Wielkopolska is blessed with at least a dozen regions and places whose sightseeing treasures really set them apart. The voivodeship’s beautiful natural surroundings, fascinating heritage, historical memorials and prosperous development have made it a tourist magnet. The towns and countrysides described below can be visited on daytrips or on sightseeing excursions lasting several days. Many of them make ideal holiday destinations.
Poznań is one of the oldest cities and, with a population of just under 600,000, one of the largest in the country. With its many historical buildings and monuments, museums and modern facilities, Poznań is one of Poland’s major centres of learning, culture, trade and industry. The archcathedral basilica on the island of Ostrów Tumski (the oldest part of the city) dates back to the 10th century and contains relics of Poland’s first cathedral. The Old Town complex is definitely worth a visit to see its beautiful renaissance town hall and baroque parish church. Some interesting buildings, including a few impressive eclectic edifices around Adam Mickiewicz Square, were erected in the city centre in the 19th and early 20th centuries. The Cemetery of Distinguished Wielkopolska Residents can be found on St. Wojciech Hill. Twenty museum branches, with the National Museum at the forefront, depict the history of art, engineering and biology, as well as the lives of outstanding Poles. Poland’s biggest palm house, the two large zoological gardens, Lake Malta, and numerous sports facilities (including an artificial ski slope) offer different kinds of attractions. Many trade fairs are held in Poznań throughout the year. There is plenty of accommodation, stylish restaurants and pubs, especially around the Old Town.
Two towns especially renowned for their manor houses and beautiful parks lie to the south of Poznań. The castle museum in Kórnik once belonged to the Działyński family and the park and arboretum house some 3,000 species and varieties of trees and shrubs. Rogalin was the Raczyński family estate until 1939. There is a palace museum, a church (actually a copy of a 1st century BC Roman chapel in Nîmes, France), a picture gallery and a park with centuries-old oak trees. Not far away, to the west of the Warta River, lies the Wielkopolska National Park – an extraordinary “museum” of post-glacial formations complete with hills, lakes and natural monuments - and the Rogalin Landscape Park. The biographical museum of writer and adventurer Arkady Fiedler in Puszczykówko and the National Museum of Agriculture and Agricultural Food Industry in Szreniawa, both at the edge of the Wielkopolska National Park, are well worth a visit.
To the north-east of Poznań lies Zielonka Wilderness, a popular recreational resort for the city’s inhabitants. The 15th-century Gothic Collegiate Church and the Górka Castle Museum, which houses a valuable collection of icons, are two of Szamotuły’s historical buildings. Several of the lakes around Poznań are suitable for swimming and sunbathing during summer.
Wielkopolska is the cradle of the Polish state. A lot of Romanesque monuments from that time (i.e. the 10th to 13th centuries) can be found along the Poznań-Gniezno-Kruszwica route, better known as the Piast Trail. Gniezno, the first capital of Poland, is way out in front with its beautiful Gothic cathedral, its collections of historical memorabilia and works of art, its engrossing Museum of the Origins of the Polish State and Archdiocesan Museum, and its other heritage buildings, like the Gothic St. John Church with its 14th century polychrome.
Lake Lednica adjoins the Wielkopolska Ethnographic Park, a huge open-air museum, and its waters surround Ostrów Lednicki, the country’s most famous inland island. Around Imiołki, on the other side of the lake, lies Pola Lednickie (Lednica Fields). A youth gathering is held at a symbolic fish-shaped gate here every year (Lednica 2000). Models of famous Wielkopolska buildings are on display at the miniature open-air museum in Pobiedziska. Giecz has some valuable Romanesque building relics. Further east of Gniezno, churches of Romanesque origin grace Trzemeszno, Mogilno, Strzelno and Kruszwica. The Mysia Wieża (Mouse Tower) in Kruszwica, the remains of a 14th-century castle, is shrouded in legend.
KONIN – MONUMENTS AND MINES
The eastern part of Wielkopolska, around Konin, Koło and Turek, was the site of some massive investment projects in the 1960s. Brown coal mines, huge power plants and aluminium smelters were built here, as was the country’s largest ecclesiastical project, the Basilica of Our Lady of Licheń in Stary Licheń, built in the closing years of the 20th century. These facilities are also immensely popular sightseeing attractions. The region also has a dozen or more monuments and there are holiday and spa resorts by the lake north of Konin. Some of the more prominent historical sites include the former Cistercian Abbey in Ląd, the Camaldolese hermitage in Bieniszew, the 12th-century milepost in Konin, and the castle ruins in Wyszyna, Koło, Uniejów and Borysławice Zamkowe. The Regional Museum is housed in a Gothic castle in Gosławice, now a suburb of Konin, and has some valuable collections, including ethnographic ones. The Ceramic Art Museum, the only one in Poland, is based in Koło. Lake Jeziorsko is an enormous reservoir on the border of the voivodeship created by damming the Warta. Its surface area of 4,230 ha makes it twice as large as Lake Gopło.
