November 14, 2014

After giving it a lot of thought, I've decided that my favourite way to explore Europe is by car. I love hiking and cycling, but they're more about getting in touch with a particular area, whether it's by clambering up a hill or pedalling along the coast. Setting off for a road trip, though, is an altogether different experience. Europe is so compact that you can easily drive in and out of three or four different countries in a day, watching the languages on the signs change and looking out for local specialities displayed in restaurant windows. Or, of course, you can strike out on a longer trip and really get to know a new country, racing through it until you've got a mental map of cities, rivers and mountains.

This summer, I spent some time exploring Poland, a country where I'd not previously spent much time. It's a beautiful place for a driving holiday; here are some of the roads I enjoyed the most, and the destinations at the end of them.

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Wieliczka Salt Mines

Krakow - Wieliczka - Zakopane

Driving south-east from historic Krakow, it's just half an hour to the unique and beautiful Wieliczka Salt Mines, a UNESCO World Heritage site unlike anything else on Earth. Poland is a deeply Catholic country, and the Chapel of the Blessed King is an amazingly spiritual (if unorthodox) place for a moment's reflection.

From Wieliczka, head south through rolling countryside and stop for a stroll in the Gorce National Park, where you could spot wolves, bears or the rare fire salamander.

A little farther south are the majestic High Tatras, a mountain range that runs along the Polish border with Slovenia - the rustic village of Zakopane offers a cable car service for a truly unbeatable view.

Szczecin - Pogorzelica - Koszalin

This seaside route is ideal for a leisurely morning's drive, taking you between two of Poland's provincial capitals in a matter of hours.

Szczecin is better known as Stettin, one of the two cities mentioned in Churchill's famous Iron Curtain speech - it's now a busy and beautiful city full of museums and theatres.

Follow the Oder river up to the Bay of Pomerania, and then turn to the east to follow the majestic Baltic coastline. I stopped in Pogorzelica, a tiny village that is transformed by day-trippers in the summer, but there are hundreds of places to explore along your route.

After 120 kilometres or so, you'll find yourself in Koszalin, a site of Pagan worship in the distant past and now a beautiful spot for an afternoon's exploring.

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Lublin cityscape

Gdansk - Bydgoszcz - Warsaw - Lublin

For a longer and more adventurous inter-city tour, set off from the coastal city of Gdansk and head into the Polish interior. Almost due south of Gdansk is Bydgoszcz, a bustling metropolis surrounded by tranquil garden suburbs - its 19th century city centre is beautifully preserved and great for photo opportunities.

From there you can head along the Vistula, Poland's biggest river, towards Warsaw. The Gostynin-Włocławek Landscape Park and Kampinos National Park offer beautiful natural views that contrast spectacularly with urban Polish life.

I recommend spending a night in Warsaw, one of Europe's most enticing cities, before heading south-east to the cultural hub of Lublin.

Discover Poland with Eurotunnel Le Shuttle

British road trippers can explore the continent at the drop of a hat with Eurotunnel Le Shuttle, which takes just 35 minutes to deliver you and your car safely across the Channel to Calais. Just remember that in Poland you'll be driving on the right, and although the speed limits are higher than in the UK they're even more rigorously enforced! I hope you enjoy exploring this wonderful country by car as much as I did.

Photo Credits:
High Tatras © Andrij Bulba
Wieliczka Salt Mines © Giles Douglas
Lublin cityscape © Tomasz Przechlewski

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