Olsztynek – Masuria Close at Hand

The convenient location at the intersection of two routes (S7 expressway and Trunk Road 51) running from Gdansk or Warsaw, through Olsztynek, to the region’s capital Olsztyn, makes the Masurian Lake District closer than you think.

And you don’t always have to venture into the heart of the region to commune with nature. The location of Olsztynek at the edge of the Napiwodzko-Ramucka Forest (ed’s note – for more information go to https://lovewm.pl/en/cycling-across-the-napiwodzko-ramucka-forest/), abounding in beautiful forests, a branched network of rivers, and numerous lakes makes one want to lose oneself here, casting cares aside, for much longer than a weekend. It is here, near Olsztynek, that the largest rivers of Varmia and Masuria: Łyna, Drwęca and Pasłęka, have their source.

Before setting out on a kayaking trip or cycling in the area of Olsztynek, it’s worth wandering through the quaint streets of the town belonging to the Cittaslow network (International Network of Cities where Living is Good). The concept behind Cittaslow is the propagation of culture and the idea of a good and harmonious life in opposition to the fast paced and unsustainable life styles and practices of modern society and combatting growing globalisation.

What more could one want when holidaying? It’s definitely worth experiencing the culinary delights of the region. Olsztynek is a place where one can find a wealth of different tastes and flavours, where many of the restaurants and producers of traditional food products have been awarded the “Culinary Heritage of Varmia, Masuria and Powiśle” Certificate. An excellent example is the “Z zielonym piecem” restaurant, serving home-style food (ed’s note – we wrote about it in the 97/20 edition) or the “Skansen” tavern, as well as the “Szwaderki” Fish Farm in Swaderki, where one can savour the catch of the day and other freshly caught fish.

Olsztynek has preserved almost intact the old town’s medieval spatial layout with remnants of the stone fortification walls that belong to the best preserved in the Voivodship.

Wanting to see the region, we recommend starting in the revitalised market square located in the centre. This is where the Town Hall is situated, the Multimedia Museum of Stalag I-B Hohenstein Prisoner of War Camp and the History of Olsztynek can be found, offering free entry to visitors. The Museum has two halls, one of which holds an exposition documenting and exhibiting the history of Olsztynek and the tourist attractions of the town and municipality of Olsztynek. In the second hall are exhibits and presentations related to the Stalag I B Hohenstein prisoner of war camp. This was the second largest camp in East Prussia (1939-1945) and Russians, French, Italians, and Poles were imprisoned there. Overall, around 55,000 prisoners of war died there and were buried in the cemetery in Sudwa near Olsztynek. The story of the prisoner of war camps and the persons who were held there is still very little-known but illuminating, insightful, moving and thought-provoking.

Of Gothic origin in Olsztynek are the former Parish Church (currently the Exhibition Hall of the Museum of Rural Architecture) and the 14th century Teutonic Castle (the K. C. Mrongowiusz School Complex at present).  The Castle underwent comprehensive redevelopment thanks to which the restored cellars have revealed their original Gothic splendour. A museum exhibition has also been arranged in the House of Mrongowiusz nearby, where Krzysztof Celestyn Mrongowiusz, Protestant pastor and a noted defender of the Polish language, was born (1764-1855).

The Exhibition Hall belongs to the Museum of Rural Architecture – Ethnographic Park Open Air Museum, where several dozen examples of traditional regional architecture and technology have been gathered on a 230-acre estate. Among other attractions, the museum also keeps farm animals and has a herb garden. The living history museum also welcomes visitors to attend the many outdoor events that are organised there. We especially recommend taking part in the Regional Herb Festival – an event that relates to the folk tradition of the blessing of herbs, flowers and cereal crops that is annually held on 15th August, on the Feast of Our Lady of Herbs (ed’s note – we wrote about this in the 97/20 edition).

There is a small but unique in Europe Artistic Glass Factory located nearby. Its uniqueness lies in the fact that these days such glass factories producing artisan mouth-blown and handcrafted glassware are few and far between and it just so happens that Olsztynek happens to be home to one. The glass factory is open to visitors who can watch and learn more about the process of creating handcrafted pieces of artistic glassware. The skilled glassmakers demonstrate in action the stages of the process of making beautiful and unique glassware. The factory shop sells beautifully crafted glass birds, elephants, and other inventive and ingenious works made of glass. Visitors can also try their hand at glass blowing a piece as a memento of their visit… don’t be fooled though as it’s not as easy as it looks!

Since last year, tourists can also visit the modernised and renovated heritage-listed Water Tower (1906), also free of charge, which now functions as an observation tower. It is a landmark that can be seen from every direction when driving in to the town. The sixth floor viewing terrace (27 m above ground level) offers views of Olsztynek and a panorama of the town and surroundings.

Having become acquainted with the history, savoured the regional cuisine, one can head outside the town again. There are four themed routes passing through the Olsztynek municipality: The Copernicus Trail, The WWI Eastern Front Trail, The Tannenberg Circular Trail, and the Gościniec Niborski Trail. Once can cycle the set routes (close to 150 km of them!), visiting the nearby attractions (www.szlaki.olsztynek.pl).

As you can see for yourself, there’s a lot to do here and one visit to Olsztynek and the area will definitely not suffice to get to know the region!

You can find more information at: www.olsztynek.pl

By: Justyna Szostek

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