 850-year-old church stands as one of the finest examples of Romanesque art in both Poland and Europe. Other than being a place of worship, the church was used as a venue for important church conventions and as a shelter for the local population when the area was invaded by the Lithuanians, Prussians, Tartars and Teutonic Knights.

Visitors with an interest in nature rather than history should check out an arboretum in Rogów whose collection comprises over 2,000 tree and other plant species from temperate climate zones around the world. Part of the Rogów collection is a unique rock garden with highland plants. South of Rogów is Tomaszów Mazowiecki with the Nagórzyckie Caverns, which are unique manmade caves on the site of a defunct sand mine. Fans of military history can visit German bunkers from World War II in the nearby village of Konewka. Other highlights of £ód¼ province include a 1920s wooden church made of larch wood in the summer resort of Spa³a, which was “discovered” by Russian Czar Alexander III.

One of £ód¼ province’s most famed nooks and crannies is the area around £owicz, whose distinctive folk traditions, music and outfits are sometimes cited as the quintessence of Polish folk culture. £owicz is home to the former Primate’s Collegiate Church, often nicknamed as the Wawel Hill of Mazovia, after the Wawel Hill in Cracow where many Polish kings were crowned and buried. The village of Maurzyce holds an open-air museum of the £owicz region.

£ód¼ province has plenty to offer to people who like to stay active while on vacation. Fans of water sports can explore canoeing trails on the Pilica and Warta rivers, while those who like to ride a horse might want to try what is Europe’s longest horse riding trail. Stretching for almost 2,000 kilometers, the trail spans over 200 stables, stud farms, horse riding centers and rural tourism farms. The £ód¼ region also has over 100 bike trails.

High potential

Even though £ód¼ province is not commonly associated with rural tourism, this form of tourism is among the region’s main selling points, according to the Tourism Development Program for £ód¼ Province in 2007-2020 and Poland’s Marketing Strategy for the Tourism Sector for 2012-2020. The local rural tourism sector is growing, but for now its key role is to supplement cultural and recreational tourism, which prevails in the region.

According to An Expert Analysis of the Potential of Rural Tourism Products in Poland and Their Competitiveness on Regional, National and International Markets for Tourist Services, a document compiled by the Polish Tourism Development Agency, £ód¼ province could benefit from its cultural heritage in its efforts to further develop its rural tourism sector. Another boon is the region’s natural assets with numerous protected areas and an extended network of rivers, lakes and reservoirs. The towns of £owicz, Sieradz and Opoczno are major folk culture centers that boast distinct colorful outfits, unique customs and crafts such as weaving, pottery, embroidery and paper cutting.

The province’s central location in Poland, not far from Warsaw and within a radius of 200 kilometers from a number of other large cities, is another major strength, making £ód¼ province a convenient weekend destination for big city dwellers who seek a quiet refuge out in the open, want to explore folk culture and are keen to find out what rural Poland has to offer.

For now, £ód¼ province specializes in active forms of relaxation, with a special focus on equestrian sports. Many of the province’s 200 farms with accommodation for guests offer horse riding opportunities. Nevertheless, according to An Expert Analysis..., the province should put more emphasis on its rural areas and promote them through traditional farms catering to tourists, especially visitors from nearby metropolitan areas.

Greatest hits of rural tourism

£ód¼ province is home to many recommendable farms with accommodation for tourists and inventive products and services. Two of these have been put on a list of “the greatest hits of rural tourism” compiled by the Polish Tourism Development Agency.

One is the Synowcówka Settlement in the village of Tkaczewska Góra, 25 km from £ód¼. This farm combines traditional rural tourism services with facilities suitable for business events and corporate training. Located near a forest, meadows and a river, the settlement is part of a nationwide network of so-called learning homesteads, offering activities during which visitors can test the purity of water and study the local fauna and flora. In the local vegetable garden, root cellar and smokehouse, the staff also conduct workshops and classes in traditional food processing and storage methods. The nearby pine forest is excellent for mushroom picking and encourages bike rides and hiking, while a stable in the village of Pustkowa Góra, 2 kilometers from Synowcówka, offers horse riding.

