History written in the castle walls
Landscape elements of the Krakow-Częstochowa Upland create an ideal composition. The Małpolska region abounds in caves, green valleys, lofty hills, limestone rocks and transparent karst springs. What's more, it has the only desert in Poland, called the Błędów Desert, which stretches from Błędów to the commune of Klucze. However, the Upland is known primarily for its long and rich history, which is remembered by, among others, magnificent castles that form the Eagles' Nests trail, as well as wooden churches. Their walls echoes with distant times. It is enough to mention the ruins of the castle in Ojców – a remnant of a stronghold built in the 14th century, or an equally old building in Rabsztyn. These are works of medieval architecture that have seen many battles. Fortunately, despite the passage of years, many people still cultivate the traditions of the Middle Ages, as exemplified by the knights' fights organized at the castles in Rabsztyn and Korzkiew and by Juromania – Festival of the Kraków-Częstochowa Upland.
The pearl of the region is the Ojców National Park (the smallest national park in Poland), the history of which dates back to 1956. Its most valuable objects are unique rock formations with intriguing names: Hercules Club – near the castle in Pieskowa Skała – and Deotyma Needle. When you're in the vicinity, we also recommend seeing some caves, the most popular of which are the King Łokietek's Cave and the Dark Cave. The last of them belongs to the group of one of the most valuable archaeological sites in Poland – the traces of human presence found inside it originate from 115 thousand years ago!
discovering the caves of the Ojców National Park we have a chance to meet their regular visitors. It is inhabited by as many as 15 out of 21 bat species living in Poland! No wonder that they are the symbol of the Park, which is manifested in the logo. In addition to bats, Ojców National Park has many other interesting animals, including butterflies, safflower and violet periwinkle, birds like hen harrier and Montagu’s harrier, black stork. The Park is protected as part of the Natura 2000 network.
Upland – a land full of valleys, caves and rocks
A journey through the Krakow-Czestochowa Upland, also known as Polish Jura, can be started in Krakow. In the former Polish capital, tourists have been admiring for centuries the monumental Wawel, which is one of the most important monuments of our country. This castle is also the first point on the Trail of the Eagles' Nests, from which we will begin our story. The name of this famous route has an extremely interesting genesis. The strongholds and castles of the Upland were built on high rocks reaching up to 30 meters height! Numerous legends are associated with the Trail of the Eagles' Nests, which embellish the history of this region. The picturesque Prądnik Valley makes the landscape even more breath-taking – we will see it starting from Krakow and heading towards Korzkiew, Ojców and Sułoszowa. In these places there you will find another stops of the Eagles' Nests Trail – castle ruins and fortresses remembering the Middle Ages.
When we leave Ojców National Park and head west, we will reach the Krakow Valleys. In one of them – the Będkowska Valley – you can discover the Bat Cave with flint caves and javelins made by the first people of the Homo Sapiens species. We recommend this place to lovers of history, geology and... Polish cinema. Some scenes of the movie “With Fire and Sword” were shot here. Interesting caves can also be found, for example, in the Kluczwoda Valley: Mamutowa (Wierzchowska Dolna) and Wierzchowska Górna. Experienced speleologists will be delighted with extraordinary attractions, including caves: Januszkowa Szczelina – one of the deepest in the Upland, located near Olkusz; Gorenicka Cave or Mąciwody Cave in the village of Klucze, the entrance to which is in situated in... a well.
You can write a lot about the Upland's caves, as only in the Ojców National Park, there are over 500 of them. At a distance of 10-20 km from Olkusz, we come across the Pazurek and Michałowiec nature reserves. There are also the Wodąca Valley and the Sztoła Valley in the area.
“Eagles' nests” and wooden churches, or a few words about monuments
Although time flies inexorably, in the Krakow-Częstochowa Upland we will find objects for which time has stopped. These are castles remembering the era of Casimir III the Great, modest wooden churches “resistant” to adverse historical and weather conditions. It is also worth to mention the ruins of the castles in Rudno (Tenczyn Castle) and Bydlin. The trail will also make us visit the Old Polish Manor House in Krzykawka. This charming noble building was probably built before 1724. An equally charming residence was built in small Bolesław, it currently houses the Maria Płonowska Cultural Centre. It is also worth visiting the less known medieval strongholds of Stary Olkusz and Krzykawka.
