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The Warsaw Voice » Special Sections » June 29, 2015
Polska…tastes good!
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Rural Tourism in Świętokrzyskie Mountains
June 29, 2015   
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The Świętokrzyskie Mountains in central Poland rank among the country’s most scenic regions. Their mix of natural beauty and rich cultural heritage favors different kinds of tourism, including rural tourism.

Located in Świętokrzyskie (literally “Holy Cross”) province, the mountains are one of the oldest ranges in Europe. They are covered with fir and beech forests at higher altitudes, while pines and mixed pine and oak forests prevail in lower parts. The peaks of Łysa Góra and Łysica (at 612 meters above sea level, the range’s highest peak) are examples of a rare rock landform known as “stone run” and feature treeless slopes covered with rocks, boulders and stones.

The Świętokrzyskie region is home to nine scenic parks, 62 nature reserves and a number of protected areas with native flora and fauna. The Raj (Paradise) Cave, one of the region’s most famous sites, is lined with stunning stalactites, stalagmites and so-called cave pearls. Popular attractions in the Świętokrzyski National Park include the Nature Museum on Łysa Góra mountain, a 12th-century Benedictine monastery and other historic places of worship.

The town of Chęciny boasts the remains of a castle that was once used as a royal residence as well as a stronghold and prison. Meanwhile, the town of Jędrzejów has Europe’s second-largest clock museum and the oldest Cistercian monastery in Poland. Tourists interested in the region’s folk traditions and customs should visit the Ethnography Park in the village of Tokarnia.

Nature, history and tradition

As far as rural tourism is concerned, the main selling points of the Świętokrzyskie region are its distinctive natural beauty, areas offering peace and quiet in addition to a variety of ways in which tourists can learn about local traditions cultivated by farmers. Many of the region’s most valuable historic sites are located in rural areas and the countryside has a vibrant cultural life.

The picturesque landscapes are in a sense a reward for local farmers for having to cope with soils whose quality is lower than in the rest of Poland. Land cultivation as the sole means of making a living has been steadily declining and small, unprofitable farms are searching for new sources of income. Rural tourism is one of the most important ones and has, in fact, been a major success in the Świętokrzyskie Mountains and surrounding areas. Vacationing opportunities are available at over 400 farms and the number continues to grow.

“Greatest hits”

Świętokrzyskie province is home to a number of highly recommended rural tourism farms with inventive products and activities for guests. The best such products have been put on the “Greatest Hits of Rural Tourism” league table compiled by the Polish Tourism Development Agency.

One of the most inventive tourism products is the Polish Countryside Gallery at the Ostoja Dworska farm. A perfect place from which to embark on a motorcycle, bicycle or hiking expedition to the Świętokrzyskie Mountains, the farm offers its guests live demonstrations of folk culture, customs and rural traditions. Ostoja Dworska is located where the administrators of the historical Małogoszcz county once used to have their residence. The oldest historical record of the place dates back to 1377. The farm preserves local tree-growing traditions and folk crafts such as weaving and sewing.

Artists and rural art lovers can get together at the Szkoła Wrażliwości (“Sensitivity School”) arts center in the village of Kapkazy, which is also home to a theater. Nearby are several other rural tourism farms. Along with accommodation, the center offers visitors a pottery gallery and a theater where theatrical productions, concerts and art exhibitions take place. The center also organizes pottery classes, theater workshops, art presentations and outdoor painting sessions.

Rural tourism highlights in the Świętokrzyskie region continue with the Zbrodzice Vineyard near the health resort of Busko-Zdrój. This is the largest Polish producer of wine made from grapes, selling its products under the Herbowe label. Between May and October, the vineyard rents suites to guests who can taste wine from selected vintages.

Near the town of Chęciny is the Gród (Stronghold) farm whose owners help tourists explore local history. The main draw of the site are faithfully recreated medieval buildings, including a smithy with a large collection of old weapons and traditional weapon-making tools on display. There are rooms for guests and facilities to hold feasts and celebrations inside a wooden castle with a tower. Further attractions include a fish pond, barbecue and campfire sites, sculptures and faithful replicas of old cannons.

Traditional cuisine and dishes

For centuries, the Świętokrzyskie region thrived on dishes made from potatoes, different kinds of flour and a variety of groats. Dairy products, fruit and vegetables were also popular, whereas meat was eaten far less frequently.

Probably the most distinctive Świętokrzyskie dish is the zalewajka świętokrzyska soup, a variation of the popular żur sour soup with diced potatoes, smoked bacon or sausage and diced onions. It is often served with sour cream and pork scratchings.

Consumers from Poland and abroad have grown to like many other traditional dishes from Świętokrzyskie province. The Agriculture Ministry’s list of traditional and regional products features 58 specialties from the region and several of those are also protected under EU law. Products with the EU’s Protected Geographical Indication label include beans grown near the village of Nowy Korczyn in the Ponidzie area. Growing beans has been popular in Ponidzie for centuries, but the most famous local variety, piękny jaś, was not developed until several decades ago. It owes its distinctive features to the local microclimate, thriving on fertile soils flooded by the Nida River every year. The variety gives a high yield with large beans that are particularly rich in protein.

An EU certificate has also been granted to dried plums from Szydłów. Originally smoked on filbert sticks over campfires, the plums have since the 1950s been processed in special drying sheds where far more fruit can be dried at a time. The smoking method, however, remains unchanged. Wood for the smoking process comes from broadleaf trees, which gives the plums their distinctive smoky-sweet flavor.

Several traditional meat products from Świętokrzyskie province come from the town of Wąchock. The town’s history has close ties to the Cistercian order which was founded in the area in 1179. Recipes have been handed down for generations and the most famous cold meats include the wąchocka biała white sausage variety, the swojska wąchocka sausage, traditional smoked sirloin, and the local variety of ham.

Traditional Świętokrzyskie foods also include the chleb wiejski konecki farmhouse bread from town of Końskie. The bread is baked in the traditional way, in special brick ovens fired with hardwood. As a result, this bread variety is rather hard to get, but a favorite among connoisseurs.
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