14 things a Frenchman should do in Poland
1. Visit the Tatras and follow in the footsteps of French sociologist and psychologist Gustave le Bon.
At the end of the 1870s, French scientist Gustave le Bon – who would later author the famous The Crowd (1895) – set off for the Middle East. On his way there, he decided to spend the last few days of August 1879 in the vicinity of Podhale and the Tatras.
There he became acquainted with many members of the Tatra Society, who shared his love for science and he made a number of observations of an anthropological and ethnographic nature, describing highland folklore and legends as well as the characteristics of the local community. The direct result of this short tour was the richly illustrated publication titled Excursion anthropologique aux monts Tatras ('Anthropological Excursion to the Tatra Mountains', 1881).
Learn more about the place that fascinated the French scientist:
The Tatra National Park is located in southern Poland, in the Małopolska Province, and borders on the Slovakian Tatra National Park. Both of these unique areas were listed as UNESCO biosphere reserves in 1993.
One of the main tourist attractions in the Tatra Mountains is the cable railway on Kasprowy Wierch that was constructed in 1936. It is the oldest such construction in Poland and the 60th in the world. Its top station is situated next to the highest meteorological observatory in Poland (1987 meters mamsl). Rysy, measuring 2499 meters mamsl, is the highest peak on the Polish side of the Tatra Mountains and Poland’s highest mountain.
2. Reach for the comic book about Kajko and Kokosz, the Polish response to the adventures of Asterix and Obelix.
Kajko and Kokosz appeared for the first time in 1972 in a story titled Zlote prosie (‘Golden Pig’) published in the "Wieczor Wybrzeza" daily. Janusz Christa created very characteristic heroes which were easy to recognize - Kajko is brave, smart and honest; Kokosz is cowardly, greedy and vain, but owing to this features he is more variegated. The story takes place in the medieval settlement of Mirmilowo, whose inhabitants are portrayed as good and oppose bad knights.
It is worth comparing the Kajtek and Kokosz comic book with comics about Asterix, which are also a pleasure to read.
3. Go to a Stefski & Hutch's concert, whose songs include a perfect French rendition of Czeslaw Niemen’s wonderful Dream about Warsaw
Stefski & Hutch is a true harmony of ideas and sounds in which alternative music combines with classic pop-rock. Stefski – a vocalist and songwriter, along with Hutch, a composer, guitarist and music producer, have created an original and creative duet that draws on the French origins of the vocalist. Stefski & Hutch's songs are clearly influenced by French music and some of the pieces were created in Paris. The band took part in the French Touch concert, where their French interpretation of the song Dream about Warsaw by Czesław Niemen (À Varsovie) was included within a special compilation.
On Saturday 15th July, the band will play in Łódź during the Songwriter Łódź Festival.
4. Cheer on Legia Warsaw - and the team’s French defender William Rémy - during their Champions League qualifier.
Legia Warsaw, Poland’s most decorated football club, recently celebrated its centenary. Established in March 1916 in Kostiuchnowka in Wołyń, it has for many years held the distinction of being the most successful Polish club. Legia is also one of the most successful Polish football clubs in the international arena (its achievements include being the semi-finalist of the European Champions' Cup in 1969/1970 and European Cup Winners' Cup 1990/1991).
Legia has a good track record in attracting quality French players. This includes Tibault Moulin, who until recently played for the Polish team, having scored a goal in the 3-3 draw against Real Madrid in the Champions League group stage game.
Legia’s current squad includes French defender William Rémy, formerly of RC Lens, Dijon FCO and Montpellier HSC. In 2008 he helped France secure the runner-up position in the world youth championship.
5. Visit the picturesque region of Podkarpacie, the setting of the Polish-French black comedy Back in Business (2018) directed by Gérard Pautonnier.
The film tells a story in which people turn up with a corpse at a run-down funeral parlour in a Godforsaken town in the middle of a cold winter. The establishment is tasked with leading the funeral convoy and laying the deceased to rest. However, when the convoy loses its way, and finding the cemetery turns out to be impossible, the journey turns into an unexpected nightmare.
The film is based on Joël Egloff’s very popular book Edmond Ganglion & Son, translated into several languages. The cast includes well-known and popular French actors: Jean-Pierre Bacri (Plac Vendome, 1998; Le goût des autres, 2015) and Olivier Gourmet (Rien à Déclarer, 2010; L'Exercice de l'Etat, 2011). The film was directed by Gérard Pautonnier.
Back in Business was shot near Rymanów, Solina, Ustrzyki Dolne and Sanok, among other places.
6. Go to the Palladium Club, which is almost as famous and popular as the Le Bus Palladium in Paris.
The Warsaw Palladium club was created in a place that used to be a pre-war cinema. Today it is one of the best concert halls in Poland. Its outstanding location, interesting interiors and very good sound equipment and lighting make the events held here unique. The Palladium has held the most important musical events in Warsaw, including Jazz Jamboree and the Blues Rock Jazz Warsaw Festival. The club has also hosted many French stars, such as Nouvelle Vague and ZAZ.
7. Visit Frederic Chopin's birthplace in Żelazowa Wola. And also the Chopin Museum in Warsaw.
The place where the greatest Polish composer, Frederic Chopin, was born is located about 50 km west of Warsaw. Nowhere in the world does Chopin's music sound better than here.