Small wooden churches contrast with the magnificent defensive buildings and rich upland residences, which we will see following the Wooden Architecture Route. On the route we will find, among others, the church of St Mark in Rodaki, the church of Sts Nicholas and Lawrence in Dłużec and the chapel of St Joseph in Ojców (the “chapel on the water”). The first one of them is unique because it was created in 1601 and has survived to this day without major changes. Inside, we will see Mannerist altars from the turn of the 16th and 17th centuries, and a late Gothic statue of St Nicholas from about 1400, while the parish church in Dłużec is distinguished by a tower, which initially functioned as a free-standing belfry. After entering the temple, it is worth paying attention to the side altar with the statue of the Virgin Mary as the Throne of Wisdom, which dates back to the 4th quarter of the 15th century. Following the trail of wooden religious monuments, we cannot miss the chapel of St Joseph Craftsman. Located on the two banks of Prądnik and at the foot of the rocks known as Prałatki, it is one of the most interesting buildings of the Krakow-Częstochowa Upland. An intriguing story is connected with the “chapel on the water” – according to tradition, the impulse to build it was the ordinance of tsar Nicholas II, who banned the erection of sacred objects on the Ojców land. The result of the tsar's decision was the residents' idea to build a chapel “on the water” and thus outsmart the ruler's ban.
We encourage everybody interested in the Wooden Architecture Route to continue the exploration. In Wolbrom we can see the church of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, in Paczółtowice the Church of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, in Tenczynek the church of St Catherine and the church bell tower, in Poręba Dzierżna the temple of St Martin, while in Skała the belfry standing next to the brick church of St Nicholas.
Brick temples are also interesting, to name just a couple of them: Basilica of St Andrew the Apostle in Olkusz, Shrine in Jaroszowiec, Church of St Nicholas in Gorenice, Church of St Catherine in Wolbrom, or Church of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross in Strzegowa. Apart from them, it is worth mentioning other sites known for interesting architecture or charming location: the Monastery and Museum of the Discalced Carmelites in Czerna, the Church and the Hermitage of Bl. Salomea in Grodzisk, as well as the church and cemetery in Chechło.
Museums or distant and recent history
Upland likes to surprise, which is proved by places such as the “chapel on the water” or the Bogdan Szczygieł and Bożena Szczygieł-Gruszyńska African Museum in Olkusz. In the building dedicated to the art and culture of Africa, there are objects that will make us learn about the history of this continent. Thanks to the collections of such figures as dr Bogdan Szczygieł, dr Bożena Szczygieł-Gruszyńska, prof. dr hab. Anna Kubarska and Leon Kubarski, we learn how everyday life of West and Central African tribes looked like. In the Olkusz museum we will see, among others musical instruments on which people from this part of the world have played and still play with joy. Carefully carved ritual drums, rattles or lute will convince us that Africa is a land of great sounds and exceptional artists. In addition to the instruments, we will see in the African Museum, among others, masks used by local people during important ceremonies or a rich collection of African paintings. African culture enthusiasts are also recommended to visit the Mission Museum (Pilgrim's House) in Czerna. This institution documents the 44-year ministry of the Bare Carmelites in Burundi and Rwanda. At the Mission Museum you will find exhibits about the everyday life of the inhabitants of Africa.
We will return to Poland and our its culture with a visit to the Kocjan Cottage in Rabsztyn. In this house – built in Olkusz in 1862 – was born and lived Antoni Kocjan, glider designer and head of ZWZ / AK air intelligence, who discovered the secrets of the German weapons V1 and V2. In the first years of the 21st century, the building was dismantled and moved – today it stands at the foot of the castle in Rabsztyn. Currently, the Kocjan Cottage plays the role of a mini-open-air museum, in which we find farm equipment and many souvenirs and photos from over 70 years ago. The Museum of Works of Władysław Wołkowski based in Machnicki Manor in Olkusz is dedicated to a slightly different topic. The facility presents the works of a renowned artist who likes natural materials such as wicker, cane, string, linen or metal rod. Thanks to the visit to this institution you will learn why Wołkowski was named the author of the “Concept of Poetic Apartment” and “Michelangelo of Wicker” – and maybe you will even get inspired by his ideas!
Thanks to the collections of the Firefighting Museum of the Olkusz Land and the Regional Museum of PTTK in Olkusz we will learn the history of Olkusz and the surrounding area. As far as the region's history is concerned, the following also deserve attention: The Collection of Minerals of the Olkusz Land and Fossils of the Kraków-Częstochowa Upland, the Museum in Pieskowa Skała, the Mine of Knowledge about Zinc in Bukowno and the Carmelite Museum in Czerna.
The fact, that Jura is first of all one of the most picturesque regions of Poland, will be reminded by the Nature Exposition of the Ojców National Park in Ojców. Thanks to 3D screenings, we will learn the extraordinary history of the creation of the Prądnik Valley. We will also see numerous geological and paleontological exhibits from the Park area and visit the reconstructed cave interior.
