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The Warsaw Voice » Special Sections » December 1, 2014
Polska… tastes good!
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Rural Tourism by the Seaside
December 1, 2014   
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The Polish part of the Baltic coast is one of the most attractive regions of the country and has a growing rural tourism sector that supplements other forms of tourism and recreation in northern Poland.

Experts say rural tourism is worth developing here because the coastal region boasts a wealth of natural assets and a rich ethnographic heritage.

The coastal region, which covers Pomerania and West Pomerania provinces, is a popular tourist destination that offers an array of vast sandy beaches. The most popular coastal towns include ¦winouj¶cie, Międzyzdroje, Kołobrzeg, Ustka, Łeba, Rowy, Jastrzębia Góra, Władysławowo, Jastarnia, Jurata, Hel and Krynica Morska. The town of Sopot, wedged between the cities of Gdańsk and Gdynia, is an internationally acclaimed resort whose chief attraction is a 512-meter-long pier—the longest in the country and one of the longest wooden piers in Europe.

The Polish coastal area bordering the Baltic Sea is essentially a long strip of plains with short rivers cutting across it. One of the region’s standout geographical features is the Hel Peninsula, a 34-kilometer-long sandbar deposited by waves and sea currents over the millennia. The Hel Peninsula is less than 200 meters wide at its narrowest point but expands to 2.9 kilometers at its tip in the town of Hel. One of the most remarkable natural sites on the coast is the Słowiński National Park, famous for Europe’s largest shifting dunes that move by six to 10 meters a year. The national park was established in 1967 and 10 years later UNESCO designated it as a biosphere reserve.

Apart from its beautiful and lush nature, the Baltic coast boasts many sites of historical interest, especially in Gdańsk, which is one of Poland’s largest cities.

The historic highlights of Gdańsk include the Basilica of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, which is the largest medieval church in Poland and the largest Gothic brick church in Europe. The church can accommodate a congregation of up to 25,000 at a time. Gdańsk is part of a metropolitan area known as the Tricity, which also comprises the seaside resort of Sopot and the city of Gdynia, separated from Sopot by a strip of forest.

The coastal region can be divided into several distinctive areas, with Kashubia being home to one of Poland’s largest ethnic groups. The locals, known as Kashubs, have preserved a distinctive culture with their own language, literature and folk traditions and outfits. Kashubs observe a range of traditional everyday customs, in addition to folk arts and crafts that they practice at small studios in their homes. Many Poles are familiar with Kashubian embroidery, a handicraft dating back to the 18th century. Just like centuries ago, local housewives continue to embroider elaborate patterns on linen tablecloths that they later put on festive tables. Other local crafts include glass painting and items made of plaited pine roots.

Rural highlights

The coastal area is one of Poland’s top regions in terms of tourist appeal, mainly because of the proximity of the seaside. Hundreds of thousands of tourists come here every year and some of them choose to spend vacations in a rural setting. However, this form of tourism is only supplementary to other forms of tourism and recreation in the region, experts say. Vacationers who decide to stay at one of the region’s several hundred farms with accommodation and services for tourists are rewarded with highly attractive surroundings. Avid anglers can find a veritable fishing paradise in the local lakes, rivers and private fish ponds. Those who enjoy sunbathing can check in at farms located just 50 meters from beaches, while other farms entice visitors with nearby forests abounding in mushrooms, blueberries and raspberries.

The coastal region is home to many recommendable farms with accommodation for tourists as well as inventive products and services. Several 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 Agroturystyka u Chłopa rural tourism farm in Chmielno in the picturesque neighborhood of the Radunia River, which cuts through the “Kashubian Switzerland,” a nickname given to the area for its varied landscape. Run by a traditional Kashub family, the farm presents guests with many opportunities to explore the local folk culture and try local delicacies served by the hosts. The farm also offers a Kashubian steam bath as a special treat.

Rural tourism farms in the region also include the Ola farm near a forest outside the village of Słajszewo, Choczewo district, just 3.5 kilometers from the Baltic Sea. Nearby attractions include a historic lighthouse, a palace in the village of Sasino, and a yew tree reserve. The forests in the neighborhood abound in forest fruit and game. The farm specializes in traditional Polish meat dishes, cold cuts, dairy products, fruit and vegetables all grown and produced on the site. Many of the dishes are made by the lady of the house, who also treats guests to homemade cakes and pies.

