It’s a mystery why Małopolska remains relatively unexplored by international travellers. Pilgrims walk for more than two weeks to pray before the sacred Black Madonna painting of Częstochowa, but if they just kept walking they would find a range of surprising attractions, from the quaint to the downright quirky.
This is a region where you can be haunted by a friendly ghost in an underground chalk tunnel, explore the ruins of a castle once connected to another by a sugar-coated corridor, and meet townsfolk who quarrel over who has the right to bake rooster-shaped bread.
While the rest of the continent loudly extols its attributes, this eccentric pocket of Poland is a modest region that quietly polishes its treasures: Renaissance towns, cobblestoned laneways, sidewalk cafés, labyrinthine museums, opulent palaces, alluring castles and primeval forest.
Modern-day Małopolska began to form its complexion centuries ago, and its ancestry is still apparent today. The botanical and zoological interests of 16th-century aristocrats led to the establishment of vast natural estates; today, these are national parks. Ancient trade routes sliced through the region, bringing demographic diversity along with economic prosperity; today there are some 19 ethnic groups among the three million inhabitants. In 1569 the region accounted for almost half the country and now Małopolska is literally ‘Little Poland’; it takes up a sizable chunk of the country with 22 districts blanketed over 57 cities and 2630 villages.
Turbulent tides of history, entrenched religious veneration and waves of cultural cosmopolitanism have added colourful layers to the character of Małopolska. The fact that it has maintained its modesty through it all is just another reason to experience it.