Niepołomice Forest

  Puszcza Niepołomicka, Niepołomice     more than a year ago
Once the favourite playground of rifle-wielding monarchs, Niepołomice Forest is today a sad, yet inevitable fraction of the legendarily dense, country-spanning wilderness it was centuries ago when royal hunting parties returned to the Royal Castle with the trophies of big game beasts such as bison, bears, wolves and aurochs (a larger ancestor of domestic cattle, extinct since 1627 when the last known member of its species died in PL). During the Polish partitions the Austro-Hungarian Empire succeeded in destroying almost the entirety of the old-growth forest, replanting it with pine trees; as such ancient trees are extremely rare. Further destruction of the area occurred during World War II when Nazi Germany hacked down and shipped much of the forest to military bases and battle fronts across Europe. Several mass graves of local partisans, Polish soldiers and Jews from Niepołomice and nearby Bochnia murdered during this era can be found within the forest today.

Located to the south and east of Niepołomice proper, today Niepołomice Forest occupies 110 square kilometres of protected habitat for rare species of owl, fox, boar, spotted eagles and black storks which can still be seen by visitors. At the very heart of the forest is also a special conservation and breeding ground for Polish bison (żubr) where approximately 30 of the endangered animals currently live. Unfortunately for those hoping to get an up-close look at the largest surviving land mammal in Europe, the 70 hectare habitat is strictly off-limits to the public without permission (the kind of permission it's just not worth even trying to get - we speak from experience); however it is possible to hike up the perimeter of the reserve by taking the 8km red trail. Visitors can traverse the original ‘Royal Road’ from Niepołomice to Poszyna by hiking the 14km green trail, while the 12km blue trail leads to the mass graves of Poles and Jews from WWII. There are also cycling and horseback riding trails criss-crossing the forest, a 4km educational trail lined with placards describing the local flora and fauna, and even a nine-hole golf course. You can access most of these trails from the parking next to 'Smak Bar' on route 75 if you have a car; if not it's about a 2km hike south-east down ul. Bocheńska from Niepołomice's Rynek.


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