Those who like active forms of recreation can come to the small village of Hejtus on the edge of the Kashubia Scenic Park, where a farm named after the village encourages visitors to stay active while vacationing. The area offers many Nordic walking routes and bicycle trails that take cyclists on tours around the local forests, lakes and meadows. Tourists who prefer to relax in peace and quiet can check in at the Kaszebsko Checz (Kashubian for “Kashub Cottage”) rural tourism farm in the village of Maks by Lake Raduńskie Dolne in the middle of the Kashubia Lake District. Sitting amid meadows and forests, this traditional farm offers room and full board to visitors. House specialties include staple dishes of Polish cuisine, such as the bigos sauerkraut stew with sausage, mushrooms and spices, and bread with lard. This tidy farm and house are surrounded by a large, lush green garden. Guests are welcome to use the farm’s private fish pond and, if they like, they can take the opportunity to give the hosts a hand with farm chores.

One more “greatest hit” is the Siedem Ogrodów (Seven Gardens) rural tourism farm in the village of Łowicz Wałecki near Mirosławiec in West Pomerania province. This unique farm is made up of cottages sitting in beautiful gardens. Siedem Ogrodów is a project in development that, when completed, will comprise seven cottages. There are five so far, including the Miller’s House, the Gardener’s House, the Hunter’s House, the Feast House, and the Windmill. The Siedem Ogrodów farm offers comfortable accommodation, recreation out in the open, homemade dishes and a variety of cultural and recreational attractions. The clean, picturesque lakes in the neighborhood are great for swimming and angling, while wild flowers and scenic forest routes encourage hiking, biking and mushroom picking.

Regional cuisine

The cuisine of the coastal region offers a diversified range of specialties, many of which are available at local rural tourism farms. Indigenous Kashubs used to eat a lot of fish and dishes made from potatoes that were never in shortage in rural areas. Meat was usually served during family celebrations and on church holidays. The most popular everyday dish was mashed potatoes with pork scratchings and buttermilk. Many people also relished plińce, a dish made from grated raw potatoes, and golce—dumplings of grated potatoes boiled in water or milk. Traditional Kashubia dishes also include a grucholec potato pie served hot with onion and pickled cucumber salad. Visitors to the area should also try the kiszka kaszubska sausage-like product made from potatoes, buckwheat groats, eggs and smoked fatback.

People in the coastal region also make different kinds of fruit preserves and dishes from cranberries. This dwarf shrub grows mainly in northern Poland, especially in the boggy areas and swamps of Kashubia. Cranberries are eaten raw with sugar and processed into jellies, jams and sauces. The traditional Kashubia cranberry sauce is made from the best cranberries with sugar. Raw cranberries from Kashubia are known to be very tasty and contain lots of vitamin C. Folk medicine has long used the fruit to treat inflammations, scurvy, whooping cough, rheumatism and the common cold.

Fish used to be a key part of Kashubia cuisine and were served cooked, roasted, smoked and dried and eaten both as the main course and as a side dish. Herring was the most popular sea fish in the area and in autumn almost every household had a barrel full of salted herring. The fish is prepared in a variety of styles in Kashubia, including marinated, fried, roasted over an open fire, salted and smoked. Several herring dishes are listed as traditional products and include ¶ledĽ bałtycki po rybacku (fisherman-style Baltic herring), sałatka ¶ledziowa po kaszubsku (Kashubia herring salad) and ¶ledzie marynowane w oleju (marinated herring in oil). Kashubia fish specialties also include fried roe and kotlety kaszubskie fish fillets.

A staple traditional dish from the western part of the coastal region is ogórki kołobrzeskie (Kołobrzeg cucumbers) prepared for generations with garlic, horseradish and dill. All these plants are cultivated at organic farms near the city of Kołobrzeg, West Pomerania province. Unlike many other similar pickles, these cucumbers are cured in natural brine from a saltwater spring in Kołobrzeg. The spring was discovered in the 7th or 8th century and has been used ever since. The nutrients contained in the brine give ogórki kołobrzeskie their distinct flavor and scent.

The locals also use marinated mushrooms, honey and green pine cones to add variety to their cuisine. The traditional West Pomeranian recipe for pickled mushrooms with cones has remained unchanged for generations.
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