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Exploring Poland’s Mazurian Lakes

Text/Photos: Richard P. Poremski

Port Wilkasy, Poland “The Green Lungs of Poland.”  — The greater northeastern geographic area of Poland, centering on the regions of Warmia and Mazury, has officially been awarded the sobriquet of The Green Lungs of Poland (TGLP), and is a registered and controlled legal trade mark. The TGLP is a very dynamic environmental green-concept conceived to fully embrace, protect, sustain, and preserve the diverse natural and cultural assets of the specified regions. The invaluable and splendid natural assets include unspoiled lakes and rivers, old growth forest and dense pine tree forests, clean water, unpolluted air, verdurous farmland, beautiful natural surroundings, and the lowest population density in Poland.

In photo: Sunset from the Mikołaki Promenade

Beginning in 1983, the biodiverse TGLP protocol and programs have been embraced and legally codified by both the national and respective provincial visionary governments of Poland – and with the full and enthusiastic support of the citizenry. This critical forward thinking, and related environmental actions, ensures that the sustainable development and preservation of the natural and cultural diversity of the TGLP biosphere. It will exist for all the future generations of Poland – and the world – to fully appreciate, and also to be able to personally experience this extraordinary gift that mother nature has bestowed upon planet earth.   

The Mazurian Lake District. “Land of a Thousand Lakes” – ‘Kraina Tysiᶕca Jezior’ – is how the Poles refer to the Mazurian Lake District (MLD). Actually, there is 2,600 lakes of all sizes in the entire district. The Mazurian Lakes represent a major contributing component of the overarching Green Lungs of Poland biosphere. In that respect, the MLD is in contention to be recognized as one of the New 7 Wonders of Nature. The lakes were ground out of the earth during the Pleistocene Ice Age 14,000 – 15,000 years ago. Orientated on a north-south axis spanning 100 miles are the lakes are Mamry, Dargin, Niegocin, Tałty-Ryńskie, Śniardwy, Bełdany, Roś, and Nidzkie. Their collective surface areas cover a total of 200 square miles. Śniardwy is the largest lake with a surface area of 44 square miles, and is aptly called the Mazurian Sea – Mazurskie Morze.

PHOTO: A typical lake-connecting canal at Mikołaki

 The only way to fully explore and really understand the above mentioned 8 lakes is to create a long and disappearing wake upon their surface waters. Our ‘wake-maker’ was a chartered 42-feet-long reduced-speed cruiser (that we intuitively christened “Poszukiwacz’/’Explorer”) with 3 large cabins and all the creature comforts of a fully equipped floating home. So, with all nautical charts at the ready, supplemented by real-time navigational aids on a lap top computer and mobile phone, the 3 Polish and 1 American (me) argonauts set sail from Port Wilkasy on a 5 day’s journey last summer July of 2022 seeking the intimate personal experience and awesome beauty of the Mazurian Lakes.

You notice right away that the vast majority of the out-and-about vessels are sail boats. Some are privately owned but most are on a weekly charter to families, university students, groups of friends, clubs, and so forth. The modus operandi is to sail on the lake/lakes during the day and then dock in a marina at night, or just anchor out safely in a cove. Night navigation on the lakes is discouraged, especially for the vacationing annual/casual sailors. Thankfully, personal watercraft/jet skis are mostly absent from the overall tranquil scene thereby sparing everyone their disruptive noise pollution and questionable waterborne antics.

PHOTO: The 42-feet-long lake’s exploration vessel – “Explorer.”

The marinas are fully equipped with docking slips, restaurants, cafes, toilet and shower facilities, laundromats, fueling stations and various stores for the sailors’ convenience, serving to enhance their summer holiday experiences. Aboard your boat, while sipping your morning coffee al fresco, you will definitely observe the morning ritual of many flip-flopped individuals and families with towels and ditty bags parading back and forth from their boats to the available sanitary facilities. The largest marinas really resemble little towns unto themselves, albeit with a population of very transitory seasonal residents.

It is a much appreciated engineering wonder that all the major lakes are connected by about 12 man-made canals of varying length. The vessel traffic, and rules of the canals, operates the same as that of a two-lane vehicle road, and can become quite busy at times, especially near the popular vacation towns of Mikołajki and Giżycko. These convenient passages make it quite easy to range as far and wide as you wish among the individual lakes during your watery wanderlust – which we assuredly did.

PHOTO: The very popular holiday town of Mikołaki.

Mikołajki is the most popular and largest resort in Mazuria, closely followed by Giżycko. It lies in the heart of the lake district, and has a population of 3,852 inhabitants. It has a very charming town square and a long inviting lakeside promenade. There are many hotels, pensions, restaurants, cafes, bars, watersports offerings, etc. – something for everyone on holiday. The Annual Festival of Sailors Songs, centered on the town’s iconic Sailor’s Village, is a huge Polish and international event. In the winter ice sailing is a very popular sport that keeps the fun going year-round. It’s no wonder that Mikołajki is fondly called “The Pearl of the Mazuria.”

After we all individually absorbed the Mazurian Lakes District experience in toto, and in regards of the aforementioned candidacy of the Mazurian Lake District to be recognized as one of the New 7 Wonders of Nature, I can absolutely guarantee 4 yes votes – that of the Poszukiwacz’s gobsmacked crew.

PHOTO: Mikolajki central square

ZGODA – Chicago, IL
Richard Poremski, President
PNA Council 21, Baltimore, MD

In photo: Map of the main/largest Mazurian Lakes. The thin black lines are canals connecting the lakes.