Lower Silesia, which is the region of my town of adoption Wrocław, is not only about mountains, despite the Sudetes make a now world-wide renowned terrain for mountain-biking.
There are some other areas located North from the Odra (Oder river) or inside its watershed basin, that are worth mention when it comes about cycling.
No rocky descents, no huge elevations. Not the same kind of biking. But fairly hilly terrain can be found still, along flatter areas more proper to some kind of off-trails cyclotouring. A wide variety of landscapes are visited with some stunning places amongst them.
This page is meant to contain everything around the Wrocław region which is not a part of the Sudetes mountains. We can roughly divide it into four areas that correspond each to one kind of landscape.
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The Odra valley
The shores of the Oder (Odra) are since long a popular cycling goal, particularly East and West from the city Wrocław, where this activity is the most done, and the trails the largest and most evident. Unfortunately, the furthest we go away from towns, the tiniest they become, not to mention portions where diversions are required to avoid the junction with some secondary rivers, like the Ślęza (named after the eponymous hill), the Oława (flowing from the Strzelin hills), the Bystrzyca (source near Waligóra), as well as the Widawa and Barycz on the north. There is an European program to enhance these infrastructures in order to make the Oder more attractive for tourists and perhaps make it cycleable from one end to the other, like the German neighbour the Elbe.
In the city centre of Wrocław, the Odra divides into several branches that eventually merge back: Stara Odra, Kanał Miejski, Kanał Powodziowy, Kanał Żeglugowy, Kanał Różanka. Some of them form together islands, including the largest from far and most popular, Biskupin, whose shores are featured with cycling tracks and suitable for city bikes and baby trailers.
The forests that grow in the Odra watershed, often flat pine forest on sandy ground, also make a fine terrain, particularly appreciated in the low season when the sand is wet and more consistent, and while snow makes rides in mountains impossible. There is a project of natural park on the west of the city, called Odrzański Park Krajobrazowy (Odra Landscape Park) to protect these zones. This is the area that was visited by the circuit of the 2011 Wroclaw Bike Marathon.
On the east, the Oława meanders, in which some artificial fishing lakes are nestled too, form a fragile ecosystem of water bodies in the area of Opatowice. Bird lovers (and mosquitoes lovers too !) will particularly appreciate. Further still, this marshy ground gives place to the pine forests of the Stobrawa natural park (below).
The Cat hills
As we get away northwards from the flat basin of the Odra watershed, we meet a small range of undulating hills, called Wzgórza Trzebnickie (Trzebnicka hills) after the town Trzebnica, or "Kocie Góry" (Cat Hills) from the German Katzengebirge. The terrain is particularly hilly west from Trzebnica. This is an area of forests, fields, pretty villages, strewn by a network of marked trails appreciated by casual walkers. Most of them make a perfect terrain for mountain-biking. Very steep slopes are met from time to time. Less rarely, and unfortunately, some marked trails aren't maintained and covered by vegetation, especially nettles. On some other trails the terrain is particularly sandy, don't forget to wash your bike if you rode in it for a significant distance.
The best season to visit this area is perhaps June when all fields are green and yellow. On the north-east, this hilly terrain slowly fades out to slip into the huge pine forests of the Barycz valley described below.
One interesting geologic observation that can often be made is the presence of numerous pink granitic boulders called "erratic blocs"; they came from Scandinavia during the last ice age, and are found all over the watershed of Northern Europe that flows into the Baltic. This is the southernmost limit of their presence, as the Odra marks the limit with another ice erosion, the one that shaped the Sudetes.
The Barycz valley and lakes
In the northernmost region of Lower Silesia, just next to the region Wielkopolska (Greater Poland), is located a region commonly called the Milicz Lake District (despite there are several groups of lakes), more precisely but less commonly called Barycz valley, after the river that feeds all these water bodies. Two main groups can be divided : the Milicz lake district, East, and the Żmigród lake district, West. Other smaller entities are found here and there. All of them are usually designated by "Stawy Milickie", which is also the name of the natural reserve that protects then.
