TST, Vol. 9, Issue No. 26/2002
Biking in Mazuria
Tourism is the lifeblood of Poland's north east. The Mazurian Lakes District has long been the summer destination of choice for thousands of sun and nature lovers and finally this year will be opened up to bicycling enthusiasts with the launch of Goode Bike Tours. According to the operators, it is a first for the region and, although little known outside Poland at the moment, Mazuria should become a cyclist's paradise.
"The Mazurian lakes is a great place for biking," said Brian Goode, the 38 year old American operator. "I've biked in many other countries, including the US, France, Holland and the Czech Republic, and for me, for those who have a passion for biking, you can't get a better area than Mazuria."
The reason the area is considered perfectly suited to cycling and cyclists of all abilities is because the postglacial landscape is mostly flat and towns and villages for essential conveniences are never too far away, but even so, greater challenges can be found with forest rides and excursions to some of the hillier areas.
The area is also famed for it's pristine nature. It was never a heavily industrialised part of Poland, and as a result is greener, cleaner and less densely populated than almost anywhere else. It is said that the air in the ancient forests of Poland's east is the purest in Europe.
Mazuria is known as 'the land of a thousand lakes', even though there are more than 3000 in all, and for decades the focus for tourists has been on water sports and recreation. Sailing and kayaking is a breeze as the lakes are connected by an extensive system of canals and locks, and fishing is part of local folklore.
Goode Bike Tours plans on taking in all that the area has to offer by incorporating activities into the cycling schedule and each year more and more is becoming available. Last year while researching for the itinerary, Brian took his first ever hot air balloon ride and was left almost speechless. "It's beyond words," he said. "Beautiful. Fantastic. The view is just amazing." Judging by that, it's a safe bet ballooning will be on the program.
The tours will also take in Mazuria's history, most clearly evidenced by the many medieval castles dotting the landscape. Almost every town has at it's heart a Teutonic relic, indicating the long German influence on the area, an influence that goes all the way up to the sinister Wolf's Lair, Adolf Hitler's heavily fortified bunker where famously he narrowly avoided assassination during World War II. By being on a bike and not carted around in a coach, Goode said these and other historic sights will be better sought out and seen.
"The cycling trips will be fully supervised and tailored to the individual requirements and desires of guests, so therefore can be taken as slowly or swiftly and with as many sidetracks for sightseeing in the area as is wanted," Goode said.
Each group of bikers will be accompanied by a bilingual tour leader with thousands of kilometres experience on Mazurian roads and side roads, and a fully equipped support vehicle. Accommodation will be in quality bed and breakfasts, which could be anything from a renovated farmhouse to one, which is a converted 15th century castle. "We are staying away from motels. We are anti-motel," Goode said. The aim is to provide the guests with a true Polish experience which is reflected by the attitude to the included meals. "Everything is going to be Polish. Everything is going to be done the Polish way," enthused co-organiser, Kevin Aiston, "No McDonalds!" Instead of American fast food, he suggested, lakeside bonfire nights with kielbasa and vodka.
Goode got the idea for founding bike tours of Mazuria while riding through France in 2000. "I ran across a group of bike tours going on in France and thought it would be a nice idea to do it in Poland because nobody does it," he said. Since the summer of 2001 was too close at hand to launch the enterprise, July of 2002 was chosen to kick off.
With all the problems of Poland's bureaucracy now overcome, guests can prepare for summer days and nights in the experienced and hospitable care of Goode Bike Tours from the moment they step off the plane on arrival. A shuttle from Warsaw takes away any travel worries for guests eager to get out to the verdant land and blue skies of Poland's Mazuria and ride.
The Goode Bike Tours website http://www.gbt.net.pl provides details of the available tours in 2002 with dates, costs and booking arrangements, and a handy 'Most Frequently Asked Questions' page, which should clear up lingering doubts about this beautiful, but little known and often misunderstood part of the world.