In this feature on touring Poland Tomek Maj takes us on a tour around Poland and recommends some sights to see and routes to drive. Tomek shares some tips for touring in Poland and also shares two driving routes that provide plenty to see and do.
Words and Images : Tomasz Maj – Land4Travel
The history of Poland spans over a thousand years, from medieval tribes, Christianization and monarchy; through Poland’s Golden Age, expansionism and becoming one of the largest European powers; to its collapse and partitions, two world wars, communism, and the restoration of democracy.
The roots of Polish history can be traced to the Iron Age when the territory of present-day Poland was settled by various tribes including Celts, Scythians, Germanic clans, Sarmatians, Slavs and Balts. However, it was the West Slavic Lechites, the closest ancestors of ethnic Poles, who established permanent settlements in the Polish lands during the Early Middle Ages. The Lechitic Western Polans, a tribe whose name means “people living in open fields”, dominated the region, and gave Poland – which lies in the North-Central European Plain – its name.
In the 18th century, Poland, suffering from anarchy, began to fall into a strong dependence on Russia and then disappeared from the maps of Europe as a result of three partitions. An independent country of Poland did not exist until the 20th century, although its vestigial forms periodically appeared, such as the Duchy of Warsaw, the Kingdom of Poland and the Grand Duchy of Poznan. The full rebirth of Poland took place only after World War I, when the Second Polish Republic was established after the collapse of the partitioning nations. It existed until 1939 when the Third Reich and USSR invaded Polish lands and occupied it. It was not until 1944 that Polish People’s Army and the Soviet troops gradually reclaimed the land.
After the end of the war, Poland found itself behind the so-called Iron Curtain, and the communists took over the power. In 1952, the nation was renamed to the Polish People’s Republic. Until 1989, it was governed by a party system in which the leading role was played by the Polish United Workers’ Party. Apart from that party, there were also satellite groups – ZSL and SD. It ultimately collapsed as a result of a process called later the Autumn of Nations. The parliamentary elections in 1989 initiated the processes of democratization and economic reforms that enabled the Third Republic of Poland to join NATO in 1999, and then the European Union in 2004.
In Poland every region has something interesting to offer. Podlasie – Tatar villages and Bialowieza Primeval Forest, Masuria – great lakes, kilometers of gravel roads and german bunker remains, West Pomeranian – a region where the soviet army had their base, where nuclear weapons were stored and located there today – the biggest army range in Europe. Bieszczady is the wildest and the least populated region of Poland. It is a region with a turbulent history and to this day you can find ruined villages and obliterated traces of human presence being reabsorbed by nature. Bieszczady was, and in a way is still a polish “wild west” (even though its in the east). To the south there is Cracow – which was previously the polish capital,which has two interesting salt mines – Wieliczka and Bochnia and also the tallest polish mountains –the Tatra Mountain Range.
4×4 Driving in Poland.
4×4 driving in Poland is only allowed on private properties or on designated off-road courses. You cannot drive in the forests, national parks or mountains. It is possible to use an off-road car on municipal and forest roads -that are made available for car traffic. It is also forbidden to camp outside the designated areas – campsites or forest campsites. This is primarily because when staying overnight “in the wild”, there is generally no information available about who own the property. And camping without permission exposes travellers to either to a fine/mandate from the forest guards, or to the dissatisfaction of the farmer or the land owner.
Having said all this, there are not many places in Poland where 4×4 drive is actually required and you can reach almost everywhere with an ordinary passenger car. Nevertheless -it is possible to find interesting routes, gravel roads and forgotten municipal roads. The easiest way to do this is to hire a company that organizes 4×4 trips around Poland or look for a guide from the region that you want to visit. The tracks are not generally known,but you can use https://www.wikiloc.com/ or https://www.traseo.pl/ . There are also the West Pomeranian Off-Road Routes, where several routes have been documented and are available in the form of gpx files. It is important to note that there are also restrictions on these routes – for example, groups of up to 4 cars only can travel across them.
Due to these limitations, 4×4 tourism is not very generally a very popular activity in Poland. In the times of Covid-19 things changed a bit, and more people are camping, but if going camping, passenger cars are usually enough to get you there.
Many travelers use OsmAND and the Open Street Map project. If you want to travel around Poland by 4×4 legally, you need to arm yourself with a telephone with Internet access, the mBDL app (database on forests), google maps satellite view and a large dose of local knowledge and experience.
North Eastern Poland
For a longer – 12-14 day trip, I would recommend the north-eastern part of Poland – Masuria and Podlasie. For a short – one week – trip, the areas around Borne Sulinowo, Drawsko Pomorskie or Międzyrzecki Fortified Region are ideal. And the weekend – in the place where I grew up – Kashubia.
The first stop is Gierloz, where your guide can show you around the Wolf’s Lair so you can go back in time for a few hours and reconstruct the course of the Hitler’s assassination attempt together. The guide will take you to places where ordinary tourists do not go. If you talk to the guide, they might allow you to spend the night on the shores of Lake Moj.
Then you can drive along the Russian border and where the countries of Russia, Lithuania and Poland meet. Trojsk – near Wisztyniec is referred to as the ‘Polish cold pole’.
Later, choosing rural roads, you can drive through Athens and see the beautiful post-Camaldolese monastery at the Wigry Lake. Its tower offers a wonderful view of the lake and its surroundings. An interesting fact for anglers is that the Wigry Lake is one of the two Polish lakes where whitefish spawns. In addition, in the Wigry National Park you can ride a charming narrow-gauge railway.