MIŁOSŁAW, ŻERKÓW AND ENVIRONS
What sets this modest region apart are its scenic landscapes and towns where many a famous Polish person has stayed. The beautiful wilderness-like forest on the Warta near Czeszewo, outside Żerków, runs through a range of hills from where an expansive view of the Warta River Valley unfurls before you. The Żerków-Czeszewo Landscape Park was created here on the strength of these landscape amenities.
In Winna Góra, the chapel mausoleum of Gen. Jan Henryk Dąbrowski (a Polish national hero) adjoins the church and there is a museum chamber inside the palace. The museum in the palace in Śmiełów, set up to commemorate Adam Mickiewicz (a Polish romantic poet) having stayed there, is a branch of the National Museum in Poznań. The town of Miłosław, famous for the battle fought there during the Revolutions of 1848, has a palace, a park containing the country’s first Juliusz Słowacki (a Polish romantic poet, second only to Mickiewicz) monument, and an attractive Gothic church. Żerków also has an intriguing baroque church.
KALISZ AND ENVIRONS
Kalisz is the oldest recorded city in Poland, having been mentioned by Greek geographer Ptolemy in the second century AD. Its glorious past is attested by many monuments from the early Middle Ages through to the 20th century. These include the excavations at the Zawodzie archaeological reserve, the Gothic cathedral, the baroque St. Joseph Basilica and other church monuments. Kalisz Museum has assembled some valuable collections. The monumental cemeteries of various faiths are extraordinary, even by Wielkopolska standards. Poland’s oldest municipal park is situated on the banks of the Prosna.
The village of Gołuchów is just 15 km north-west of Kalisz and is a treasure trove for sightseers. There is a renaissance castle with lushly furnished interiors (including a collection of Gołuchów vases – ancient Greek dishes), a sweeping 162 ha park with impressive stands of trees, a forestry museum, a bison enclosure, and the great St. Jadwiga Stone (the largest in Poland) in the nearby woods. The Industrial History Museum is located in a disused factory in the village of Opatówek, 10km east of Kalisz, and the Maria Dąbrowska Museum is in the novelist’s cottage in Russów, on the main road to Konin.
The range of high hills stretching along the southern boundary of Wielkopolska offers a foretaste of the highlands. This is where the region’s highest peaks, Kobyla Góra (284 m asl) and Bałczyna (278 m asl) are. The sprawling spruce and fir forests that cover the hills have been made into nature reserves. The Antonin Palace, the castle tower in Ostrzeszów and the wooden “Na Pólku” (On the Plot) church in Bralin are some of the more notable sites. Kotłów, a Prosna valley village at the foothills, has a 12th-century Romanesque church. The village of Kobyla Góra is a summer resort with good tourist facilities, including a swimming pool and a hotel. Hikers are well catered for with numerous signposted trails.
LESZNO AND ENVIRONS – HERITAGE COUNTRY
The south-west of Wielkopolska borders Lower Silesia. This was once an area to which people of many creeds, some of them outstanding artists, migrated from Bohemia, Germany and Silesia. This explains why there are so many esteemed artistic treasures, especially from the 17th and 18th centuries, in the region. The most important are St. Nicholas Collegiate Church in Leszno, the buildings in Rydzyna, and the palaces in Pawłowice, Gębice and Pępowo. The Basilica on the Holy Mountain in Gostyń was modelled on the Santa Maria della Salute basilica in Venice and is one of the loveliest churches in Poland. Nearby Lubin boasts two churches of Romanesque origin, one of which is a Benedictine monastic church. The Gostyń, Kościan and Wschowa parish churches are all prime examples of Gothic architecture. Rawicz has substantially preserved its 18th century buildings. The lakes around Osieczna and Boszkowo are dotted with bathing and holiday resorts.
WOLSZTYN, LAKES AND THE OBRA RIVER VALLEY
Wolsztyn has been designated the town of flowers – the town where every square, plaza and street is adorned with thousands of flowers in summer. Wolsztyn is situated beside a lake and the three nearby Obra canals enhance its idiosyncratic beauty. One of the main attractions is Europe"s only working steam train, along with a collection of 20 steam locomotives. And that is in addition to the Open Air Museum of Folk Architecture and the museums honouring sculptor Marcin Rożek and Nobel Prize winning physician Robert Koch. The railway station is open to visitors and steam trains occasionally run on the Poznań and Leszno lines. Przemęt Landscape Park is a protected expanse of lakes to the south of the city. Obra, Przemęt and Wieleń Zaobrzański have valuable post-Cistercian buildings. The Wielkopolska Fire-Fighting Museum in Rakoniewice has an abundance of exhibits. The Obra River around Wolsztyn, and even further on through Zbąszyń and Międzyrzecz, is an attractive stretch of water for canoeists.
