My husband and I recently took a mini trip before our week in the Caucasus region for my brother in law's wedding to explore Krakow and Southern Poland. My husband lived in Europe as a kid for a few years, so he has been to many European cities, but he didn't get to really explore Poland until a recent work trip that sold him on Krakow and the Southern area of Poland which he loved so much, I had to go with him to experience them myself.
When I first thought of Poland, my immediate reaction was that we wouldn't get to see many "old Europe" sights like other cities because of the war. I didn't realize the majority of southern Poland, which held Auschwitz-Birkenau, wasn't actually destroyed in WWII like Warsaw. Many old castles and gorgeous historical buildings remain. Couple that with extreme affordability, a good percentage of people in the service industry speaking English, being safe and easy to fly into- and we were sold on a five day visit to Krakow.
Since our flight got in at 10am, and we couldn't check into our room until 3pm, we decided to book a tour for the day we arrived to keep us busy and help get adjusted to the time zone straight away. Our tour guide Anna, who we booked with the help of Private Tours Krakow, met us at the airport and took us through one of Krakow's most overlooked areas- Ojców National Park- to see some of the "Eagles Nest" castles.
Just beyond the outskirts of Krakow in the South of Poland lies a gorgeous National Park, dotted with limestone rock formations, pine trees, lush forests, a river, and ruins of once spectacular castles that served as watchtowers, homes for nobility, and fortresses to help fortify the trade route into medieval Krakow which was especially prone to attack. The great Polish King Kazimierz built a trail of castles to make the route into Krakow safer and the area more prosperous.
The first castle we saw, Pieskowa Ska?a Castle, is beautiful, even though we could only admire it from afar. It is currently undergoing major renovations to the museum- and fortification work to preserve it's beauty and structure. It was built in the 14th century for King Kazimierz. Now, it serves as a museum and focal point in the park.
Ojców Castle sits in the middle of the park and offers fabulous views. We were there in completely the wrong season- but in summer or fall, this castle has views that have to be absolutely spectacular.
The Ojców Castle is very stereotypically romantic- it fit the imaginary castles I saw as a little girl in my head to a T. Just look at that gate and tower! There is a now flattened courtyard and a big well you can look down in the middle- in it's heyday, it had to be a grand spectacle.
The entire National Park has numerous microclimates that make it a truly intriguing place to visit. We noticed the high areas were adorned with dense pine trees and seemed more arid- where the valleys just underneath had rich green undergrowth that made it feel more like a rainforest. The temperature swings 10-15 degrees depending on your position within the relatively small park as well- sometimes from the top of a hill just to the bottom.
Sadly, the day we went was a bit drab- and mid April was a bit of a bleak time to visit as most of the trees hadn't started to bloom yet. I'd love to come back and see the park in summer- but for a short day trip outside of Krakow, the park was perfect. We were so tired from travelling all day and night- but were so excited by the beauty of the park and the castle ruins- it set the perfect tone to begin our trip!
Stay tuned here in the coming weeks when I will be detailing everything we did and ate in Poland, and then Georgia and Armenia!