Introduction

It's hard to imagine anything of interest in the tiny, rural villages of Arkadia and Nieborów (nyeh-bo-roof), southeast of Łowicz. But hiding among the trees are two perfect backdrops for a Jane Austen novel.

With its overgrown ruins, peeling pavilions, temples and follies, the landscaped garden at Arkadia Park is a romantic pagan enclave in a sea of Catholicism. The park was laid out by Princess Helena Radziwiłł in the 1770s to be an 'idyllic land of peace and happiness', but after the princess' death the park fell into decay. Most of the works of art were taken to Nieborów's palace and can be seen there today, and the abandoned buildings fell gradually into ruin.

Nowadays, an air of decay only adds to the charm of the place. Tree-shrouded ruins are dotted throughout the park, including a red-brick Gothic House (Domek Gotycki) perched above Sybil's Grotto, a 'Roman' aqueduct, and the impressive Archpriest's Sanctuary (Przybytek Arcykapłana), a fanciful mock ruin dominated by a classical bas-relief of Hope feeding a chimera. The focus of Arkadia is Diana's Temple (Świątynia Diany), which overlooks the lake and houses a display of Roman sculpture and funerary monuments.

About 4km further along the main Łowicz–Skierniewice road (No 70) brings you to Nieborów and its stunning, late-17th-century palace, a classic example of baroque architecture. The palace was designed by Tylman van Gameren for Cardinal Radziejowski, the archbishop of Gniezno and primate of Poland. In 1774 Prince Michał Hieronim Radziwiłł bought the palace, and he and his wife Helena set about cramming it with as much furniture and works of art as they possibly could.

More than half of the palace rooms are occupied by the Nieborów Museum. Part of the ground floor features 1st-century Roman sculpture and bas-reliefs collected by Helena, and highly unusual black-oak panelling from the late 19th century. The stairwell leading to the 1st floor, with its ornamental Dutch tiles dating from around 1700, is worth the entry fee alone.

Arkadia is on the Łowicz–Skierniewice road, about 4km southeast of Łowicz; Nieborów is on the same road, 4km beyond Arkadia. Both are reachable by bus from Łowicz.

You can also hike or bike along a specially marked cycling path, known as the 'Prince Bike Trail' (Szlak Książęcy). The blue-marked path runs about 14km and starts at the Stary Rynek in Łowicz, near the entrance to the museum.