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The Warsaw Voice » Special Sections » June 3, 2015
Polska… tastes good!
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Rural Tourism in the Podlasie Region
June 3, 2015   
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The Podlasie region in eastern Poland offers visitors near-pristine natural surroundings, picturesque landscapes and a unique culture that make the region an attractive destination for rural tourism.

The Podlasie region is home to some of Europe’s most valuable natural areas. Of special note is the Bia這wie瘸 National Park, which encompasses sections of the primeval Bia這wie瘸 Forest that have been preserved almost intact to this day. The Bia這wie瘸 National Park and parts of the Bia這wie瘸 Forest in present-day Belarus are listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Podlasie’s Biebrza National Park is the largest national park in Poland and a unique site internationally. The Biebrza Marshes, the largest wetland in Central Europe, are regularly visited by nature lovers including birdwatchers and nature photographers.

The Narew River valley with an extended system of river beds has no match in this part of Europe. It is sometimes referred to as the “Polish Amazon.” The area attracts kayaking enthusiasts, much as the Wigry National Park, a local treasure with 42 lakes and a famous water trail on the Czarna Ha鎍za River.

Natural beauty aside, the Podlasie region has a rich cultural heritage shaped by different nationalities and religions. Poles, Ukrainians, Jews and Tatars lived in the area side by side for centuries. This interplay of cultures is evident in local architecture and in the colors of the region’s houses. It is also evident in art, including sculptures, tapestries, songs and dances.

Podlasie province offers excellent conditions for the development of rural tourism. The province is home to around 600 rural tourism farms, many of which are expanding their range of services. That encourages tourists to come here more often and stay longer.

Top rural tourism products
Podlasie province is home to a number of rural tourism farms with original tourist products. Four such products have been put on the “Greatest Hits of Rural Tourism” list compiled as part of a project undertaken by the Polish Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development.

One of these products is the Zio這wy Zak徠ek (Herbal Nook) farm in the Grodzisk district near the town of Siemiatycze, 70 kilometers west of the Bia這wie瘸 Forest. Tucked away in a beautiful forest, Zio這wy Zak徠ek encourages visitors to explore herbal medicine or just relax—and to relive the times when the scent of flowers and herbs penetrated villages and houses had thatched roofs. The farm has one of the largest herbal collections in Poland. As a tourist product, Zio這wy Zak徠ek also comprises the Podlasie Herbal Garden, which in 2011 was officially awarded the status of a botanical garden and has Poland’s largest collection of therapeutic and aromatic plants. The local Natural Education Center offers a wide range of activities for children, adolescents and adults. The complex has 120 beds in traditional Podlasie cabins. It is also home to the Dary Natury (Nature’s Gifts) company, which is a well-known producer of herbs and organic food.

A rural farm called Trzy 安ierki (Three Spruces), in the village of Galwiecie near the town of Go責ap, offers a varied mix of activities for nature lovers, quiet surroundings and active recreation, as well as attractions for those interested in ornithology, astronomy, geology and photography. The central building is a traditional Mazuria house built almost 120 years ago and surrounded with a garden. Perched on a hill, the house overlooks the picturesque Lake Ostr闚ek and the Romnicka Forest. The Gallery/Stage at the Trzy 安ierki farm is a venue that hosts concerts, exhibitions, parties and family events. The venue’s wooden benches and tables are often used for the tasting of regional dishes and to organize educational activities for children. The Trzy 安ierki farm is home to a small countryside museum called Romincka S豉wa (Romincka Fame). The museum holds many memorabilia from the days of World War II, in addition to antique household appliances and lots of family souvenirs brought by the farm owner’s family from areas that once were part of Poland and are now beyond its eastern border. Visitors can also use a Forest Spa decorated in severe Siberian style. Its main attraction is a big, covered larch tub with a capacity of 3,000 liters, with heated water, where guests can spend time sitting on wooden benches and sipping tea from a samovar. The farm also offers a covered fireplace-cum-grill and an elevated stand for those who like to watch animals and birds and take photos.

