Beyond the main tourist pleasers of Warsaw and Krakow, Poland is dotted with charming smaller cities and some of Europe’s most idyllic countryside.
Luckily for foreign visitors, a new airport in the city of Lublin has opened up this beautiful region to the rest of the world. Now’s the time to enjoy it.
As cities go, they don’t come much more charming than Lublin. The largest city in southeastern Poland, Lublin has weathered some of history’s most bitter storms, yet has emerged as thriving center of culture and learning. The focal point is the imposing Lublin Castle, erected here first in the 12th century and remodelled in the neo-Gothic style in the 1820s. A recent restoration has left the castle in better shape than ever, with a new tower-top terrace providing panoramic views over the Old Town and beyond. The original Chapel of the Holy Trinity features some striking Russo-Byzantine frescoes painted in 1418 by Orthodox artists—a hint at the religious diversity of Poland’s past.
A candidate for 2016 European Capital of Culture—beaten by Wrocław in western Poland—Lublin is famous for its festivals and attracts artists and performers from across Europe. In August, Lublin plays host to the annual midsummer carnival ‘Magicians’ Lublin’, named after the Isaac Bashevis Singer novel The Magician of Lublin. During the carnival, the city comes alive with New Circus, street circus, theater, juggling, busking and the colorful Grand Parade.
Fifteen miles north of Lublin is the magnificent Zamoyski Palace in the village of Kozłówka. One of the best-preserved aristocratic homes in Poland, the palace was built by Giuseppe Fontana in the 1730s for the Palatine of Chełm, and later passed to the prominent Zamoyski family. During the 19th century, Konstanty Zamoyski filled the house with Louis XV and Louis XVI style grandeur, from Neo-Rococo stuccowork, lambrequins, curtains and chandeliers, to vast Meissen porcelain stoves, marble chimneypieces and furniture adorned with inlays and bronze. Look out too for kooky contraptions like self-playing pianolas and an ancestor of today’s cross-trainer machine.
Zamoyski Palace houses not only Poland’s finest collection of 19th-century art, but also a separate exhibition of Socialist Realism, showcasing the doctrinal style of painting and sculpture under communism. The extravagance of the palace proper and the austerity of communist art make a fascinating study in Polish history.
One of the highlights of the Lublin Province is the historic town of Kazimierz Dolny, perched above the wide Vistula River 25 miles west of Lublin. A long-time magnet for poets and painters, Kazimierz Dolny grew in the 16th and 17th centuries thanks to the booming grain trade along the river. The high tower of a Gothic castle looms over the town, with the Renaissance Parish Church of Saints John the Baptist and Bartholomew below. The market square is a perfect nugget of old Poland, with beautifully preserved merchants’ houses in the Mannerist style (pre-Baroque) and little to suggest the passing of the last 400 years. Beyond the square you’ll find the 17th-century Celej House, the former synagogue, pre-war villas and granaries on the banks of the Vistula. Don’t miss, too, the haunting ruins of the nearby Janowiec Castle.
If sightseeing fatigue is setting in, the spa town of Nałęczów is just the ticket. Nałęczów has been a popular retreat since the 19th century when the local water was found to have healing properties. Today, doctors across Poland suggest a stay at the resort as a means to combat high blood pressure and other circulatory problems. Certainly there is something calming about the peaceful parkland, with the handsome Baroque Małachowski Palace at its heart and swans gliding on the lake. As well as the famous healing waters, guests can enjoy the extensive spa facilities and a range of detox treatments.
Where to stay:
IBB Grand Hotel Lublinianka www.lublinianka.com
Hotel Termy Pałacowe-Nałęczowianka www.spanaleczow.pl