Poland is not generally considered a group holiday destination, despite its antique mining heritage, which is often overlooked by its industrial appearance. Amy Moore visits the central part of the Silesia Region, which seeks to expand its tourist market.
1330HRS: NIKISZOWIEC SETTLEMENT
We were greeted by a traditional lunch, laid out in a petit restaurant set within the old mining village of Nikiszowiec. The aged estate has recently been awarded the status of special historical value and cultural heritage in Poland. The restaurant was tucked away on a cobbled side street, and had been neatly decorated for an upcoming wedding. The décor was rustic, simplistic and pure, with dried meat hung from a display in the centre of the room. We took a tour around the village square, where the natives appeared immensely proud of their coalmining heritage. We visited an accompanying museum, which had a lot to offer in regards to artistic expression.
1445HRS: SPODEK SPORTS STADIUM
‘Spodek’ translates as ‘Saucer’ to us Brits, with the shapely structure withstanding the distinct appearance of a UFO. We explored the city’s spacious sporting arena, which hosts a number of events throughout the year, including the Male Volleyball World Championships.
The Spodek Sports Stadium also functions as a core venue for concerts, attracting large audiences through performances by renowned artists. It’s most redeeming aspect however, is its gigantic chandelier, which dominates the arena’s domed interior, overshadowed by circular windows that invite natural light. The Spodek Sports Stadium was located mere steps from the Angelo Hotel Katowice, specifically tailored for business trips to the region. There were lots of renovations happening within the city centre, with an aim to compete with other areas of tourism.
1600HRS: SILESIAN MUSEUM
We embarked uphill to the Silesian Museum, which had been erected on the former premises of the Katowice Coal Mine. The attraction would be considered an architect’s haven, housing a mixture of antique and contemporary structures. In anticipation of its opening next year, the Museum’s distinctive ‘glass houses’ can be viewed from a distance, attributed as an inherent part of the landscape. Travelling 14metres below ground, the Museum’s interior is constructed from concrete, emitting a rather cold and vacant vibe. Both levels were made accessible via intertwining slopes and there was a freely open space, ideal for performances.
The site will see six permanent exhibitions, buried underground and accompanied by artificial light. Each individual section has been connected by underground tunnels, which would be considered wide enough for wheelchair access, if required. The Screening Room was patterned with tiny square pockets of natural light, providing a unique conference venue for groups.
1830HRS: MARIACKA STREET
Mariacka Street invited a calm and friendly atmosphere. I was advised that the nightlife was dramatically different to that in Britain, with pubs and clubs closing later. The street’s name derives from the Mariacki Church, which stands tall at the end of the cobbled pathway, characteristic of a domed window and piercing spire. The street has only recently become a popular pedestrian route, serving a vibrant cultural scene. The Katowice Street Art Festival is hosted here every April, engaging artists and sculptures, and inviting audiences of all ages to participate in activity workshops. Accompanying events include concerts, exhibitions and film screenings.
0940HRS: GUIDO COAL MINE
Early start to the day as our group enjoyed a buffet breakfast at the Angelo Hotel Katowice around 0800hrs, serving a mixture of salad, sweet and savoury goods. We were later transported to the Guido Coal Mine in Zabre. The attraction was under construction, travelling 40metres underground.
It is the only hard coal mine of its kind in Europe and is scheduled to open towards the end of next year. The mine was founded in 1855 by Count Guido Henckel von Donnersmarck, and is thus named after him. We donned our best ‘wet weather gear’ as we trekked through the vast industrial estate. It was interesting to see the coal mining culture in action. We were invited to enter the neighbouring mine. It wasn’t as deep as its predecessor and our group enjoyed a detailed history, spanning the 19th, 20th and 21st century, with some exhibits already installed.
It might not suit all tastes. I can imagine the attraction is well suited to smaller groups – certainly not recommended for severe suffers of vertigo or claustrophobia. Those who would prefer to stay above ground could visit the museum attached, housing authentic mining machinery.
