The southwestern province of Lower Silesia (Dolny Slask in Polish) and its capital Wrocaw are often overlooked by travelers who are focused on more traditional Polish tourist destinations such as Kraków. That's a pity. Wrocaw is an engaging, cosmopolitan city with one of the country's largest and liveliest central squares and a compelling story of destruction and rebirth that rivals even Warsaw or Gdansk. The rolling Silesian countryside, filled with farms and forests, is picture-perfect. To the south, along the border with the Czech Republic, the highlands give way to actual mountains: the Karkonosze range. Here, you'll find some of the country's best skiing and hiking, plus a burgeoning mountain-biking culture in the warmer months.

In many ways, Lower Silesia is the least traditionally "Polish" of the country's main regions. While Poles have been present here for more than 1,000 years, a complicated succession through the centuries saw Silesia go from Polish rule to Bohemian, and then Austrian, Prussian, and most recently, German. Indeed, Lower Silesia reverted back to Polish hands only following the destruction of Nazi Germany in World War II.

This historical version of musical chairs has lent a fascinating architectural and cultural overlay to the region, with castles that date back to the traditional Polish and Bohemian dynasties overlooking villages that a scant generation or two ago were part of Germany.

In addition to Wrocaw and the Karkonosze range, don't miss the spectacular wooden churches of Jawor and Swidnica, both on UNESCO's list of World Heritage Sites, as well as the enormous Ksiaz Castle at Wabrzych near Wrocaw.

The charming district capital of Jelenia Góra makes a good base for exploring the Karkonosze and border lands with the Czech Republic. More adventurous travelers will want to spend time in Kodzko, a largely forgotten Polish region that extends like a dagger deep into the territory of the modern-day Czech Republic and where the Polish, Bohemian, and German cultural mosaic is still keenly felt.