Visitors to Trzy 安ierki can take a stroll along the farm’s educational trails. They can also go fishing or spend time gathering herbs, flowers, strawberries and raspberries. Other options are to watch the sky at night through a telescope, take a ride through the forest in an all-terrain vehicle or go cycling or kayaking. Art lovers will be able to learn how to sculpt or paint on clay bottles and take advantage of outdoor painting opportunities.

Meanwhile, the Tatarska Jurta (Tatar Yurt) farm is in the village of Kruszyniany in the heart of the Knyszyn Forest, some 3 km from the Belarusian border. Kruszyniany is a melting pot of cultures inhabited by followers of Catholicism, the Eastern Orthodox Church and Islam. Tourists can visit a mosque, a Muslim cemetery, a small Orthodox church and several other historic sites of religious importance. They can also taste traditional Tatar dishes such as pierekaczewnik. Visitors to the Tatarska Jurta farm can pitch up a tent or try living in a genuine Tatar yurt.

Pi徠ka znad Biebrzy (The Five by the Biebrza River) is an initiative by five rural tourism farms in the Biebrza National Park and the Biebrza River Valley that joined forces to promote active tourism in the Podlasie region. They are U Marysi (Marysia’s) in the village of Jaziewo, Nad Stawem (On the Pond) in Okopy, Agroturystyka nad Biebrz (Rural Tourism by the Biebrza River) in Sztabin, Dworek na Ko鎍u 安iata (The Manor House on the Edge of the World) in Kopytkowo, and Chata za Wsi (The Cabin Near the Village) in Hamulka. The farms provide lodgings for tourists and offer activities including rafting, canoeing, angling, Nordic walking, horse riding, a bicycle rental and a Biebrza River photographic safari. Visitors can also watch the locals bake the famous Podlasie delicacy s瘯acz, which is a large, cylindrical and spiky cake. The owners of Agroturystyka nad Biebrz operate a medical center called Biebrza, which provides treatment for patients with mobility and respiratory problems.

Traditional cuisine and specialties
Podlasie’s regional cuisine combines simple Polish rural dishes with strong Lithuanian influences. Many regional specialties are made from potatoes and include stuffed dumplings, potato pie, potato sausage and potato pancakes.

Kartacze is one of the most popular traditional foods in Podlasie and a staple dish in Lithuania where it is known as cepelinai. Formed of potato-based dough, kartacze is stuffed with minced pork. Some stuff kartacze with sauerkraut and mushrooms, poppy seeds or cheese.

The people of Podlasie are also partial to the babka ziemniaczana potato pie, especially in the region’s northernmost part around the town of Suwa趾i. The pie comes in different variations, served with a choice of side orders and relishes. The main ingredients are grated potatoes, fried fatback, flour, eggs and onions. Some local cooks also like to add mushrooms. The pie is served hot and cut into rectangular pieces.

When they hear about Podlasie cuisine, many Poles will instantly think of the s瘯acz cake with a tradition going back centuries. This is baked over an open fire, with thin layers of dough poured onto a slowly spinning cylinder. S瘯acz is a complicated and time-consuming delicacy to make and takes a lot of skill. The largest s瘯acz cakes can be as high as one meter.

The flavors of Podlasie also include homemade sausages and cold meats. The most famous of these is the kindziuk dried sausage, originally from Lithuania. Made from partially minced meat of the finest quality, a good kindziuk should contain bits of intact meat, clearly visible when it is cut into slices. The unique taste and aroma of kindziuk can be obtained by adding to it a Lithuanian spice called boguiej. Wood used to smoke kindziuk in Podlasie comes exclusively from trees cut in the region’s clean forests.

Regional specialties also include the ser suszony podlaski dried Podlaski cheese with a unique taste and aroma that are due to a six-month drying and maturing process and different herbs the locals add to it. The cheese is a fine snack in its own right, but when fried in butter, it softens to the consistency of regular cheese.

Podlasie cuisine includes dishes strongly influenced by Tatar culinary traditions. One such dish is pierekaczewnik, which is made of six thin layers of pastry that are rolled up together. The layers are interleaved with a meat or sweet stuffing. Baked in a round dish and served hot, pierekaczewnik is a tasty treat for tourists.
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