Moving towards the northern border of the Małopolska part of the Upland, we shall reach Olkusz. It is one of the oldest Polish mining cities, where lead and silver ore was mined already in the 13th century. If you have already walked through the streets of Olkusz, maybe you have entered the Silver Trail of the Olkusz Gwarki. One of its important part are bronze figures of gwarki or Olkusz miners, placed on pedestals made of red Parczew conglomerate. The trail can be explored using a free audio guide. Olkusz – despite its richness in silver, had to wait a few centuries for its glory years. A breakthrough came in the 19th century, when zinc and lead mining developed in the settlement. Today, while strolling the streets of the city, we will see, among others, the tower, defensive walls, historic tenement houses on the Market Square and the Basilica of St Andrew (it's worth looking inside the church, because it hides the oldest organ and polyptych in Poland). You may also reach the Old Cemetery from the beginning of the 19th century (where colonel Francesco Nullo – who was killed when fighting for Poland's freedom during the January Uprising – is buried), Jewish cemetery or war cemetery. In Skała, Bydlin, Cieplice and Kaliś we will find the remains of the Great War located on the First World War's Eastern Front Trail.
Active leisure close to nature
Recommending the Krakow-Częstochowa Upland lovers of active leisure is absolutely well-founded. Hiking, biking and horse riding, as well as climbing, golf and running compose a list of suggestions from which everyone will choose something for themselves. The Upland's uniqueness lies in the opportunities it offers rock climbing enthusiasts. Beautiful valleys (Bolechowicka, Kobylańska, Będkowska, Kluczwoda, Szklarka, Wodąca) as well as isolated rocks (e.g. Pazurek II and Januszkowa Góra) scattered throughout the entire Upland offer thousands of climbing routes of various difficulties and lengths.
We also have good news for lovers of long hikes and bike trips. The first are recommended primarily to discover the Małopolska section of the Trail of the Eagles' Nests. We are convinced that hikers will also like the Trail of Jurassic Strongholds, which in its Małopolska section leads from Rudawa to Podzamcze. Cyclists are encouraged to choose the red trail Krakow-Ogrodzieniec, which crosses the Jura from south to north allowing you to see the most interesting castles of this area. For those looking for bicycle events, we recommend Family Rallies along the Olkusz Bike Trails. However, this is not all that Upland has to offer cyclists! If you're looking for other for ideas, we suggest you to take a look at the map of tourist routes on the Małpolska Tourist Routes website and check out the portal http://olkuskieszlaki.olkusz.eu/.
Do you fancy horse riding? Or maybe you prefer running? There may be something here for you as well. At the Hucul horse stud in Rudawa-Nielepice you will find the starting point of the Trans-Jura Horse Trail, which leads, among others, through the Błędów Desert. On the 33 km² of sandy terrain, runners can also use up their energy. It is for them that the “Hero Run” competitions take place here every year. Another runner feast is the Jurassic Running Festival - a new sporting event, the organizers of which offer us as many as 8 runs to choose from, including shorter (10 km) and longer (even 100 and 200 km) ones. Another suggestion is the Silver Ten Olkusz Street Run, which offers a 10 or 5 km distance.
In recent years, urban sports such as skateboarding or high-performance riding on scooters or BMX are becoming more and more popular. The organizers of Silver Games, taking place in the “Silver Park” recreation and landscape area in Olkusz, know this very well. They created a one of a kind festival, guaranteeing participants an unforgettable experience and acquiring some knowledge about Olkusz's mining past. “Silver Park” was built on the grounds of the former calamine mine, and offers an additional attraction in the form of the open-air mining machinery museum. Nearby are the remains of the Ponikowska Adit from the 16th century.
It is also impossible not to mention the Kraków Valley Golf & Country Club golf course and the Kraków Valley ski lift. Both these attractions await us in Paczółtowice, a few kilometres away from the town of Krzeszowice, famous for its health resort history. Finally, it is worth mentioning activities that will please every water sports enthusiast – rafting down the Białka and Sztoła rivers.
In the world of local tradition and culture
Upland is a place where the future is inseparably connected with the past. The list of events referring to the past include celebrations of the anniversary of the battles at Krzywopłoty and Krzykawka, Silver Feast in Olkusz or Knight's Tournament in Rabsztyn. Historic trails also play a major role in discovering the traces of past centuries. Some of them – the Route of Medieval Towns in Małopolska and the Romanesque Route, take us back to very distant times. Others, in turn, bring closer the fate of people who lived in the 19th and 20th centuries – it's worth getting acquainted with the offer of the Małopolska Trail of January Uprising and the First World War's Eastern Front Trail in Małopolska.
Upland is a place where you can experience also artistic emotions, thanks to such events as International Olkusz Organ Music Days and Night of Museums in Olkusz, among others. Both events guarantee amazing experiences, tearing us away from everyday life and introducing us to the world shrouded in mystery.
You can experience extraordinary taste sensations by following the Małopolska Wine Trail and trying local dishes. The Kraków-Częstochowa Upland is the home of tasty products such as Jurassic cheesecake, Ojców trout and Jurassic bread. Products from Małopolska are included in the Certified Regional Products list. A typical Jura dish are potatoes roasted with meat and vegetables. Whoever is interested in local culture should be encouraged to learn about local products of a slightly different character. Curious explorers will find a peculiarity in the form of... corn straw slippers from Nawojowa Góra, wood products from Jerzmanowice or artistic blacksmithing from Przeginia and Żurada.