Despite the unique look and feel of Northeast Poland, most international travelers neglect this region. However, should you choose to trek this way, your reward will be a satisfying sense of discovering the faces of Poland that are not commonly seen. Outdoor adventures, historical highlights, close encounters with wildlife, and cultural diversity are all part of the well-rounded package offered by Northeast Poland, whose borders touch Russia, Lithuania, and Belarus.

In the Northeast is the Mazurian and Suwaki lake districts, the "land of a thousand lakes," where retreating glaciers sculpted lakes and islets, rivers, undulating meadows, and woodlands. Vacationers flock here to blend sailing, kayaking, and cycling with rustic living. The top man-made attractions are the Wolf's Lair, the site of a 1944 assassination attempt on Hitler, and a series of Gothic castles.

Moving east and southeast, Prussian influence gives way to Eastern Orthodox churches. Biaystok, the regional capital, changed hands from Poles to Prussians, Russians, and Lithuanians. Jews and Tatars also settled in these parts, and you'll find some remnants of their footprints in the vicinity of Biaystok in forms of a 17th-century synagogue and two wooden mosques.

Further south is the Biaowieza Forest, one of the last parcels of primeval forest in Europe and an area where European bison still roam freely.

Even if rumble and tumble in mud and puddles isn't your thing, the scenic drives, selection of atmospheric lodging, and good, inexpensive regional food still make the Northeast an ideal place to unwind.

In the major lakeside resort towns, room rates are higher due to their proximity to transportation terminals and other amenities. You'll find better value and more atmospheric rooms away from the main hubs. Some pensions and hotels, in addition to owning fleets of kayaks and bicycles, also throw in outings such as mushroom picking, horseback riding, and day trips to local sights or even guided tours to Poland's eastern neighbors. It's most convenient to navigate the terrain in a car, but with some planning, you can get by with the network of trains and buses.

Stork Options

A quarter of the world's white stork population roosts in Poland. Most of the 40,000 pairs have their base in Northeastern Poland. From May to September, you'll see stork families in nests perched on lamp posts, chimneys, and pillars, and on the roofs of farm houses, pensions, or run-down heritage buildings. The storks swoop overhead like ancient pterodactyls. If you're lucky, you'll see one returning to its nest with a fish or a writhing snake to feed the brood. Come September, as the flock gets set to migrate to Africa, the juveniles take to the air for test flights.