1230HRS: MACIEJ SHAFT
A short transfer took us to the Maciej Shaft, where we were able to sample the fresh water streamed direct from underground. Locals flocked as we gathered, filling bottle after bottle. Hoisting towers are the most distinctive elements, set within the Silesian landscape. Attempts to climb welcomed the opportunity to enjoy a panoramic view of the surrounding area. Embedded into the ground was an original metal track, leading to handmade art works constructed by miners. A stage had been installed amongst the surrounding greenery, using similar materials. An adequate view was provided from the attractions café situated adjacent. The Maciej Shaft is suited to a wider group market and I imagine there is a vast appeal to school groups in particular.
1500HRS: SILESIAN PARK
I tackled my fear of heights by embarking on a 30metre cable car ride, with 600 hectacres of parkland to view. The Silesian Park in Chorzow is said to take a whole day to explore on foot, and houses the largest rose garden in Europe. There was somewhat of a bohemian vibe, as we were transported around in a cart. I was informed there were none available for group hire.
We were granted VIP access to a popular Polish rock festival, Festiwal Muzyczny, which is dedicated to former musician, Ryska Riedla. The festival has been running for roughly 15 years and provides cheap accommodation at approximately £40 for a weekend stay.
We trekked backstage and met famous band, Riders, before watching them perform live onstage. It’s definitely one to cross off the bucket list. Artificial sand had been imported, attributing to a pop-up beach sponsored by Grolsh Beer. The attraction, placed near the centre of the park, mimicked the effects of being on a beach in Hawaii. We enjoyed some rhubarb lemonade brewed by drinks manufacturer John Lemon. The drink was rich, sweet and tangy. All events are free to attend, ideal for groups on a tight budget, with food and drink the only expense. The hotspot boasts film screenings, live music and sporting activities. There was a noticeable difference in dynamic compared to the rock festival, which could be heard beyond the pines.
0900HRS: SILVER MINE IN TARNOWSKIE GORY
Another early start as we were scheduled for an 0800hrs departure. We were provided a guided tour of the Silver Mine in Tarnowskie Gory, inclusive of a soothing boat ride along the Black Trout Gallery. It gets colder the deeper you travel, so it is advised that visiting groups wrap up warm.
We explored the informative and interactive museum above ground, which has been open to the public since 1976. Situated in the Upper Silesian Industrial District, the region is famed for its development of lead-ore mining, dating back to the 13th century. The Black Trout Gallery has been open to visitors since 1957, and is located approximately 25metres underground. We trudged through winding tunnels, which frequently invited the need to crouch, and travelled deeper into the mine to view a constant flowing stream, which mirrored the glow of our carbide lamps. The Black Trout Gallery is open on select dates throughout the year. The tour takes an hour to complete and is regarded hugely popular amongst school groups.
For those who’d prefer to venture further out, Katowice provides direct transportation links to additional areas around Poland, including Krakow and Warsaw. Tourism leaflets are a nice touch, and can be collected from some of the attraction’s mentioned above. Three stamps and visitors can win merchandise. Our final stop was Tarnowskie Gory, namely ‘The Silver City,’ which is a world away from the industrialist vibe of Katowice. Tarnowskie Gory houses a number of attractions, petit eateries and vast places of interest.
Poland is known as a rather expensive place to visit, with Wizz Air offering low cost rates. The airline is characteristic of its vibrant pink and purple patterning, with vessels departing locally from London Luton Airport, which boasts direct links from St. Pancras International. Once landed at Katowice International Airport, there is very little travel time to the city, which is situated 30km north. Seated in priority, we were granted an impressively smooth landing, with very little restriction apart from a tight luggage allowance, with bag check in at additional cost.
Groups of 11 or more travelling can benefit from fixed pricing and the flexibility to increase initial group size by 10%. A designated Group Desk is open Monday to Friday from 1000hrs to 1800hrs. A 20% discount is offered to students or senior groups. See website: www.wizzair.com