Poland’s top sea and sun destination, Western Pomerania offers visitors a whole host of attractions from sandy beaches and national parks, to bustling towns and a rich, varied history.
In Poland’s north western corner, bordering Germany to the west and the Baltic Sea to the north, Western Pomerania boasts a 124-mile stretch of coastline, secluded beaches, seaside towns and the tranquil surroundings of the Pomeranian Lake District. In a word the region is a must for outdoor lovers. But Western Pomerania also has a rich industrial past typified by Poland’s second largest port city, Szczecin.
Western Pomerania dates back to the Slavic tribes who settled in the area in the 9th and 10th centuries. Ruled by various dukes, the region was unified at the end of the 10th century by the Piast dynasty – the first Polish kings – before falling under the influence of the Germanised Margraves. The 17th century saw Western Pomerania under Swedish rule before it was annexed by Prussia in 1720. It was not returned to Poland until after World War II.
Arguably Western Pomerania’s biggest draw is the countryside, and this wonderful part of Poland does not disappoint. Much of the region’s landscape is dominated by lakes, and the Drawsko Lakes are one of the country’s top outdoor spots. A hit with yachtsmen, kayakers, fishermen, cyclists and walkers, hundreds of lakes, both great and small, make the region a very picturesque and popular place. Escapism par excellence.
Over 250 lakes dot a landscape that is an oasis of quiet, unspoilt scenery. The crystal clear waters teem with fish and it is no surprise to see the forest floors carpeted with wild mushrooms, making the lakes a real treat and a great place to unwind. The largest of the region’s lakes is Drawsko itself, a body of water over 12 kilometres long and 83 metres deep. A trip here will also let you take in the Stare Drawsko and the ruins of an impressive 14th century Teutonic Knights’ castle.
The popular tourist town of Czaplinek lies on Lake Drawsko’s south eastern edge while a journey north through the Valley of the Five Lakes will take you to the spa town of Połczyn Zdrój which has been renowned for the healing powers of its waters since the 14th century. The town is also home to a 13th century castle while the wider region is known for the Wał Pomorskie or Pomeranian Wall. Stretching from Szczecinek through Wałcz and Tuczno to Krzyż, the defensive barrier was built by the Germans in the 1930s and formed part of an ambitious network of fortifications. Polish soldiers did not manage to break through the line until February 1945.
Further north, on the Baltic coast, Western Pomerania boasts some of Poland’s premier beach resorts. A region with over 120 miles of pristine Baltic coastline, it is a magnet for Poles and Europeans in the summer months who come seeking to soak up the sun and laze in the surf.
Seaside towns aplenty make Western Pomerania’s beach resorts a reason to visit the Baltic, but it is a more natural phenomenon that stands out on this special stretch of coastline. Large, shifting sand dunes are a feature of the Słowiński National Park, which move at the rate of 30 feet or 9 metres a year as they travel across the landscape. Formerly a gulf, the park is a World Biosphere Reserve and home to two lakes and well over 200 species of bird, including the rare sea eagle. A visit to the park makes for a great day out with a difference, and takes in some of Western Pomerania’s most dramatic scenery away from the hustle and bustle of its seaside towns.
Away from Słowiński, the popular tourist towns along the northern coast include Jarosławiec, Darłowo, Kołobrzeg, Kamień Pomorski, Międzyzdroje and the three islands that make up Świnoujście – all very different but all worth a visit.
Jarosławiec is one of the country’s prettiest seaside towns lying close to Lake Wicko which is decorated with traditional fishermen’s cottages, half-timbered houses and a 17th century lighthouse. Working down the coast make your next stop Darłowo, a popular resort on the River Wieprza, dating from 1270. This sleepy fishing village was once the seat of the Pomeranian Duke Eryk I who built a magnificent castle here in the 14th century – still standing today – from where he ruled over Denmark, Sweden and Norway. The castle is a now a museum while Duke Eryk I is buried in the town’s Gothic church along with a number of other Pomeranian dukes.
Continuing down the Baltic coast in the direction of Szczecin the next seaside stop is Kołobrzeg, a port and major spa town. Dating from the year 1000, it prospered as a member of the Hanseatic League and much of the town’s early wealth was based on salt and salt herring production. Nearly 90 per cent of Kołobrzeg was destroyed during the horrors of World War II, but the majority of the old town has been rebuilt to reflect its former splendour. Climb to the top of Gothic Collegiate Church of St Mary for wonderful views of the town and its surroundings and visit the holiday towns beyond the Kołobrzeg dunes to enjoy sleepy summer days in the picturesque countryside. Together with its wealth of spas, the town’s fine sandy beaches make it one of the most popular health resorts on the Baltic coast.
At the far western edge of Western Pomerania’s coastline lies Świnoujście – a unique town occupying three islands: Karsibór, Wolin and Uznam. A major port for cargo ships and passenger ferries to Copenhagen and Hamburg, the town is also a popular tourist centre. Long sandy beaches, Poland’s tallest lighthouse and a well-established spa industry mean the town gets its fair share of visitors, while the south of Wolin island was once home to one of Poland’s oldest Slav settlements that dominated the surrounding countryside over 1000 years ago. Wolin Island is also home to pristine forests, dramatic cliffs and coastal scenery that attract walkers and hikers form across Europe.
For lovers of more urban surroundings Szczecin is well worth a visit. Home to over 400,000 it is Poland’s second largest seaport, despite being over 65 kilometres from the sea. Known by German speakers as Stettin, the city evolved from an early medieval Pomeranian stronghold, which merged with two adjacent German settlements – creating the present-day old town – in 1243. Shortly after in 1251 it joined the Hanseatic League and its future was secured. It was the capital of the Pomeranian duchy before falling under Swedish rule in the 17th century, whereupon it was annexed by Prussia in 1720. It then become a major port, went through a process of Germanisation, and, in common with many Polish cities, suffered greatly during World War II. Thankfully many of Szczecin’s important historic buildings have been restored to their former glory.
‘Must sees’ in the city are concentrated in the centre and all easily reached on foot, including the Castle of the Dukes of Pomerania, founded in the 13th century and rebuilt along Renaissance lines in the 1570s. With five wings, interior courtyards and two towers the palace was once a sumptuous royal residence. Other historical sites include the wonderfully-named Tower of the Seven Cloaks, the only remaining part of the city’s medieval fortifications, The Gate of the Prussian Homage, at one time the Royal Gate which was built under Swedish rule and of the course the National and Maritime Museums which together chart Szczecin’s history and naval past.
Szczecin is also famed for its brick Gothic-style churches that dominate the city’s skyline. In many cases built over 500 years ago, the churches mean the city forms part of the European Route of Brick Gothic connecting 31 cities from the Baltic to Estonia.
Away from the city, to the east on the banks of the River Ina, is Stargard Szczeciński a popular and interesting town a world away from the hustle and bustle of its big city neighbour. A town perfect for a gentle stroll in a relaxed atmosphere Stargard Szczeciński makes for a great day trip thanks to Gothic and Renaissance architecture and near perfectly preserved city walls complete with imposing towers and gated strongholds. A visit here would make for a relaxing day, before heading back to Szczecin to while the night away in its many clubs, bars and restaurants.
With a wealth of attractions for visitors from stunning countryside, wonderful lakes, beautiful beaches and great cities Western Pomerania certainly has something for everyone. And thanks to great Polish hospitality, wonderful food and prices to suit all pockets it is a great holiday destination that won’t break the bank in 2010.