The other rural tourism highlight is the Uroczysko Kźpa farm in Karnice, Puszcza Mariańska district. Combining agriculture, environmental protection and handicrafts, this farm is in the immediate vicinity of the Bolimów Scenic Park. In 2006, the owners turned to organic farming and have since grown fruit and bred goats and ponies. Subsequently in 2009, they started an environmental protection program for which Uroczysko Kźpa has been certified as an organic farm. Like Synowcówka, this farm is a learning homestead and teaches visitors about plant and animal production, food processing methods, environmental protection and consumer rights, in addition to rural cultural heritage, traditional professions and folk arts and crafts.

Not on the greatest hits list, but worth checking out is the Gajówka Pilica (Pilica Forester’s Lodge) rural tourism farm in the village of £źg Rźczyński. The farm specializes in equestrian tourism and canoeing expeditions, but also offers ecology classes and sports activities for teenagers.

The Agroturystyka Konarzew farm in Konarzew, in turn, is ideal for those who seek peace in a friendly, family-like setting. Child visitors to Konarzew are encouraged to see how bread is made “from the grain to the loaf,” as the farm specializes in baking traditional bread. Guests are also offered horseback rides and when the day is done, they can roast sausages over a bonfire and relish in the house specialty, a soup called zalewajka.

The main draw of a rural tourism farm in Zmy¶lona is its proximity to the Warta River, where visitors can catch fish and go kayaking. Alternatively, they can explore the nearby woods for mushrooms or just take a bike ride. The lady of the house offers full board with dishes prepared fresh from organic ingredients grown on the site. Recreational activities are also the specialty of a farm called Brzozowy Gaj (Birch Grove) in the village of Skoczylasy. Visitors to this farm are encouraged to take a stroll amid the local meadows, fields and forests, to go fishing, play volleyball and boules-type games and even try their hand at archery. The staff also organize kayak trips and biking tours of the neighborhood.

Traditional cuisine and regional dishes

The cultural diversity of £ód¼ province is reflected in the staple dishes of different counties and regions within the province. One such specialty is kugiel, a kind of casserole from Przedbórz. Straddling the Pilica River in Radomsko county, Przedbórz was a predominantly Jewish town until World War II and, while the local Jews and Poles were constant competitors in economic terms, their cultures and traditions mixed and the kugiel dish became a product of this interplay. The casserole was traditionally prepared on Saturday from grated potatoes, eggs, bread crumbs, fried onions, salt, pepper and bits of greasy meat. Poles usually used pork, while Jews opted for goose meat. The ingredients were combined and put in a pot and then baked under a lid in a bread oven or a stove. Today kugiel has been slightly modified in Poland and often takes the form of a regular casserole with spare ribs and pig’s knuckles chopped into pieces a little larger than in the case of goulash.

Many of the £ód¼ region’s distinctive dishes have been put on Poland’s official list of regional products. These include horseradish soup, cabbage with peas, plum jam from the £owicz area, and the zalewajka soup.

Made of the most readily available ingredients such as potatoes, onions and leavened flour, zalewajka soup was the most popular dish in £ód¼ and nearby towns in the 19th century.

The famous plum jam from £owicz stands out with its thick texture and clearly seen bits of plum skins. Produced in the area for over a century, the jam is usually made from a local variety of the Prunus domestica plum, whose juicy and yellow flesh has a distinctive flavor and is easily separable from the stone. The locals also like to use older plum varieties. The production process is largely the same as it was a hundred years ago, with the ripest fruits being first boiled and then put aside to let a part of the water evaporate. Sugar is added to the hot mixture afterwards and then the jam is poured into jars and sealed tight.

Apart from its delicious food, the £ód¼ region offers visitors several distinctive beverages. They include a range of fruit tinctures and raspberry cordial made in the village of Nagawki from cowberries, blueberries, currants, cranberries, elderberry and grapes. The fruits are picked in forests around £owicz or supplied by local fruit farmers.

As you tour £ód¼ province make sure to stop at one of the many inns where traditional dishes are served. You can also explore the regional cuisine during local festivals, such as the Zalewajka and Strawberry festivals in Buczek and the Onion Festival in Grabowo. Most of the events take place in summer, but autumn has several Baked Potato Festivals in store—in Andrespol, Brzustów, Wolbórz and Tuszyn. Tasty local dishes and beverages aside, audiences at such events are entertained with music concerts, games and a host of other attractions.
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