Our family visit to Poland earlier this month came about because we had the opportunity to attend the opening game of Euro 2012 (Poland versus Greece) in Warsaw. While it was a thrilling match (not just because I’m Greek and my husband is Polish) in a pretty city, I found Warsaw to be too austere for my taste and was happy to get on train south to Krakow for a different view of Polish life.
From the moment we stepped off the train in Krakow and within minutes, found ourselves walking down pedestrian-only Floriańska to the main market square (Rynek Główny), our family felt that we had just arrived in a very special place that not only had a long history – one look at the architecture alone tells this – but proud and deep cultural roots that were not going to succumb to commercialism anytime soon. That notion made my little ecotourism heart so happy!
I don’t know if it was because there was a constant stream of musicians playing classical music or traditional Polish songs or because the preferred method of travel was by foot or horse carriage (or eco-taxi and tram) and most sites were within walking distance, but there was a genuine and friendly nature to the city that I had not experienced for a long time in Europe. Krakowiaks are delighted to discuss their legends, museum art collections, festivals, gardens and resolve in fighting back many invaders.
One of our favorite activities was going to the Wieliczka Salt Mine just outside Kraków. The mine, built in the 13th century, is one of the world’s oldest and the biggest attraction is the chapel that was carved out of the rock salt by the miners.
It is this sense of cultural pride and preservation that appeals to me as an ecotourism destination. The fact that accommodations, meals and family-friendly activities were quite inexpensive did not hurt either.
Every fiber of my being was abuzz and happy at finding yet another eco-destination that provided its relatively few visitors with a wonderful glimpse of its history, music, traditions and delicacies. I, for one, cannot wait to be back in Krakow one day very soon.
Where to Stay: We rented a lovely, sun-filled one bedroom apartment located right on Rynek Główny from AAA Krakow Apartments. Our “Venetian 15” apartment had a full kitchen, Wi-Fi, satellite television with a DVD player and plenty of space. The management was well organized, friendly and provided us with very helpful restaurant and grocery store recommendations.
Additional Travel Tip: I highly recommend checking out the See Krakow website for activity and trip suggestions. The company offers daily tours, including rafting trips, throughout the region. They are helpful and flexible with organizing reservations and you can customize the activities to your needs (i.e. take their bus to Zakopane – Tatra Mountains, stay a few days, and then take their bus back to Krakow)