From the 16th to 18th century the kingdom of Poland was one of the great powers of Europe and enjoyed a remarkable period of architectural and artistic achievement. Our journey explores this golden age.
Begin in Krakow with its superb Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque buildings untouched by the ravages of war. Rich in remarkable artistic heritage visit the Royal Castle with its magnificent Renaissance courtyard and series of richly ornamented rooms with ceilings of coloured beams. There will also be an optional excursion to the Jewish Memorial at Auschwitz.
Continue by train onto Warsaw, the royal capital, an impressive mix of classicism and remarkable post-war reconstruction. There will be walking tours of the Old Town with visits to the Royal Castle with its fine Baroque and neo-Classical state rooms, Wilanów Palace and its Baroque gardens, the charming lakeside Lazienki Palace, and the large bronze statue Chopin Monument.
London / Krakow
Depart London Heathrow on a British Airways morning flight to Krakow. On arrival transfer to the 5-star Stary Hotel, where two nights are spent. A townhouse dating from the 14th century, the hotel in 2007 won the prestigious prize of “the best hotel interior architecture in Europe”. Welcome dinner at the hotel.
This morning begin your exploration of Krakow with a visit to Wawel Hill, perhaps the most historic site in Poland and the seat of the Polish Kings for 500 years. Here you visit first the Cathedral, where the Kings of Poland were crowned and many are buried in the impressive Royal Crypt. The present building, the third on the site, was erected from 1320-64 but the superb Romanesque crypt remains. There are many richly ornamented chapels, the most notable being the Sigismund Chapel “the most beautiful Renaissance chapel north of the Alps” and containing a beautiful triptych of engraved silver to a design by Durer.
Continue to the Royal Castle, the political and cultural heart of Poland until the 17thC and one of the Renaissance masterpieces of Northern Europe. Begun in the 11thC, but rebuilt as a splendid Renaissance palace in the early 16thC, it has been repeatedly sacked by Poland’s enemies over the centuries but it has now been restored to its former glory. Return to the Old Town to visit St. Mary’s Church, a vast structure which houses the greatest masterpiece of Gothic art in Poland – the painted Marian Alter, a vast 15th century carved wood masterpiece by Viet Stoss. Lunch at a local restaurant.
This afternoon there will be two opportunities for your remaining time in Krakow. Visit the Jewish Memorial at Auschwitz. Begin your visit with a thought provoking documentary on Auschwitz concentration camp which was a network of German Nazi concentration camps and extermination camps built and operated by the Third Reich in Polish areas annexed by Nazi Germany during World War II. Guided visit of the grounds and buildings of the Auschwitz I and Auschwitz II-Birkenau camp.
Alternatively drive out of the city to the Salt Mine at Wieliczka which has been worked for 700 years and is a labyrinth of tunnels. The Mine has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. See, all hewn by hand from the solid salt, chapels with altarpieces and statues; the highlight will be the Chapel of the Blessed Kings, a full size church with everything carved from the salt, including the chandelier, which took over 30 years to complete. Return to Krakow with dinner under own arrangements.
Krakow / Warsaw
Check out of the hotel (with luggage) and transfer to the Jewish District of Krakow. Kayimierz was the centre of Jewish life in Kraków for over 500 years, before it was systematically destroyed during World War II. In the communist era it gradually fell into disrepair. Rediscovered in the 1990s, thanks to the fall of the regime and worldwide exposure through the lens of Steven Spielberg, Kazimierz is today Kraków’s most exciting district – a bustling, bohemian neighbourhood packed with historical sites, atmospheric cafes and art galleries.
Well-known for its associations with Schindler and Spielberg, traces of Kazimierz’s Jewish history have not only survived, but literally abound in the form of the district’s numerous synagogues and Jewish cemeteries. In fact, no other place in Europe conveys a sense of pre-war Jewish culture on the continent better than Kazimierz.Lunch at a local restaurant before travelling to Warsaw by train in first class arriving early evening. Transfer to the luxurious Bristol hotel, a landmark of the city since 1901, is ideally placed – a short walk from the Royal Castle. Dinner under own arrangements. This evening there is the option to attend a performance (ballet or opera, depending on schedule) at the magnificent 19th c Grand Theatre.
Accompanied by your local guide depart for a tour of the Old Town, miraculously rebuilt since its almost total destruction in World War II, with its Renaissance and Baroque facades. See the Katyn Monument built to remember the shocking events of 1940 when around 20,000 Polish officers were executed by their Soviet captors in the middle of a Russian forest. Visit the beautifully restored Royal Castle, built by order of King Sigismund III after the royal court and capital were transferred from Cracow in 1596. Bellotto’s remarkable views of Warsaw, which helped the restorers to rebuild the city, are displayed here. See famous Rembrandt paintings in Galeria Lanckoronskich. See the short documentary ‘Warsaw will not forget’ which gives an insight into life in Warsaw during World War II. Continue onto the Cathedral of St John the first parish church, dating from the 14th century which has been rebuilt in its original form.
Lunch at a local restaurant in the Market Square. Continue to the house were Marie Curie, born Maria Salomea Skłodowska, was born. A Polish and naturalized-French physicist and chemist who conducted pioneering research on radioactivity. Walk to the moving Warsaw Uprising Monument dedicated to the uprising of 1944. Return to the hotel with remainder of the afternoon at leisure. Depart on foot for a farewell dinner at a local restaurant.
Warsaw / London
Check out of the hotel (with luggage) and drive by coach to briefly visit the newly opened POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews on the site of the former Warsaw Ghetto. The building, a postmodern structure in glass, copper, and concrete, was designed by Finnish architects Rainer Mahlamäki and Ilmari Lahdelma whose design was chosen from 100 submissions to the international architectural competition. Continue to Wilanow, the Baroque summer residence of King John II Sobieski. Visit the Baroque state rooms, the 18th-century wings – with the remarkable art collection of Stanislaus Kostka Potocki – and the recently restored formal gardens.
Lunch at a local restaurant. See the Chopin Monument sculpted by Witold Szymanowski and unveiled in 1926. It depicts Chopin sitting right here in Łazienki, next to a willow tree. The original sculpture was destroyed during WWII, and the one we admire today went up in 1958. Continue to The Palace on the Island. Originally a bathhouse, converted into a residence in the late 1700s, the palace is built on an artificial island that divides the lake into two parts, and is connected to the surrounding park by two colonnaded bridges. Today a museum, almost all of the palace can be visited including the main reception room, Solomon’s Hall, decorated in the most extravagant of Baroque styles with a series of paintings depicting the History of Solomon. Continue to Warsaw Airport for a British Airways flight to London Heathrow, arriving in the late evening.