The lakes of these regions are not natural but were made almost a thousand years ago for fishing purposes, which makes them nowadays almost entirely a part of the natural environment. Hundreds of bird species make can be observed there which makes it a paradise of ornithologists, and one of the hugest of this kind in Europe. Amongst the most commons are the Heron, the Great Egret (called White Heron too), Common Stork as well as the rare Black Stork (like those in Dunajec), Grebes, Moorhens, Wild gooses, Ducks, Ravens and Seagulls of all sorts.
But, even during a casual bike ride and not necessarily going for this purpose, you will see a huge amount of them. It is not rare to have the possibility to cycle a stripe of land that separates two lakes, like roads in the middle of the water. These roads provide access to the fishing spots and are closed to cars, which makes them pleasant routes. The rest of the region is covered with abundant pine forests into which live a rich fauna. Deers and stags are also abundantly seen. Beavers have an intense activity too and trees cut by them is a common sight.
Little roads with small traffic, as well as large tracks with easy surface strew this land, which makes it a proper terrain for easy mountainbiking or off-trails cyclotouring. As we go more West, extensive pine forests run uninterruptedly, merging with the Stobrawa region (below).
The Stobrawa natural park
The "Stobrawa Landscape Park" (as it is called: Stobrawski Park Krajobrazowy) is a protected area in Eastern Lower Silesia, established in 1999, covering an area of 526 square kilometers in the region of the Stobrawa river. Called "Middle-Odra Valley", this area lies mostly on sandy grounds, due to the fact it corresponds roughly to the geological bed of the Odra river, which carried lots of sediments.
Given this poor soil, it is mostly covered with forest of pines, and due to this specificity, forests are often strewn with geometric forestry tracks for preventing fires.
Some areas are very boggy and many water-friendly species such as amphibians, birds, and even mammals such like the otter. The area protected by the park is almond-shaped, with a west area and an east area. But the area covered by pine forests extends until the Opole region, till which it is possible to ride from Wrocław only through forests. A huge reservoir near Opole, the Turawa lake, where locals go swimming, sunbathing and possibly cycling make the fame of the area.
Focusing only on cycling, the Stobrawa area is perfect for training during winter. Wet sandy ground has better consistence than in summer when we sometimes tend to dig into. Long straight lines in forests are proper for covering long distances offtrails, and the temperatures, due to the proximity of the Odra bed, are the mildest of all the region, not to say of all Poland (Lower Silesia is the "less cold" Polish region in winter).
The environment being made almost exclusively of conifers, winter riding provide a pleasant feeling of not being in sad treeless forests, watching some green, breathing nice resin smell and hearing all sort of wildlife around...
* By plane :
Wrocław of course is the place to land. The airport is to have a second brand new terminal by 2012, increasing very probably the amount of flights and available destinations, so far quite limited. Most of the companies allow carrying a bike, with extra costs.
* By the road :
Wrocław is Poland's best served large city when it comes about motorways. It is now uninterruptedly linked to the German border to Dresden and Berlin, via the A4 and A18. Both are free of tolls. Beware however, the state of the A18 is really bad, in the only direction from Berlin to Wroclaw; the other sense is OK. This portion is to be renovated in the nearest future. The A4 extends till Cracow on the East. From 2012 this portion is going to be with tolls. Motorways plans to Warszaw and Poznan are still in the boxes, as well as an express road to Prague.
* By train :
Germany's fast train, equivalent of the TGV, is to serve Wroclaw in the forthcoming years. At the present moment, Intercity is working, which is not bad too. Bikes are usually allowed on board.
Wrocław is full of hotels, but if your plan is mostly to cycle the surroundings, then they might not be the best options, as they tend to be much more expensive, almost twice or three times what can be found in the countryside around.
One will find a lot of B&Bs, green lodges and guesthouses in the countryside around. All is about having an idea about where you would like to stay. Pick a name of a location, and Google it with one of the following words :
- Accomodation = Noclegi
- Hotel = Hotel/Hotel. "Hostels" often designate Youth hostels or motels.
- Green lodge = Agroturystyka
- Guesthouse = Pokoje gościnne
- Summer residence = Dom letniskowe
- Flat for rent = Kwatery
- Mountain hut = Schronisko
- Tavern = Chata
- Restaurant = Restoracja
- Campsite = Kemping (however campsites are rare in these regions)
No particular rule... Just remember to be clean with nature :)