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Podlasie, Poland

Podlasie- the highlights

Back in 2016 we went to Białowieża for the first time. On the bus there we spotted stunning wooden houses, colorful orthodox churches and an almighty forest. Afterall the region is called Podlasie which could be translated to “under, near forest”. Already then, we decided that we would come back someday with a car to be able to explore it properly. That occasion came sooner than expected…

Starting in Białowieża…

Our journey started in Warsaw where we rented the car, that was the most efficient and the cheapest way to approach our road trip. Later on we drove to Białowieża. We wanted to stay at Carska hotel and be as close as possible to the primeval forest. Białowieski National Park is an absolute must see and one of the very few untouched forests in Europe. It’s also a house for lots of wild animals. The most famous one is the bison. But we have already written a post about things you absolutely need to do around Białowieża.

This time I would really like to focus on other highlights Podlasie has to offer.

Tatar settlement

Poland is not a very multi-culti country, there are not many foreigners who live here. The same goes for religion, the crushing majority is Roman Catholic. In recent years that faith has been stronger then ever. Not going into politics… it’s extraordinary to see some variety in Poland, communities with their own faith and customs. Like Tatar settlements live in two tiny, tiny villages Bohoniki and Kruszyniany. We visited the second one and it left us speechless. It’s one of those experiences worth travelling for… even though the path there was quite rough and we thought we left paved roads forever.

Tatar history in that region dates to the XVII century when they were recruited as warriors to fight for our king. Afterwards they gained land and other professions. Nowadays they speak polish, but they keep their religion- Islam. It’s unbelievable that in a small village with just a few houses different faiths can co-exist. They even have their wooden mosque, where they gather few days a year. It’s possible to visit it and hear a story from one of the Tatars about their history, bond with Poland and their customs. It’s interesting and we would highly recommend it. The guide there will tell you passionately even about his marriage with a Polish woman, faith of their kids and local goodies. Talking about food… While there you CAN’T miss the Tatar restaurant on the other side of the road. It looks cheesy to the point that we seriously considered leaving the village and drive somewhere else. But we were so hungry that we decided to give it a chance. Sitting there at one of the plastic tables and observing dishes served on plastic plates we were wondering if we made the right decision. And then my coffee came… it was like if we were back in Oman. The coffee was intense, rich in smell and flavor. I could taste the cardamom straight away. I was intrigued. Then we got their layered savory cake with turkey and their traditional dumplings filled with beef and served in broth. Heaven. We could taste the love, the hours of hard work and the complexity of those dishes. It was better then any restaurant in Białowieża and we went to the best ones (supposedly). It was as if Poland met Iran and made the best menu possible. It gets even better… those goodies cost from 10 – 39 zl (2-9 eur).


The Orthodox Churches

They made us forget that we were still in Poland. They are the most prominent buildings in the whole region. Maybe it’s because we both haven’t seen one before, but they all seemed so different and so fascinating. Some of them were blue, some green, some “just wooden”, we spotted quite many with rich-looking golden ornaments.

Our favorite ones were in Trześcianka (green one), Puchły (blue one) and Narew (another blue one). Unfortunately, only the one in Puchły was open to the public, all the rest that we saw were closed.

It’s worth reading a bit about the differences between Roman and Orthodox churches. Unfortunately, the guy who worked in the only open one was not keen on sharing information. He was much more interested if people were married or not and if they had kids. If someone answered no to these questions he would be very unsatisfied and unpleasant so better to keep your mouth shut.

The Land of Open Shutters

That’s the name of a collective of three small villages (Soce, Trześcianka and Puchły). Their name is a tribute to their exceptionally well-preserved wooden architecture, especially their shutters. It’s also an attempt to maintain them and keep the traditions alive. It’s a very rural area so many farmers opt for a modern, more efficient way of building/restoring the house instead of taking care of the wooden beauties they have. It’s hard to blame them since it’s probably difficult and pricey.

Thankfully those three spots still manage to keep the past alive. They not only have colorful, open shutters in all the shapes and forms but also carved, wooden ornaments on the facade of the house to go with them. Together with flowers, small farms and dirt roads it creates a very cozy, rural feeling.


How to get to those places?

A car is a necessity! The interesting spots are quite far from each other and we haven’t seen any buses connecting those. Bah! To some there isn’t even a paved road. A plus is that you’re most definitely “off the beaten track”. Podlasie isn't a popular destination so you can be almost certain to explore everything without a fear of crowds.

We rented our car via Pepe Car, we literally took the cheapest option which cost us 10 EUR per day plus 4.60 EUR per day for an extra driver.

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Carska, Bialowieza, Poland

Orient Express Experience in Białowieża

The Orient Express has always been a very highly placed dream on my bucket list. The old-time splendor, smell of wood, sounds of a riding train and excitement of a new adventure…. Who wouldn’t want it?

Over the years I have searched for Orient Express-like trains… and they were always outrageously expensive. I already made peace with the simple fact that that item will never disappear from my bucket list. Life works in mysterious ways and in the least expected place I found out that my dream could be an affordable reality.

Carska apartments

A couple of years ago we visited the Białowieski National Park to see bison and untouched nature. During one of our bike trips around Białowieża we came across an old train station now adapted as a hotel and restaurant. Quite a bizarre sight considering how dense the surrounding forest is. Back in the XIX century it was one of the favorite hunting places of the ruling Tsar. He loved coming there but the last part of the journey had to be done on horse and was difficult during autumn and winter. To get there faster and easier he decided to create a train station. In 1897 the work was completed, a station named Białowieża Towarowa came to life. With time it became a destination for passengers and goods trains. Somehow the place survived the First and Second World War and years of abandonment. In 2003 its new owner decided to turn it into what it is now… an extraordinary hotel and restaurant.