MIĘDZYRZECZ AND FORTIFICATIONS
Międzyrzecz was the major town on Wielkopolska"s western border for many centuries. It is now in the Voivodeship of Lubusz. The ruins of a castle erected by Casimir the Great is a reminder of past glory, as is the former crown lands (“starostwo”) building which houses a museum. To the west and south of Międzyrzecz you can still see the massive subterranean fortifications of the Międzyrzecz Fortified Area built by the Germans in the 1930s. The “Boryszyn Loop”, the most interesting fragment, is open to visitors near the village of Boryszyn. The considerable subterranean portion, which comprises some 50 km of passageways, is now a nature reserve where bats bed down for the winter. The imposing former Cistercian abbey in Gościkowo-Paradyż is now a seminary. The original monastery and church were rebuilt in the baroque style. Bathhouses and holiday resorts line the lake.
The Międzychód-Sieraków Lakeland around Międzychód and Sieraków nudges the western boundary of the voivodeship. The rich terrain, the many lakes (over 1,000 bodies of water), and the forests with their different types of tree, all weighed in favour of creating the Międzychód-Sieraków Landscape Park. The main tourist part of the Lakeland comprises Sieraków, a Warta River town with some cherished heritage buildings (particularly the renaissance church and the castle museum) and a large holiday centre with bathhouses by the lake, an indoor swimming pool and a bowling alley. Noteć Forest, several scenic outlooks, and the natural education centre in Chalina, are all in the vicinity of the reserve. The 18th-century city buildings in Międzychód, the captivating 15th-century Gothic church in Kamionna, the 19th-century palace in Rozbitek, and the 18th-century church and 19th-century palace in Kwilcz are all worthy of special attention. Międzychód, Ustroń, Chrzypsko Wielkie and Łężeczki have bathing and holiday resorts.
NOTEĆ RIVER VALLEY
The Noteć flows along the Toruń-Eberswalde Glacial Valley in the north of Wielkopolska. The hills loom high above the valley in a couple of places to add to the scenic diversity of the landscape. Noteć forest spreads over an area of 135 ha in the plain between the Noteć and the Warta. Mushrooming enthusiasts flock here from all over Poland in autumn. The beautiful countryside outdoes itself around Czarnków and Chodzież and at the northern edge of the Kaczory and Osiek areas. This is excellent hiking terrain. The 18th-century palace in Wieleń, the 15th-century church in Czarnków, the 18th-century church in Lubasz and the 18th-century weaver’s homes in Chodzież are some of the more interesting sites.
The regions to the north of the Noteć River Valley, where the Gwda and Drawa flow, are collectively known as West Krajna. Here, you can find river valleys and lakes nestled in amongst clumps of forest. The Polish population around Złotów heroically resisted being Germanised during the interwar period. Fierce fighting erupted in Piła and the surrounding district in early 1945 as the Polish First Army broke through the German line of defence known as the Pomeranian Wall. The many facilities and mementos from those times are the main tourist attraction in West Krajna.
The fortifications, blown up after 1945, can be seen in Zdbice (which also has a fascinating museum), Wałcz and around Tuczno.
There is a striking 15th-century castle on the isthmus between the lakes in Tuczno. Piła is the biggest city in the north of Wielkopolska and is also the birthplace of Stanisław Staszic, a leader of the Polish enlightenment. There are two museums and a 1930s avant-garde church. Bathing and holiday resorts line many of the lakes.
Pałuki is a historical and ethnographic region in the north-eastern corner of Wielkopolska. Kcynia, Wągrowiec and Żnin are its major centres today. These towns have a wealth of architectural treasures, including the Gothic and Baroque churches in Wągrowiec and the Gothic church and town hall tower in Żnin. Gołańcz sits in the shadow of one of the most stately castle ruins in Wielkopolska. Biskupin, an uncovered fortified settlement dating back to the 8th century BC, is the best known locality in Pałuki and the most famous archaeological site in the country. A celebrated archaeology festival is held here every September. Nearby Wenecja boasts the ruins of a castle and a narrow-gauge rail museum. Some significant finds have been unearthed in Łekno, near Wągrowiec, over recent years. Wielkopolska’s first Cistercian monastery was built here in 1143. The 16th-century wooden church in Tarnowo Pałuckie is one of the oldest wooden places of worship in the country.