Slower Silesia – a cycling holiday in Poland

Nicholas Lezard saddles up to explore Poland’s beautiful but little-visited Lower Silesia region by bike


Cyclists on a path in the Lower Silesia countryside (Photo: Alex Barlow)

In September 1940, the great comic writer PG Wodehouse was being sent on a train to a German internment camp in Tost, Upper Silesia. As he looked at the dank, flat fields, he asked himself: “If this is Upper Silesia, what must Lower Silesia be like?” Well, I can tell him: in early summer, it is glorious.

I got a good look at the countryside too, because I was seeing it from a cyclist’s point of view. This is something I didn’t do lightly; the last time I rode a bicycle, Tony Blair was Prime Minister. (It’s true what they say, you don’t forget how to ride a bike.)

But on a trip with travel company The Slow Cyclist, you’re handed a modified e-bike before cycling off on a carefully chosen scenic route, at a pace which accommodates the slowest of the group. I thought that would be me, as I’m 61, and I am — to tick one of the boxes in the questionnaire they ask before setting out — “healthy but not fit”.

I do not exercise, because I don’t like it and I see no need. But I already knew that Lower Silesia was beautiful and wanted to go again, and this is not — thank goodness — about taking you to the limits of your endurance. The point is to enjoy the scenery — and, goodness me, the scenery is worth it.

The Slow Cyclist covers a range of destinations, including Turkey, Transylvania, Greece, South Africa, but I particularly wanted to go to Poland because it is the land of my grandparents (well, two of them).

Having been picked up from Wrocław and taken to our first destination, a converted farmhouse and barn in a tiny village, the first day is a relatively leisurely breaking-in period. After a generous lunch — which was, to my surprise, vegetarian — we were introduced to our cycles.

These are hefty mountain bikes with a convoluted arrangement of levers and gadgets on the handlebars; when I looked at the rear wheel, it seemed to have about 15 gears.

We wobbled around the garden for a bit to get the hang of them and then Chris, the group leader, declared that we were all ready to set off; a 25km ride to our first destination.

This seemed like an awfully long way and I looked at our first hill doubtfully but the modest little motor on the bike did a lot to make the ascent easy. You do still have to move your legs up and down, but it certainly helps.

When we got to the top of the hill and had a look at our first proper view, I couldn’t restrain my delight; a ridge of mountains ahead of us to the south, many of the peaks looking as conical as volcanoes — for the very good reason that they once were, some millions of years ago.

Indeed, the whole region is known as “the Land of Extinct Volcanoes”. (Technically speaking, they are actually the flues or chimneys of extinct volcanoes, but we need not go into that too much here.)

Chris, our leader and guide at the front of our peloton, supplied us with technical advice as to how to get the best from of our bikes, and what terrain to expect; Tomàsz, who brought up the rear, gave us fascinating details about the history and geology of the places we paused at.

The whole group is bracketed, front and back, by these two experts, so no one gets lost, or left behind; at all times, I felt safe in their hands.

These two were Polish (with excellent English), but The Slow Cyclist supplies another member of staff once you arrive at your destinations, whether for lunch or for the night: in our case, a young, well-spoken gentleman in his twenties called Jasper.

After a while, I realised what Jasper’s function is — he’s your butler. If there’s anything he can do for you during the trip, he will do it.

In my case, this was largely a matter of refilling my glass, which I have to admit kept him pretty busy, but he never complained once. He also supplied and packed the goody bag for our first night; in a Slow Cyclist tote bag we found a detailed, laminated map of the region, a Slow Cyclist T-shirt in a very attractive shade of teal, ditto an eye mask, for the rooms at our first place did not have curtains, and a little squirty bottle of Stillness Pillow Mist.

It is a testament to how happy we all were with the company – a bunch of journalists, although getting the same experience anyone else would – that when we came down to breakfast, we were all wearing our Slow Cyclist T-shirts.

The next day we cycled along the banks of the river Bóbr; this means “beaver” and, because I am surprisingly knowledgeable about these things, was able to spot a couple of beaver dams along the way.

We paused to admire the human-made Pilchowice dam over the river, once the largest in Europe; just up the road from it, we stopped at the most rudimentary bar I have ever seen outside of Mexico – a shack with a rusting caravan next to it, although the beers were among the most welcome I have ever had.

And that is one of the joys of the region; it is utterly unspoilt, discovering medieval castles (and their ruins), visiting a local vineyard and having lunch prepared by a “housewives club” and passing faintly unpronounceable destinations, including Sokołowiec and Tarczyn, during our trip. The largest town we cycled through was Lubomierz, which by that stage of the trip looked like a teeming metropolis.

The history of the region is a dark one, involving massed involuntary colonisation (basically, all the Germans were kicked out; the Poles here now are post-1945), so the whole area has something of a wild, underpopulated feel about it, as if it is the mountains and the forests that are eternal, and the human component fleeting or contingent.

The barns could have been built in the Middle Ages, either literally or because they’ve never bothered to change the design. Quite a few are being done up to accommodate the slowly growing tourist trade here, but if you visit you will still be very much in the vanguard.

We were the only tourists we saw there, and there is something about that which is delightful. So we were treated like royalty – we didn’t have to put a hand in our pockets once we left the airport.

And not only did we get to see some of the most gorgeous countryside in Europe, we might even have arrived back home slightly fitter than when we started out.

​Getting There

Return flights to Wrocław cost from around £40 from Manchester with Ryanair, around £50 from Stansted with Ryanair, and around £55 from Luton with WizzAir.

A four-night trip through Lower Silesia with The Slow Cyclist starts from £2,590, including accommodation, all meals and drinks, e-bike, helmet, and airport transfers.

Share via

Want more from the JC?

To continue reading, we just need a few details...

Want more from
the JC?

To continue reading, we just
need a few details...

Get the best news and views from across the Jewish world Get subscriber-only offers from our partners Subscribe to get access to our e-paper and archive