Insiders say Poland is hot spot for service, bargains

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NEW YORK -- The hottest destination in Europe for this spring is Poland, according to Arthur Frommer, host of the Travel Report radio show. Tour operators agreed, citing a rush of Poland-bound travelers in the past year. The country's temptations include a healthy economy and cheap prices, Frommer said in his show this month.

Outside Ariel"In cities like Warsaw and Krakow, you can have a high-quality meal for $12, rent a single room in a tourist class hotel for $30 and pay absurdly little for public transportation."

Glenside, Pa.-based Gate 1 International, which includes Poland in eight new tours this year, reported that its central Europe product has tripled in size over the past three years. The operator's vice president of sales and marketing for Europe, Ileen Braun, heralded the country's "wonderful services" and bargain prices. "Travelers' expectations of Poland are still low, so they are very surprised with the accommodations and the service," she said.

Littleton, Colo.-based Cosmos unveiled its first Poland tour this year. Banking on the success of its eastern European tours, the operator "figured it was time to focus on Poland," executive director of marketing Scott Nisbet said.

Portland, Ore.-based Walking Softly Adventures added Poland to its roster of hiking tours last year. The country became its most popular destination, surpassing Norway, France, Spain and Italy, owner and president Amy Osaki said.

The following is a sample of new tours to Poland this year:

  • The Beauty of Palaces & Castles tour, new from Orbis Polish Travel Bureau and American Travel Abroad, both based in New York, takes travelers through more than 15 castles and ruins -- most dating to the 14th, 15th and 17th centuries.
  • The group will spend the night in several of these castles, some of which purportedly house ghosts, said Vernon Mosheim, director of marketing for American Travel Abroad.

    Other palaces offer less-spooky entertainment, such as musicians serenading the dinner table.

    Castles that participants explore include the fortified Gothic cathedral at Frombork, where the Renaissance astronomer Copernicus spent the last years of his life.

    The steep-walled Teutonic castle at Golub Dobrzyn stages a medieval jousting show.

    In Baranow, travelers visit the 17th century Krzyztopor, Europe's largest official residence before France built Versailles.

    In the city of Czestochowa, participants wander through the shrine of Jasna Gora, the site of the sacred Black Madonna icon. When the icon was stolen in 1430, legend maintains, it became so heavy that the thieves were unable to carry it. When they slashed the Virgin's face in frustration, the picture began to bleed.

    Visitors spend the night at the medieval fortress of Malbork, built by the Teutonic knights; Czerniejewo Palace; a Renaissance castle in Baranow Sandomierski, and the Palace at Radziejowice. The 10-night tour is priced from $2,019 to $2,239, including air fare from New York or Chicago.

  • Cosmos' first Poland tour includes Wroclaw, a city known for its 100 canals and old-market square. Participants also visit Torun, a city of narrow streets, medieval churches and the Gothic mansion -- now a museum -- where Copernicus was born.
  • The nine-night tour includes the sights of Warsaw and Krakow as well as two nights in Germany. Prices range from $1,313 to $1,503, including air fare from New York.

  • Los Angeles-based Tradesco's new Northern Poland Tour overnights in Mragowo, a resort town in the Mazurian Lake district; Gdynia, on Gdansk Bay, and Warsaw. Participants explore the Teutonic castle in Nidzica and the outdoor museum of 18th and 19th century regional architecture in Olsztynek. The tour stretches to the towns of Swieta Lipka, which features a Baroque shrine, and Frombork, the site of a 14th century Gothic cathedral, where Copernicus is buried. The six-night tour is priced at $744 per person, double, land only. The tour is also available without the Warsaw program for $397 per person, double.
  • Jewish history tours continue to draw travelers, as well. Tradesco's new Heritage of Central Europe tour (Budapest, Hungary; Prague, Czech Republic, and Warsaw and Krakow) visits the towns of Lublin, once home to a large Jewish community, and Majdanek, site of a former concentration camp. Near Krakow, participants tour the site of the Auschwitz and Birkenau concentration camps. The 11-night tour costs $3,534 per person, double.

  • American Travel Abroad transformed its escorted Landmarks of Jewish History tour into an FIT package this year. Travelers spend four nights in Warsaw and three nights in Krakow. Optional tours include a half-day excursion to the sites featured in the film "Schindler's List" ($46 for two) and a full-day excursion to the site of the Majdanek concentration camp ($146 for two). The six-night package costs from $569 to $699 per person, double, land only. It includes a first class train ticket between Warsaw and Krakow. Most Jewish tour groups opt to stay near restored Jewish neighborhoods, said Ingrid Bolski, manager of the firm's Poland department.
  • Catholic travelers, meanwhile, can follow the footsteps of Poles who became saints. The Sister Faustyna and Other Famous Saints of Central Europe tour, new from New York-based Air Tours Poland, traces such saints as Maximilian Kolbe, a Catholic priest killed at Auschwitz in place of a prisoner. The operator custom designed the trip for a group of 35 last year, half of which were of Polish descent, sales manager Dorota Szweda said. The five-night tour, which spends two nights in the Czech Republic, costs $2,140 per person, double, including air fare from New York.
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