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...two travellers in search of the world's wildlife

24 September 2023

Castles of the Eagles Nest

Okay, although we’re never going to love a hotel covered in scaffolding, it has to be said that Hotel H15 Francuski is a great space with good rooms and very friendly and helpful staff. Superb value, really.

After breakfasting at Bakery Lajkonic on the most insanely over-sweet salt caramel croissant ever created, we buzzed (literally) our way out of Krakow and into the countryside. We are on a quest to find the Castles of the Eagle’s Nest!

Sugar-loading at Lajkonic ready for a day of driving

A bit like the Romantic Road back in Bavaria, the Eagle’s Nest is a trail linking up all kinds of castles built at various times along the high limestone ridge that seems to guard Poland’s southern corner. They seem to come in three flavours: (1) sprawling ruin now a tourist attraction, (2) small castle transformed into a hotel, (3) tiny crumbling ruin in the woods too ruinous for anyone to try and make money out of.

Ojcow Castle gateway

Here’s a quick rundown of today’s castles:

  • Hotel Castle – more properly Korzkiew Castle, this is most definitely now a boutique hotel a few miles from Krakow. Nothing to see beyond snapping a photo, but would stay here.
  • Overpriced Castle – also called Ojcow Castle; you pay a few quid and then find that once you’ve walked through the (admittedly pretty) gatehouse there’s just an open space that used to be a fortified bailey and a single tower you can’t go in. Doesn’t help that you have to pay for parking too!
  • Renaissance Castle – Pieskowa Skala is definitely a tourist attraction, but from a distance it has clearly been restored to within an inch of its life and we suspected rooms full of stuffy gilt furnishings so we gave it a miss.
  • Gantry Castle – actually called Rabsztyn Castle, this is the first of the big sprawling ones and more fun to explore. Just a bit frustrating (for a photographer) that they use modern plate glass and lots of metal staircases and walkways. Kinda kills the medieval vibe.
  • Trench Castle – Bydlin Castle is just a few ruinous walls still standing at the top of a wooded hill, but uniquely this hill still has a system of World War I trenches dug into it, part of the lesser known Eastern Front where the geopolitics at play was more complicated than simply “stop the Kaiser!”
  • Crumble Castle – was a very tiny ruin perched on a crag of limestone and lost in the forest; officially Ryczowie Castle, we tried clambering around it in search of more remains but nope. That said, I do like even a tiny lost ruin in the woods!
  • Witcher Castle – the big one, Ogrodzieniec Castle is a full-on tourist attraction. Soooo much tourist crap washing around the foot of the castle hill like detritus washed up against a rock: a toboggan ride, a ghost house, a miniature world, any number of snack stands and bars. Magically all vanished when this castle stars in the final episode of The Witcher (series 1). I have to say, it is an awesome castle, and our last one for the day. On the way out we bought a bottle of gooseberry soda, which I’ve never seen before and love.
Ogrodzieniec Castle – as seen in The Witcher

It was getting late by now, so we zoomed to CzÄ™stochowa and our apartment. From the outside it looks like a block from the Communist era, surrounded by dozens of other blocks, but inside it’s actually a modern and fantastically well-equipped apartment for the price (wish we were staying a couple more nights) and around the corner there are restaurants and cafes and ice cream parlours. Tonight, since we’ve been on “typical local cuisine” for the whole trip and we’re now in a distinctly unhistoric modern city neighbourhood, we had pizza.

Tiny woodland ruin of Ryczowie Castle. This is it

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