Tenczyński Landscape Park
The Mnikowska Valley (Dolina Mnikowska) is one of the most beautiful valleys of the Jura not belonging to the so-called Krakow Valleys (Dolinki Krakowskie). Currently a nature reserve, for centuries it has been a charming and mysterious place. It is here that the most famous Polish lovers met on secret rendezvous: the future king of Poland Sigismund II Augustus (Zygmunt August) with Barbara Radziwiłł (Barbara Radziwiłłówna). Nowadays you can admire a painting on the rocks depicting the Virgin Mary by Walery Eljasz Radzikowski, painted in 1863.
On the highest point of the Tenczyński Ridge (Garb Tenczyński), on the top of a volcano, stand the picturesque ruins of Tenczyn Castle in Rudno, built in the first half of the 14th century by Andrzej Tęczyński – the governor (wojewoda) of Krakow. Today we can see the remains of a representative upper castle with a courtyard and cloisters, a lower castle, a chapel, a gate tower and a defence system, mainly in the form of towers, bastions, a moat and a barbican with a neck (walled road) protecting the entrance to the castle. The castle as a whole is an extraordinary example of a defensive stronghold, rebuilt and improved as a result of advances in the art of military defence.
West of Krakow, above the road to Libiąż, a lofty, forested hill can be seen from afar. On its top, like a limestone crag, rises a mighty tower made of white stone. Although the tower is visible only from afar, the walls of the magnificent Lipowiec Castle from the 13th century are hidden among the trees. At that time, the bishops of Krakow erected a fortress, which remained in their hands until the Partitions of Poland. Although the building has been in ruins since the beginning of the 19th century, the walls have been preserved and adapted for visiting. New stairs lead up to the tower. You can also walk around the empty, partially collapsed interiors, and see a small exhibition in the reconstructed rooms on the first floor of the castle. Here you can see old photographs and graphics of the castle and a small collection of various objects found among the ruins.
At the foot of the Lipowiec hill, it is worth visiting the Vistula Ethnographic Park (Nadwiślański Park Etnograficzny) in Wygiełzów. The open-air museum brings closer the tradition and culture of the Western Krakowiaks who once lived in this area. Apart from interesting, beautifully reconstructed examples of rural and small-town architecture, there is also a magnificent 17th-century church in Ryczów, where religious services are still held, and a picturesque 18th-century manor house in Droginia. In total, the open-air museum features 25 valuable buildings and farm and craft facilities (not counting street furniture). Peasant homesteads with original furnishings are surrounded by orchards and flower gardens, and the small-town complex creates an enclave reminiscent of former market squares.
The Eagles' Nests Landscape Park (Park Krajobrazowy Orlich Gniazd)
The 'Pazurek' Nature Reserve near Olkusz is an ideal place for a walk amidst the Jurassic landscapes and a short trip to experience 'Jura in a nutshell'. You can start your hike from a small forest car park on road 783 before the village of Pazurek or from the railway station in Jaroszowiec. Several trails lead through the reserve: a red didactic trail forming a 5 km loop, two blue connecting trails and a green hiking trail. The beech and sycamore forests are home to many protected and endangered species of flora, including many rare orchids. An unusual attraction are the high, limestone monadnocks with unusual shapes. The highest elevation in the reserve is Zubovské Skály (440.6 m above sea level), which forms a rock town. During the walk, it is worth paying attention to the karst funnels formed, among other things, by the collapse of the ceiling of the caves, which are visible as round or elliptical depressions. For lovers of rock climbing there is a rock complex 'Pazurek II' on the other side of the road 783 with several climbing routes of varying difficulty.
A perfect place for both a walk and a bike trip is the Wodacz Valley (Dolina Wodacza). This Jurassic valley, which has yet to be fully discovered, stretches from Domaniewice to Smoleń in the Silesian Voivodeship. The walk can begin at a small forest car park in Domaniewice from where the blue trail of Jurassic strongholds leads. The rock complex Grodzisko Pańskie that rises above the valley is an unusual place where a small castle existed in the Middle Ages, and in the 17th century, in one of the caves, a coin forger's workshop operated. Along the green trail leading to Grodzisko, a Way of the Cross has recently been created with interesting wooden sculptures – the work of a local artist. Many mysteries are hidden in Biśnik Cave, which is the oldest Neanderthal cave site in Poland. A popular excursion destination is Clock Rocks (Zegarowe Skały) in Smoleń, a rock complex that includes the Jasna Cave (Jaskinia Jasna) and the interesting Clock Cave (Clock Cave), where flint products and animal bones, including those of a cave bear and a reindeer, have been found. The lofty rocks at the edge of the valley are a popular climbing spot. During a walk through the valley, it is worth visiting the Psarskie glade (polana Psikarskie), where a partisan base of the Home Army’s 'Surowiec' Battalion was located during the war.
One of the biggest tourist attractions of the Olkusz region is the Błędów Desert (Pustynia Błędowska), called the 'Polish Sahara'. It is unique place in Europe in geographical and environmental terms. The surface of the desert stretching from Błędów in the west to Klucz in the east and Chechło in the north is divided by the Biała Przemsza River valley. The average thickness of the sandstone is 40 m (up to a maximum of 70 m). It is located within the boundaries of the Eagles' Nests Landscape Park and is partly under special protection. There are three vantage points in the Błędów Desert: Dąbrówka with a military training ground, Róża Wiatrów with a wooden viewing platform, and Czubatka towering over the village of Klucze.
Dłubnia Landscape Park (Dłubniański Park Krajobrazowy)
The Jurassic Dłubnia River is one of the main natural assets of the Dłubnia Landscape Park and is how the Park got its name. In the past, many mills operated along the river, creating a characteristic landscape, and the river was called 'hot' because it rarely froze in winter. This was due to the abundance of water that once flowed along it and the speed of the current. Today there are only a few mills left and the landscape is dominated by farmland next to the river valley. The local picturesque springs are a delight: the Hydrographers' Spring (Źródło Hydrografów) in Imbramowice and the Jordan Spring (Źródło Jordan) in Ściborzyce, which by no means are all the attractions of this area.