National Parks in Poland: Around S這wi雟ki Park

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With its superb sandy beaches, spectacular cliffs and colourful fishing villages, the central   stretch of Poland's coast is a tourist's delight, its attractiveness further enhanced by the greatest number of sunny days in the country. Because of numerous old half-timbered houses and churches, the region is also known as the "Chequered Land”. Two historic towns, S逝psk and Dar這wo, are known of array of drowsy villages with quaint old houses, churches and small palaces. Accommodation is as easy to find as the numerous attractions include biking trips, horse riding, pleasure flights and sea cruises.

S這wi雟ki National Park: κba

Straddling the mouth of the river of the same name, between lakes Sarbsko and κbsko, κba has been one of Poland's best known summer resorts since the end of the 19th century. The town also provides a convenient base for visiting the eastern part of S這wi雟ki National Park.

Life concentrates around the main Ko軼iuszki st., which boasts the greatest number of century-old fishermen's houses in town, with their narrow gables facing onto the street. This charming architecture has helped κba to retain the character and atmosphere of an old fishing village. The most picturesque places are along the canal that cuts across ul. Ko軼iuszki and is jammed with bright fishing boats mooring there.

North of κba stretches an old pine forest separated by dunes from a wide sandy beach, which in summer attracts hordes of holiday-makers. Above the beach rises a fancy castle built before the war as a guest house and now one of the finest hotels on the coast.

A visit to the famous shifting dunes involves a fairly long walk west of κba. The dunes stretching north of Lake κbsko culminate near R帳ka with Wydma ㄠcka, the highest of them (43 m), resembling a crescent with its arms pointing eastwards. Not surprisingly, it's the main destination for visitors to the area. Your best bet is to hike along the trail from κba (marked in red) via R帳ka to the dunes and back along the beach (about 17 km). In some places cars, minibuses and horse-drown cab are allowed.

S這wi雟ki National Park: S逝psk

With its collection of charming old buildings including a town hall, castle, mill and some Art Nouveau or neo-Gothic houses, this tidy town on the S逝pia River, 18 km inland, won't disappoint you. The riverbanks are ideal for strolling. S逝psk is also the site of the Polish Piano Festival and regular organ concerts.

The best-known sight in town, the castle rising by the banks of the river. It was built in 1507 as a residence of the West Pomeranian dukes and altered in the late 16th century in the Renaissance style. On your way take a look at the late-Gothic octagonal St. George's Chapel, whose 18th-century Baroque cupola is topped with a lantern. Modelled on Jerusalem's Holy Sepulchre, it is one of three such constructions that have survived in Pomerania.

The castle is home to the Museum of Central Pomerania (Dominika雟ka st., 5/9), which has Poland's largest collection of paintings (more than 200) by Stanis豉w I. Witkiewicz. Other rooms contain religious woodcarvings, tin coffins of the Pomeranian dukes, furniture, tapestries, weapons and a valuable 17th-century map of Pomerania.

Just north of the castle, on a canal which joins the S逝pia, stands a huge 600-year-old half-timbered mill, used in the Middle Ages for storing grain. One of Poland's oldest industrial buildings, it also ranks among the finest sights of S逝psk.

There are the 14th-century Mill Gate and the 17th-century Witch Tower nearby. St. Hyacinthus' Church, next to the mill and castle, has an impressive 17th-century organ that you can hear on every Thursday in summer. Back in the town hall area, the huge red-brick cube of the Gothic New Gate actually dates from the second half of the 14th century.

S這wi雟ki National Park: Dar這wo

Intersected by the Wieprza River, Dar這wo is one of the prettiest towns along the Polish coast, although it actually lies a couple of kilometres inland (there are fine wide beaches in the nearby seaside resort of Darówek). The historic buildings and medieval street grid offer pleasant opportunities for leisurely strolls.

The castle of the Pomeranian dukes (built 1352) is a favourite among visitors. One of its residence was the exiled Erik VII, king of Scandinavia, who spent the last 10 years of his life here, living from piracy.  Later the castle served as a hospital and prison.

Two gates lead onto the inner courtyyard, the eastern one piercing a mighty tower which can be climbed for a fine panorama of the surrounding countryside. The west wing, destroyed in 1945, has been replced by a terrace cafe. The castle has so many alluring nooks and crannies - narrow passageways, mysterious dungeons, evocatibve galleries - that it would fascinate visitors even it was empty.

The pedestrianized Powstanców Warszawskich st. in the Old Town is lined with handsome Baroque and necoclassical houses. More of these can be found around the main square, which is dominated by a late-Baroque town hall and features an attractive fountain in its centre.

Dar這wo's seaside suburb of Darówek is a popular beach resort at the mouth of Wieprza river. Its major attraction is a 19th century pedestrian drawbridge (see it in action before 6 am, when fishing boats go out to sea or after 3 pm when they return) and a 23 m high 19th century lighthouse.

The "Chequered Land”

The "Chequered Land” is the stretch of Central Pomerania roughly between Dar這wo and Lake κbsko, whose name derives from its characteristic half-timbered architecture. A must for all lovers of rural landscapes and spots where time seems to have stopped, it is intersected by a trail which takes in a number of picture-pretty villages.

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