At the Vistula Lagoon
The East of Poland Cycling Trail Green Velo starts (and finishes) in the kingdom of the Vistula Lagoon, those name derives from this vast body of water separated from the open sea by the Vistula Spit. Only between Braniewo and Elbląg will you find parts of the trail where you are able to see the surface of the Baltic Sea from your saddle.
The landscape of the Vistula Lagoon Kingdom is remarkably diverse. The area is divided into three smaller regions, each quite different from the next. There is the flat region of Żuławy Elbląskie, the hilly beech forest covered landscape of Elbląg Upland, the Vistula Lagoon shore and the Western Warmian plains. Elbląg, Frombork and Braniewo, all three worth a visit in their own right, are the most important cities that the trail passes through.
The trail begins (and ends) in Elbląg, an important transport centre and the second biggest city of the Warmia and Mazury Voivodeship. This Hanseatic harbour town once competed against Gdańsk for the title of the most important harbour in the Republic of Poland. The city, rebuilt after wartime destruction, is now the first (or last) point for riders following the Green Velo trail.
To the South and West of Elbląg there are the Vistula River delta and the fertile Żuławy Elbląskie regions. Although flat as a pancake, Żuławy is not at all monotonous to ride through. It owes much of its magic to the majestic weeping willows, leaning as though in a pensive mood over omnipresent canals. Most Żuławian villages contain impressive gothic churches built from brick, and characteristic arcaded houses in which rich peasants used to live. The shallow and overgrown Druzno Lake, a paradise for water and marsh birds, is the pearl of Żuławy. Also in the vicinity is the settlement of Raczki Elbląskie, which is the lowest point in Poland. The whole Żuławy area is a marshy depression, drained over time through the long-lasting efforts of many generations of inhabitants. The spirit of the Mennonites – Dutch religious outcasts who found their second homeland in the area during the First Republic of Poland - is still present here. Their melioration skills are largely responsible for the current look of Żuławy.
The Elbląg Canal - constructed in the 19th century - is a place of unique European interest and reopened in 2015 after some years of restoration works. The Canal leads from Elbląg to Ostróda and a canal tour here means nothing more surprising than travelling by boat … across the grass! This unusual journey is possible, because aside from the locks found on most canals, there are also five inclined plains along the water trail, which form a set of very unusual hydro-engineering places of interest.
The Elbląg Upland forms the middle part of the kingdom and begins in the forest park of Bażantarnia in Eastern Elbląg. Cycling through the Upland area is a serious challenge for riders as altitudes differ significantly throughout the many steep up and downhill sections. This entire area is divided by numerous little valleys and ravines and is covered with beech forests, which are protected within the Elbląg Upland Landscape Park. Over one hundred years ago this was a popular hunting region for the German Emperor, Wilhelm II, who frequented his residence in Kadyny.
The trail runs through the hills of the Upland along asphalt and dirt roads to the shore of the Vistula Lagoon near Suchacz. There it follows the railway through the charming little harbour town of Tolkmicko to Frombork – Nicolaus Copernicus’ hometown. From the top of Radziejowskiego Tower on the Cathedral Hill stretches a vast and breath-taking panorama, which incorporates the Vistula Lagoon, the meadows in the valleys of the Bauda and Pasłęka Rivers, and the broad meadows of Warmia, through which both rivers flow. The route to Braniewo is along the Lagoon shore, which then meets the banks of the Pasłęka River. This region is the cultural and historical borderland of the neighbouring kingdom of ”Warmia and the area” and used to be inhabited by pagan Prussian tribes before they were destroyed by the Teutonic Order in the 12th and 13th centuries… but the best way to get to know this story is by visiting the very spot where it all happened…
Braniewo is the last place on the trail in the kingdom of the Vistula Lagoon worth visiting. This Warmia town was founded in the Middle Ages and it belonged to the Hanseatic League and operated as an important commercial harbour. In spite of its partial destruction during the Second World War, there are still a number of interesting historical sites there. The trail passes through the centre of Braniewo near the picturesque Pasłęka River, and then leads visitors towards the plains of Warmia, which is the next kingdom on the trail.
There are many well-signed bike routes in the kingdom of the Vistula Lagoon. Strongly recommended routes are to the forementioned mentioned Druzno Lake in Żuławy, and the remarkably diverse Elbląg Upland.