In addition to the picturesque towns of Pulawy and Kazimierz Dolny on the western periphery of the Lublin plateau and Chelm on its eastern extremity, the Lublin neighbourhood boasts a number of appealing locations of diminutive size that still embrace lots of characteristic historical buildings, some well-preserved and crammed with medieval features, others original and authentic, albeit in ruins. Not far from Pulawy is the hamlet of Golab (renowned for its unique Loreto Chapel) while fifteen miles east are Naleczow (renowned for its medicinal waters and spas) and Wojciechow (renowned for its Museum of Smithery). Alas, these three charming off-the-beaten-track locations cannot be reached by bus except with difficulty. Buses from Pulawy to Golab are few and the service is irregular, rendering the trip too time-consuming or speculative. Buses to Naleczow and Wojciechow are even fewer (count on only two buses daily to each destination) and do not operate on Sundays. Some Pulawy-bound minibuses from Lublin may stop at Naleczow, giving trippers the additional opportunity to sightsee the town before resuming towards Pulawy.
One location that can be visited by direct bus both from Lublin and Pulawy with a minimum of effort is Kozlowka, a small hamlet where the focal point of attraction is a vast palace-and-park complex that is unquestionably one of Poland’s best examples of aristocratic residences. Buses from Lublin ply the twenty-two-mile north-bound route to Kozlowka at least five times daily. The morning service is however restricted to two early buses only and so, one has to depart early if one intends to spend a whole day in Kozlowka. From Pulawy, all Lubartow-bound buses call at Kozlowka but the Pulawy-Lubartow service is infrequent in the morning, becoming more regular later during the day. So, coming back from Kozlowka to Pulawy should pose no problem.
The baroque Kozlowka palace was a large but rather modest aristocratic residence before it was remodelled and enlarged at the turn of the twentieth century when a chapel, a theatre, a stately gateway and more rooms were added. The architectural layout one sees today is for the most part original and dates back to the early eighteenth century but the interior décor and furnishings are largely the result of the remodelling. A tour of the palace takes in more than a score of rooms, all opulent enough to make one wonder how all these rich furnishings and works of art could ever have been amassed by one particular family (the wealthy noble family of Konstanty Zamoyski). To give the palace credit for its sumptuous decoration, one must necessarily start from what might be the most exquisite creation within the entire structure: the grand staircase, a series of marble steps so delicate and graceful as to make visitors feel that stepping on them (without appropriate mules) is a sin of disservice to the surface. Make your way into the palatial chambers and the disservice extends to the decorative parquet flooring that is so beautiful to behold and so skilfully assembled that one keeps wondering how all this could have ever been done by hand. High-quality period furniture, sets of gilded tables and chairs, marble fireplaces, Meissen stoves, crystal mirrors and chandeliers are but a few in the long list of exhibits one may see inside. The walls are literally covered with hanging pictures (most are replicas of originals… unbelievable, but so implied the guide), each complete with an ornate frame that is in most cases more outstanding than the picture. Visitors with an eye for detail will be in heaven amidst the miniatures: stemware jewellery, small vases, agate figurines, tiny sculptures and more.
The entry ticket allows access to another section of the palace: the former coach-house. This otherwise mediocre space on the palace grounds was effectively turned into an unusual museum that attracts visitors more for its uniqueness rather than for its range of exhibits. Called the Gallery of Socialist Realism, it embraces paintings, sculptures, newspaper articles and other written works that are somehow or other associated with the era of Communism. The statues of Marx, Stalin, Lenin and Mao watch over near the entranceway, perhaps… to make up for the amount of anti-communist propaganda inside.
The Kozlowka palace lies on the edge of the Kozlowiecki Landscape Park, a huge dense forested zone renowned for extensive stretches of mature oak. During the construction stages, the area of the forest close to the estate was cultivated, shaping up a surrounding garden that still exists today. Its symmetrical layout consists of a wide central pathway (right in front of the main doorway) from which narrower winding pathways lined with well-groomed hedges spread out towards the forest. Walking here after visiting the exhibits gives one the opportunity to unwind, particularly if one ventures into the isolated nooks and corners behind the palace. The extensive rose garden, colourful and eye-catching embraces rare specimens that any garden aficionado welcomes with delight but… the section where experimental crossbreeding of rose species is carried out is best left for professionals. The grand memorial to the soldiers who died in the Napoleonic wars, hidden as it is among the trees demands more than a passing glance.
Only seven miles south of Kozlowka is the county town of Lubartow. Another palace-and-park complex perched on one edge of the town is the focus of attraction. The palace is regrettably closed to visitors but… even if it were not, who would after all delight in seeing a smaller and poorer version of Kozlowka, particularly after savouring the grandeur of the latter? The surrounding park, open daily from dawn till dusk is nonetheless beautiful and quieter than the one at Kozlowka. The Orangery occupying a grand neoclassical building is the main feature in the park.
Bus transport from Lublin to neighbouring towns spreads out west as far as the Vistula bank, east as far as the Ukrainian border and north as far as Kozlowka, but south-bound, it is severely limited and rarely ventures beyond Krasnik, twenty miles away. To make up for this lack of Lublin transport, it is advisable to use Zamosc instead of Lublin as a base to explore the southern region of the Lublin plateau.
Buses from Zamosc to Szczebrzesyn, fourteen miles east run every half-hour throughout the day, rendering this out-of-the-way location ideal to include in your Zamosc itinerary. Though small and isolated, Szczebrzesyn deserves a stopover if only to get the hang of what is left from its seventeenth-century period of prosperity. Two mighty churches and a large synagogue tower over the town. The Church of St Catherine modelled on the collegiate church in Zamosc is decorated with lots of intricate stucco work and fine paintings. The Church of St Nicholas is smaller and less spectacular but is nonetheless filled up with decorative works. Climbing up the hill to the oldest cemetery in Poland is a feat that pays off only scantily: the cemetery is in a state of dire derelict devastation and only a few falling tombstones remain. What remains chiselled in stone is however original and the decorations are entirely authentic.
A short bus ride south from Szczebrzesyn or a longer southwest-bound ride from Zamosc brings one within the confines of the charming summer resort of Zwierzyniec. Buses stop right in the centre of the town and so, making your way along the handful of streets that radiate out of here shouldn’t be tricky. The chief attraction is the baroque Church of St John of Nepomuk, commonly referred to as the ‘church on the water’. Standing in the middle of a picturesque lake (aptly called Staw Koscielny or Church Pond) and accessible via a graceful footbridge, this place of worship is decorated with wonderful polychromy that imparts an air of distinctiveness to its interior. It is not the church however that brings the crowds but the scenic location that is undeniably the best in the area. Expect to come face to face with flowery meadows, marshy hollows and lots of indigenous plants and if you are fortunate, a migrating flock of wild fowl that comes to wade and wallow on the banks of the lake. Further along the street from the lake is the Natural History Museum, an excellent source of inspiration for anybody who intends to trail around within the neighbouring Roztocze Park.
Called the Roztoczanski Park Naradowy, this extensive semi-forested terrain of solitary rock projections, gentle hills, deep gorges and crystal-clear streams is undoubtedly Poland’s prime area of flora-and-fauna conservation. Divided from east to west by the River Wieprz, this untouched area of greenery supports the life of a wide variety of trees (oak, spruce, pine, beech, lime, fir, etc.) and shrubs and a wider variety of forest animals.
Introducing oneself to the park from the Natural History Museum in Zwierzyniec is one reason why trippers converge on the museum every summer. A couple of excellent walking trails start here and venture south into the forest, giving one an idea of what to expect as one branches off along more difficult trails.