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The Big Getaway... Krakow; 10 great seasons to go!

The seat of Polish kings for six centuries and still very much the spiritual home of the Polish nation, Krakow is a city steeped in history. Mercifully the city has remained unblemished, if not unaffected, by the ebb and flow of the country's turbulent past and today boasts one of the finest and best preserved medieval old towns in Europe. At its heart is Rynek Glowny, the market square, surrounded by a breathtaking ensemble of ancient churches and historic facades. Due south loom the Renaissance castle and the Gothic cathedral on Wawel Hill, where history and dragon-slaying legend have become intertwined.

Krakow also rewards those who seek out the quieter corners and look a little deeper; in the early morning light and in the still, small hours of the morning the city is captivating. Krakow is undergoing an unprecedented revival after years of Soviet neglect and even the fascinating Jewish quarter of Kazimierz, devastated during World War II, is enjoying a resurgence. Beyond the city, there are some unmissable and unforgettable sights, from the sobering horrors of Auschwitz to the weird and wonderful magic of the Wieliczka mines.

Cloth Hall

At the centre of Rynek Glowny is Sukiennice, the Cloth Hall. Once a humble merchants' trading emporium, it has been transformed over the years into a palatial building that's the pride of Krakow. Trade is still the main activity and it's the perfect place to browse for souvenirs.

Rynek Glowny

Any visit to Poland's most beautiful city should start in Rynek Glowny. Set in the Old Town, this piazza is the largest medieval square in Europe. There are plenty of people-watching cafes, as well as an array of street performers entertaining the crowds. Try to visit at night too, when the square is lit up and particularly beautiful.

St Florian's Gate

Krakow was once surrounded by medieval city walls, built in the 15th century when the city was threatened by the Ottoman Turks. St Florian's Gate and the neighbouring barbican are the best preserved remnants of those massive fortifications. They stand at the entrance to the Old Town as a suitably impressive introduction. Florianska Street

St. Mary's Church

The majestic Mariacki (Mary's) Church is the emblem of Krakow and its two gothic towers soar over Rynek Glowny. The ornately carved 15th-century High Altar has doors which are opened at midday, so this is the best time to visit. St. Mary's Church, Rynek Glowny 4

Wawel Castle

The seat of Polish kings for six centuries, Wawel Castle is steeped in legend. Every Polish schoolchild knows the story of the dragon who lived under the castle and was slain by Skuba, a shoemaker's apprentice. You can visit the dragon's lair if you dare. If you don't find a dragon, the State Art Collection and the castle's beautiful courtyard are just as spellbinding. Wawel 5,

00 48 12 422 5155/

www.wawel.krakow.pl

Wieliczka salt mines

Seven hundred years of tunnelling through the rock salt has produced a mesmerising network of 2,000 caverns and chambers. The highlight is the spectral Chapel of St Kinga, 101 metres underground and entirely carved from rock salt. 10 Danitowicza Street, Wieliczka,

00 48 12 278 7302/

www.kopalnia.pl

Wawel Cathedral

Within the grounds of the castle, on Wawel Hill, this cathedral saw the coronation of many of Poland's monarchs and is also their final resting place. Climb the bell tower for a close-up of the mighty Sigismondo bell and take in a great view of central Krakow. Wawel 5

Kazimierz

Krakow's Jewish quarter has a rich heritage spanning centuries, but the horrors of the Holocaust nearly erased this once-thriving community. Kazimierz is happily enjoying a revival and its bustling cafes and bars often stage live klezmer - Jewish folk music.

Czartoryski Museum

The most highly prized treasure in this excellent museum is Leonardo da Vinci's 'Lady with an Ermine', which you are likely to see countless reproductions of in all kinds of settings during your stay in Poland. In addition, there is a fine collection of antiquities from ancient Egypt and Greece, as well as Roman and Etruscan artworks.

ul. Sw. Jana 19, 00 48 12 422 5566

www.muzeum-czartoryskich.krakow.pl
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Publication:Liverpool Echo (Liverpool, England)
Date:Oct 24, 2007
Words:697
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