Those looking to get well off the tourist trail might consider a spiritual journey to Las Wolski’s mysterious and discreetly secluded Camaldolese Monastery (Klasztor Kamedułów), otherwise known as the ‘Silver Mountain Hermitage.’ Here the Camaldolites – part of the Benedictine family of monastic orders – have lived in peace and obscurity since their founder Mikołaj Wolski (after whom the entire forest is now named) arrived from Italy and wangled the land from Sebastian Lubomirski in 1604. Damaged by fire and rebuilt in 1814, this large, walled, white limestone architectural complex is today one of the finest representations of late-Baroque style in Europe.
The hermetic lives of the Camaldolites arouse a great amount of curiosity and speculation from those beyond the wall due to their secrecy and seclusion. Clad in hooded white robes and bushy beards, the monks follow the severe self-imposed principles ‘Ora et labora’ (‘Pray and work’) and ‘Memento Mori’ (‘Remember you must die’), abstain from speaking unless absolutely necessary and only encounter each other during certain prayer times. Short verbal exchanges are allowed three times a week, while contact with the world beyond the monastery is only allowed five days a year. Between prayer and work, simple vegetarian meals are eaten in the solitude of each monk’s small hermitage, where one of the only aspects of décor is the skull of his predecessor. An extremely isolated, strict and devout order, there are presently less than 60 Camaldolese monks in the world, of which 7 live in Las Wolski.
While the compound is founded on isolationism, it is possible for men to gain entrance to the monastery daily from 10:00 - 11:00 and 15:30 - 16:30. Women, on the other hand, are only permitted 12 days a year:February 7th, the Annunciation,Easter Sunday, Pentecost Sunday, Pentecost Monday, May 31st, Corpus Christi, June 24th, Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary (August 15th), the Nativity of Mary (September 8th), The Immaculate Conception of Mary (December 8th), and Christmas Day (December 25th). Although access to the grounds is limited, the main church - featuring two 50m towers, eight ornate Baroque chapels, an impressive main altar and creepy underground crypts - and its immediate surroundings are open at the specified times and well worth a look if you’re patient enough to get inside. To do so involves bravely pulling an iron ring attached to a long chain and waiting an indeterminable amount of time for one of the monks to silently open the large wooden doors of the main gate, before vanishing again like a cloud of vapour. A truly spell-binding and spiritual place, the monastery's legend grew when Italian football coach Cesare Prandelli and his staff made a 21km pilgrimage here from their Old Town hotel on foot, setting off at 03:00 in the morning and arriving for morning mass, after qualifying for the knockout phase of EURO 2012.
The sanctuary can be more easily reached by taking bus 109, 229, 239 or 269 from the Salwator tram roundabout to the 'Bielany Klasztor' stop at the bottom of Srebrna Góra (Silver Mountain); it’s then a steep 200 metre walk uphill on the red trail to the monastery. Even easier is taking bus 134 from the 'Cracovia Stadion' stop (ul. Kałuży) to the Zoo (the last stop) and from there it’s about a 20 minute walk south following the red trail (find it to the left if facing the zoo entrance).