The brilliant musician was born on 22nd February or 1st March 1810 in a picturesque manor house situated in the village Żelazowa Wola upon the river Utrata in Mazowieckie voivodship. Today, it houses a biographical museum of the famous Pole. You can hear a piano concerto in the beautiful old park surrounding it.
8. Pay homage to the fallen buried at the French Military Cemetery in Gdansk, the largest French military cemetery outside France.
The French Military Cemetery was founded after 1813. In the eight regular quarters there are about 1500 soldiers' graves, of which 30 per cent have known personal details - the remaining graves are nameless. These are the graves of the French soldiers who died in the POW camps between 1939-1945, but also buried here are the remains of the French soldiers of the Great War of 1914-1918 as well as French soldiers of the Napoleonic Wars and soldiers taken prisoner after the Battle of Sedan during the Prussian-French War in 1870.
Along the main axis of the cemetery there is a main alley, which at its end contains three crosses on a hill and a commemorative plaque. The cemetery is under the care of the Embassy of the French Republic.
9. Go to the cinema and watch film Marie Skłodowska-Curie (directed by Marie Noelle).
Maria Skłodowska-Curie is a film character like no other. Her biography is full of romance, sudden turns of fate and lucky coincidences. Had she not existed, it would have been really difficult to invent a character like her. It is a real treat not only for a scriptwriter and film set designer, who have access to her original notes, including recipes, that survived her.
The Marie Skłodowska-Curie film currently being produced as a Polish-French-Belgian-German cooperation sets out to tell the story of the discoverer of radium and polonium, the only Noble laureate in two categories, chemistry and physics, the first European woman with a PhD and professor title. It also portrays an ordinary woman – a wife and a mother.
10. Eat apple pie in the café of Hotel Francuski (French Hotel), one of the most beautiful monuments of Krakow Art Deco.
Hotel Francuski is located in a historic building constructed in the early 20th century in the compound of a former tavern. The eclectic-modernist building was designed by Zbigniew Odrzywolski and Bronisław Colonna-Czosnowski. The hotel opened its doors on June 1, 1912 and was the most modern Krakow hotel - the three-storey building with a mansard roof was equipped with quiet lifts, telephones, electric lighting, central heating, hot and cold running water in rooms and even pneumatic post. Despite facing many obstacles during the communist era in Poland, the Hotel Francuski still carries the spirit of old elegance within its interior.
11. Visit the Walewice Palace, where Alexander Colonna-Walewski, the son of Emperor Napoleon I was born.
The Walewice Palace is a historic place that became famous thanks to Maria Walewska’s romance with Napoleon Bonaparte. The wife of the royal chamberlain Anastazy Colonn-Walewski met the emperor at the beginning of 1807 in front of the inn in Jabłonno, during Napoleon I’s return from Pułtusk to Warsaw. Soon thereafter she became his official mistress, they went to Paris together in 1808, and later in to Vienna 1809. On May 4, 1810, this union produced a son: Alexander Colonna-Walewski, who would later become French ambassador to the United Kingdom and Napoleon III’s foreign minister.
In 1966, the comedy Marie & Napoleon (directed by Leonard Buczkowski) was filmed here.
12. Go to the Teatr Polski (Polish Theatre), which is directed by Andrzej Seweryn, a Comédie-Française actor.
Teatr Polski is one of the most important theatres in Warsaw. Founded in 1913, it quickly became a focal point of Polish culture. It featured the most important Polish dramas and foreign classics, including the works of French masters Molière and Jean-Baptiste Racine.
Since 2011 the director of Teatr Polski has been Andrzej Seweryn, long-time Comédie-Française actor and lecturer at the Paris Conservatoire national supérieur d'art dramatique CNSAD. One can see him perform on the stage of the Teatr Polski, in plays such as William Shakespeare's King Lear and Molierè's School of Wives.
13. Try Polish cheeses.
According to the latest research, Poland has the longest tradition of cheese making in Europe. Archaeologists have discovered traces of cheese preparation in Poland from 7,500 years ago. It is impossible to be indifferent to today's cheeses, which thanks to regional producers can be savoured around the world.
In particular, it is worth trying products such as oscypek (hard smoked cheese prepared from sheep's milk, characteristic for the Polish mountains), rokpol (a Polish blue cheese) or Korycin cheese (a rennet cheese produced from unpasteurized cow milk in the Korycin commune in Podlasie).
14. Taste Polish wines whose tradition dates back to the 18th century.
Old chronicles tell us that growing grape vines was popularised in Poland in the 12th century, when a temporary warming of the climate occurred. Wineries were a common sight up to the 17th-18th centuries. They were found all over the country, but most were in the south, from which many town names derive, such as Winiary ('Winemakers') and Winna Góra ('Wine Mountain'). Then, the climate cooled down again, and Polish wine industry started deteriorating, eventually ceasing to exist in communist post-war Poland.
Now, it is being reborn. In the last decade, 600 hectares of vineyards have been created in Poland, located mainly in such regions as Małopolska, Górny and Dolny Śląsk, in the Lublin and Gorzow Wielkopolski areas, and even more to the North, in the Warsaw and Olsztyn areas.