The first time we saw it, we could only admire it from the outside. It might be affordable for European standards but for our backpacking budget back then it was a vague dream.

Our stay

The idea of coming back there popped in my head as my 30th birthday was approaching. I really wanted that day to be special. After all you don’t say goodbye to your twenties every day.

Carska offers various accommodations in the old water tower, station agent house and… train wagons. It was clear to me that we had to get that last option.

The wagons are designed to bring back that XIX century Tsar splendor and make you feel like you travel back in time. Each of the four is a bit different but all of them are stunning, filled with vintage pictures, lamps and even a peculiar belt opening system for the windows. To maximize the feeling of a train they are connected with a vintage steam engine locomotive. Pure orient express experience… maybe except for the fact that it’s not moving… But we had a solution for that too. We played a YouTube clip with sounds of a moving train. It was just pure magic.

At night the place was pitch dark and it played tricks on our imagination. As we got used to it we appreciated the sounds of nature coming from everywhere, stars including the Milky Way (absolutely no light pollution) and flying owls.

For forest lovers there are amazing paths just a short walk from the wagons that we indicated on the map below.

The food

Carska restaurant serves local cusine inspired by Tsar times. Their menu features a lot of game meat, berries and mushrooms. It’s tasty although quite pricey. They also serve breakfasts that are included in the price for the guests. The quality and quantity really vary per day… and is a bit underwhelming considering that the hotel is rather high-end for polish standards. Once we had an average breakfast in the restaurant room and once in a beautiful hunting room with a huge selection of meat cuts, egg creations, fruit etc etc.

How to get there?

There are buses going to Białowieża but because Carska is situated outside in the forest it’s very recommendable to go there by car. For a more affordable option (if you don’t have too much luggage) you can also rent a bike in Białowieża.

How much does it cost?

One night in one of the wagons costs around 100 eur. Other accommodations vary from 80-130 eur.

More about activities around Bialowieza?

Head to our previous post about it:)

Białowieża, Poland

7 Must Do’s In Białowieża

Most of the people come to Białowieża just for one or two days. See the forest and go further. Big mistake, there is plenty to see and do in there. It’s a part of Poland that doesn’t feel like Poland anymore. It’s wilder and the catholic churches are replaced by the orthodox ones and time has stopped. So can youJ

  1. Search for bison!

Except for in the Reserve it’s quite easy to spot them in nature. We had really bad luck (that’s what everyone said) and we didn’t see any bison and we devoted many sleepless mornings to search for them. Anyway… The best times to see them is around sunrise and sunset then they are easily spotted close to the border with the Strict Reserve so the restricted part of the forest. If you want to know the exact places that people recommended to us, look on the map below 🙂

If you can choose the season then go in the winter because that’s when the bison get fed so it’s easier to spot them. Good luck! And remember, even if you don’t see a bison, the views will be spectacular.

  1. Go to the Strict Reserve, it is different!

Strict Reserve is a small part of the Białowieża forest which is extremely protected and nothing can be altered there so when something dies or falls it’s left as it is. We thought forest is forest, but the strict reserve is not just a forest. It’s a different world! It’s just greener, thicker and way more interesting, it even smells different. Not to mention all the weird mushrooms and plants we saw there.

To go to the Strict Reserve you need to have a guide and you can go on tour with a group (144 zl per group so you share the cost, up to 12 people). You can also take a private tour that starts from 280 zl (for polish speaking guide) and you go pretty deep for total of 6 hours walk.

We took the regular group one and we were pretty happy, the guide was really in love with the forest so she would tell us all about the history of it and interesting plants we saw and animals we heard.


  1. Sleep or at least see The Carska Hotel

The hotel used to be an old train station. Now it’s simply stunning. It’s like you travel in time when you’re there. Everything is maintained so well in the Tsar XXth century era. You can either sleep in your own train wagon furnished Tsar style or you can choose in one of the apartments in a nearby tower. I’m sure the views are breathtaking. You will also have the best restaurant in town just next to you, in an old train station building.

  1. Enjoy a tasty cup of coffee or beer surrounded by suitcases

During our stay in Bialowieza we discovered a magical café. It’s called “Walizka” café and it’s filled with suitcases, interesting books, nice pictures of bison and an amazing atmosphere. It’s quite small, just few tables so if it’s busy it’s really worth waiting for your turn. Homemade cakes and delicious coffee will reward it.

  1. Visit their Saint Nicolas Orthodox church

It might not be the most spectacular of them all and if you’re going by car you can visit more spectacular ones in other towns but if you never saw an orthodox church and you don’t have a car it’s definitely worth a visit. It’s just such a different experience than the one you would have in a catholic church.

  1. Walk around the town

Białowieża is just such a charming, little town and it definetly doesn’t get the attention that it deserves! We really enjoyed just walking around the town, admiring the wooden houses and beautiful forest surrounding.

  1. Just bike around

There are plenty of biking paths around Białowieża that will take you through the forest. I think it’s the best way to explore the surroundings as you are not too fast so you still see a lot but you’re fast enough so that the mosquitos don’t get you. I wouldn’t recommend any route in particular as they are all pretty much the same. Even though some say you need to see “The Trail of Royal Oaks” as it has really huge, old oaks, I would say that one is all about the journey, not so much about destinations. And so are most of the routes.