The next day, in the Biebrza National Park, you can rent a raft on the Biebrza River and organize a barbecue feast on it. The raft can be rented e.g. in Kopytkowo.
After an intense day on the raft, I recommend going along the picturesque route among the Biebrza National Park, from which you can reach viewpoints and footbridges. The name comes from the road that connected the former Russian (tsarist) fortresses – defensive towns. It starts in Osowiec and runs south. Today, the “Tsar’s Road” is alternatively called “Łosiostrada” (moose highway) – you will find out why without a doubt.
Then, going east, through Tykocin (the castle and Jewish synagogues) and Czeremchowa Tryba, you will reach Kruszyniany, a village located on the Tatar route. Kruszyniany is characterized by a large cultural and religious diversity of its inhabitants. When visiting a mosque or a mizar – the Tatar cemetery, for a moment you can feel as if you were in our favorite Central Asia.
After visiting Kruszyniany and tasting Tatar cuisine, head south. Through legal, forest roads you will reach the magical place of Białowieża. It is a region that has its own unique charm. This is where you will be able to recharge your batteries by visiting the Place of Power. Follow the Żebra Żubra (bison’s ribs) educational trail – the first forest nature trail in Poland, established in the 70s. The trail is quite long, about 4 km long, and ends near the Bison Show Reserve. The animals in the Reserve are in semi-natural conditions, in large farms covered with natural vegetation.
The Bison Show Reserve is the last place on our route, from there you will go along asphalt roads to the place from which you started your expedition – Gierłoż. On the way you will also see footbridges over the Narew and the estuary of the Biebrza to the Narew. If you have a moment and you feel like it, organize a short history lesson. You will be passing through Wizna – “Polish Thermopylae”, where on September 7-10, 1939, a battle was fought, where 700 Polish defenders under the command of the KOP captain Władysław Raginis faced the German forces of General Heinz Guderian (42,000
Borne Sulinowo Route
The shorter of the proposals – Borne Sulinowo – Drawsko Pomorskie is a trip through the forests where the remains of Soviet troops are hidden – bunkers, nuclear silos, abandoned cities and the largest military training ground in Europe. We start the expedition in Borny Sulinowo – a city that has only been on the maps since the 90s. If you want to see the most interesting places – we suggest using a local guide who knows the area best and will be able to get all the necessary permits. Another option is to use one of the ready-made 4×4 routes available on the Internet. There are also a few attractions waiting for you in Borny Sulinowo – you can ride a T-72 tank there, ride / swim in an amphibious vehicle or drive your own car onto a real tank field.
The routes around Borne Sulinowo are about 400 km long, some of them are difficult. A local guide can take you on a very difficult route. You have to reserve 4-5 days to drive each of the routes.
“Wild” camping in Poland is not legal. Sleeping in the forest is possible only in designated places. With the consent of the public forest managers, you can sleep in an agreed place. If the forest is private, the consent of the forest manager is not needed, but the consent of the forest owner is needed. Similarly – driving into the forest – is also not possible. The general rule is that you must not enter the forests. However,there are exceptions to this rule – for example – access to a village in the middle of a forest or a road marked with a sign – “udostępniona do ruchu kołowego”.
Many regions in Poland have prepared campsites and there are a lot of them. Each of them has their own regulations that outline what is allowed and what is not. Most often a curfew is in place and bonfires are not allowed unless they are in a designated area. Again, this rule does not apply to wild camping sites – managed by private individuals. In terms of 4×4 culture, we are closer to Western Europe than Eastern Europe or Central Asia 🙂
We are a group of friends fascinated by travel. With our trips, we want to spark the desire to see new places and curiosity about the world. We drive away from the usual tourist routes. Our passion is adventure-like travel and we want to share this passion with people who travel with us. We will not take you to the beaches of Hurghada, but with us you will see the Caucasus Mountains, shipwrecks in the Aral Sea or penguins on the shores of Patagonia. Land4travel is not a tourist office. It is a project for those who want to get in contact with nature, local culture, and want to feel the atmosphere of the Camel Trophy while traveling in legendary Land Rover Discovery SUVs. Come with us and experience the charm of Asian hotels and what the end of the world looks like at Cape Horn.
The company was founded out of passion for travel – for over 20 years I was associated with the corporation, I worked for a couple of the largest Polish internet portals. After some time came the discouragement of the corporation and the need to create something that would give great satisfaction. So I invited two fantastic people to work with me and that’s how it started. We currently have 6 expedition equipped Land Rovers – with roof tents, refrigerators, stoves, hot water showers and full camping equipment.
We rent these cars on fixed routes, and we drive ourselves as guides and mechanics. So far we have traveled mainly to Georgia, Armenia, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Russia. This year (2020) we stayed in Poland due to COVID. We traveled mainly in Masuria and Podlasie, Kashubia and Żuławy. Next year, we are expanding our offer to include Borne Sulinowo and the vicinity of Drawsko Pomorskie, as well as Jura Krakowsko – Częstochowska and Bieszczady. If the pandemic allows, we are planning trips to Algeria, Namibia, Georgia, Armenia, Turkey and the Baltic countries – Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. Otherwise – we stay in Poland and organize trips around our beautiful country.
If you want to really drive a 4×4 and feel like you are on a trip that really requires a 4×4 – I suggest going with us, for example, to Georgia or Armenia, where you will get to taste some real off-road adventure, meet fantastic people, drink vodka and fall in love with these places.