Poland is rapidly cementing its reputation as an increasingly popular destination with British holidaymakers, as they discover the wonderful opportunity it holds for an unforgettable break. In the southern province of Malopolski lies the city of Krakow; a location rich in culture and history.
There is no denying Poland has a different feel. Looking out of the aeroplane window upon descent, fields cut by tractors in unfamiliar patterns and dark, almost navy pine trees surrounding ponds and lakes form a stunning landscape. The trip from Krakow airport to the city centre, whether by taxi, bus or train winds through villages where large, free standing houses sit next to tiny shops with signs that unfailingly adorn their fronts with the brighter hues of the spectrum. Passing through the suburbs, evidence is still visible of the Communist regime that kept the country shackled to Moscow for most of the 20th century. However, as you approach the city centre the building style changes dramatically as communist grey transforms into gothic grandeur and baroque architecture.
In the heart of Krakow lies Rynek Glowny, the city’s central square. Covering ten acres, it is the largest market square of any medieval European city and was pivotal to the old city centre gaining UNESCO World Heritage status in 1978. In the middle of the square is the old Cloth Hall. Inside it is full of stalls selling locally produced cloth, amber jewellery and quirky homemade crafts. From the square, visitors can take tours of the old city by foot, golf buggy or horse-drawn carriage. Buskers entertain the crowds throughout the day, and at night you can sit in one of the square’s many restaurants and bars taking in the atmosphere.
Popular with visitors is the ‘Royal Route,’ starting at Matejko Square and meandering through the city, eventually reaching the cathedral and castle on Wawel Hill. The Castle Museum has a unique collection of Flemish tapestries alongside an impressive art collection. Adjacent to the castle is the cathedral, which is the national Pantheon, holding a multitude of Polish royalty, national heroes and poets. During World War II the Nazi’s occupation of Poland saw Krakow become an important strategic centre as the Third Reich spread east into Russia. The termination of Jews, was central to this plan and many Polish Jews found themselves in extermination camps. Auschwitz is the most famous of these camps and from Krakow you can take a day tour to the camp to witness first hand the extent to which the Nazi’s were willing to go to realise these misguided dreams.
A long weekend in Krakow offers endless opportunities for unforgettable experiences. The walls of the old city are teeming with history and stories, while wandering the streets into shops, bazaars and restaurants will satisfy even the most experienced city goer. An added bonus too is that you will probably come back with some change in your pocket; somewhat of a rarity following a trip to a European city.
- Stay at the Hotel Wentzl. It has 18 period furnished rooms and can boast being the only hotel on Krakow’s old market square. It has been nominated in the World Travel Awards for Poland’s leading hotel, and also has an excellent restaurant allowing guests to sample some of the finest local cuisine.
- Eat at Chlopskie Jadlo. The restaurant offers Polish cuisine served in a traditional setting. A great way to experience traditional Poland, it is the perfect place to enjoy something different. Located in the city centre, they also have a website where you can see menus and make reservations. www.chlopskiejadlo.pl
- Don’t miss the chance to visit Auschwitz for a truly emotive and thought-provoking outing. Tours are easily available to purchase throughout the city, or your hotel will be able to organise it for you.
- See the Royal Castle. Its origins date back 1000 years and in comparison to UK castles it is built in a completely different style. Polish royalty once resided here and and it’s a bargain to visit at under £4 a head.