When you think of Eastern Europe, you might well imagine scenes from the Cold War era, with grey concrete everywhere, unhappy masses trudging through the snow and ice, on their way to work in the factory, and maybe even jackbooted soldiers dragging weary citizens into vans for “questioning.”
This is, however, an outdated way of thinking about these nations. Now, many of the former Eastern Bloc countries are enjoying a resurgence in tourism and cultural impact on the outside world. There are various reasons for this, including the commonly rich histories of these areas, fine cuisine, and beautiful natural landscapes.
Poland is one such country which has done a great job of moving on from the days of communist dictatorship, and the turbulent transitional period of the 90s, to become a brilliant tourist destination for curious adventurers.
Here are just a few things to see and do on a holiday in Poland.
Visit the last European bison in the Białowieża forest
Believe it or not, much of Europe was once covered in a gigantic primaeval forest, that has today been eradicated across the majority of the content. Poland’s Białowieża forest, in the east of the country, bordering Belarus, is one of the last remnants of this ancient woodland.
That alone would make it worth seeing, but an added draw is the fact that a good chunk of the forest on the Polish side is designated as a strict “nonintervention zone,” meaning that it is allowed to exist as pure, raw, natural woodland, without any input from forest rangers, or human beings at all.
This may not sound incredibly rare – but it is, certainly in the Western world at least. A slice of “non-curated forest” can be a truly remarkable thing to behold.
But there’s another big reason to visit this forest – namely; it’s also home to the last of the European bison, known in Polish as Żubr.
This forest is home to a herd of about 800 of these bison, and if you’re lucky, you might catch a glimpse of them on a guided tour of the woods. And if you can’t see them in the forest itself, a nearby nature enclosure will have a few on standby for you to meet and greet.
Visit the Vikings at the Wolin Viking Festival
In the north of Poland, you’ll find the island of Wolin, a settlement with a truly rich and storied past. Legend tells that it was the last region of Poland to be conquered and Christianised by the earliest kings of the nation.
This island, however, also exists in the lore and mythology of other nations. The ancient Norse sagas, for example, record how the island was home to the fortress of Jomsborg, the base of operations of the fearsome Jomsvikings who plied their trade as mercenaries across the ancient world.
Today, Wolin is home to the annual Wolin Viking and Slavic festival, one of the largest gatherings of Viking reenactors in Europe. Attend this festival on the right weekend in summer, and you’ll get to witness mock battles being re-enacted, eat food from ye olden days, and wander around a reconstructed Iron Age village. You may even get to take a ride on a longship.
Hike and adventure in the Tatra Mountains
Show a vacation photographer a picture of the Tatra mountains, and they will foam at the mouth in their eagerness to visit immediately, camera in hand.
These mountains are truly mythological in their scope, and breathtaking to behold, even secondhand. They form a natural border between Poland and Slovakia, and are the highest range in the Carpathian mountains.
If you enjoy nature at all, you are bound to yourself a visit to this mountain range. The famous holiday town of Zakopane lies at the foot of the Tatra mountains, so why not pay a visit?
Featured Image via Pixabay