Biaowieza (pronounced byah-wo-vie'-za), 2km (1 1/4 miles) from the Belarusian border, is synonymous with the European bison. Hunted to near-extinction by soldiers during World War II, the European bison has made a comeback in the sanctuary of the Biaowieza National Park (BNP). Though the park covers a modest 105 sq. km (41sq. miles), it is one of Europe's last remaining parcels of primeval forest and, since 1979, has been on the UNESCO list of World Natural Heritage Sites. In addition to bison, the park shelters populations of deer, lynx, black storks, beaver, and wolf, as well as hundreds of species of birds and a staggering variety of trees, fungi, mushroom, and insects. So, no surprise -- it's inundated by scientists from around the world.
However, flora and fauna aren't the only highlights. History has also left its marks on the landscape. The Biaowieza Forest used to be the hunting grounds of Polish kings, Lithuanian princes, and Russian tsars. Once you make it this far to the eastern frontier, you'll naturally be drawn to the ethnic diversity left by Russians, Lithuanians, Belarusians, and Ukrainians, whose faiths range among Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant, and Adventism. Cycling in the woodlands is a great way to discover the onion-dome churches (cierkiew), three-bar papal-cross cemeteries, 18th-century wooden architecture, and other historical sites in the vicinity. And with all these attractions, the tourism infrastructure here is well developed; there are even a couple of hotels that are destinations unto themselves.