Eastern Poland's New Cycling Adventure
The year 2016 was the first operational year of the Eastern Cycle Trail, one of the longest bikeways in Europe. More than 2,000 kilometres long, it follows Poland’s picturesque eastern border, and is made up of 12 parts called bicycle ‘kingdoms’, each of which has its own touristic attractions.
The longest route of its kind in the country, the Eastern Cycle Trail starts in Elbląg, a town off the Baltic coast, and continues along roughly half of Poland’s northern border and throughout the almost entirety of the eastern frontiers with Belarus and Ukraine, all the way down to the south central town of Końskie. The path will no doubt become a cyclist Mecca in the coming years, not only because of its length, but also because of the stunningly varied landscapes it showcases. These include 5 national parks, including Białowieża ‒ home of Europe’s last remaining primeval forest ‒ as well as centuries-old wooden Orthodox churches and fortifications of empires past.
The trail is made up of 12 parts called bicycle ‘kingdoms’ meant to make the route easier and more attractive. Cyclists not wishing to travel the entire trail can easily customise their trips by selecting segments suited to their taste in tourism and their athletic capacity. Their distance varies from 93 to 202 kilometres, and they all map out areas with one-of-a-kind nature, culture and history. For example, the Suwałki Region and Augustów Forest Kingdom, near Lithuania and Kaliningrad, takes travellers through the historical Tatar lands, where their cultural influence is preserved in the architecture and the cuisine. Cyclists looking for a high-energy mountain biking adventure could select the last segment, the Świętokrzyskie Mountains kingdom. Here the trail leads to plenty of hilly places where travellers can ride on dirt roads or off-road. A full listing of every kingdom’s attractions is available online.
Tourists need not fear incomprehensible road signs in Polish and Belarussian. The trail is especially designed for international tourism with a clear, easy-to-follow orange and black colour scheme, and there are special rest areas for cyclists. Called Biker Service Areas, these havens are typically located near touristic attractions. They offer sheds, benches, parking racks and boards with tourist information, sometimes even running water and washrooms. As a general rule, the side routes leading to monuments and other places of interest located near the main trail are also well indicated. The Eastern Cycle Trail also has a long list of venue recommendations, called Cyclist-Friendly Places, that can be found in its vicinity: museums, lodgings or restaurants that offer bicycle parking, service stations or checkrooms.
Postscript from the author:
In answer to many readers’ questions, I would like to signal that I was well aware of the criticism received by the Eastern Cycle Trail before writing the article. I would also like to point out that the trails spans roughly half (!) of Poland’s borders. It’s obvious that some places will be more pleasant and some less on a route that’s this long. Surely nobody expected red carpets laid out all the way. This is, after all, a bike route, so it’s normal to come across tarmac roads with cars (like in the U.S. for instance) and dirt roads (and riding on a nice dirt road through a Polish forest in the summer is pretty awesome in my opinion). The article simply focuses on the positive aspects of the trail, and there's plenty of them. Nevertheless I’d like to thank our vigilant readers who pointed out the trail’s shortcomings and who may end up contributing to its improvement.
For more information about the Eastern Cycle Trail, click here. For more about tourist attractions in Poland read:
Author: Marek Kępa, August 2016