The Białowieża Forest (Puszcza Białowieska; about 1,500 sq km) straddles the Polish-Belarusian border. Its most valuable sections are protected by the Białowieża National Park in Poland and the Białowieża Forest National Park in Belarus. As far as nature goes, the region is among the most interesting cross-border areas in Europe and a magnet for tourists. The primeval deciduous forest, unique in Europe, is the habitat of the European bison and many other rare species of animals and plants. As one of very few such areas, it has been recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage site. The region’s cultural and religious diversity has also great tourist potential.
The aim of the project was to develop the tourist infrastructure and cooperation between the two countries in the field of tourism. Its basis was the laying out of a cross-border cycling trail with alternative routes (some 160 km on the Polish side and about 500 km in Belarus). Signposts, information boards with maps and descriptions of the highlights, rest areas and shelters along the trail are made of wood and styled after the region’s traditional architecture.
On both sides of the border, staff and guides were trained, and monitoring of tourism was started, taking into account the necessity of protecting the forest wildlife. In Poland, the main tourist information centre in Hajnówka was modernized and the Paprotka youth hostel in Białowieża, renowned for the bison reserve, was renovated. Joint marketing activities were undertaken (tourist fairs, a website) and promotional/information materials were published including maps, guidebooks and postcards. Access to tourist information is now easier thanks to a number of multimedia infokiosks set in places such as Białowieża, Czyże and Narewka.
Nature is not the only asset of Hajnówka. The village also plays host to many events including folklore and children’s festivals, concerts, theatre performances, open-air shows and painting workshops as well as fêtes, fairs and sports events.
The cross-border trail runs as follows: Narew–Tyniewicze Duże–Kamień–Kuraszewo–Nowy Kornin–Noweberezowo (Nowoberezowo)–Hajnówka–Budy–Teremiski–Stara Białowieża–Białowieża–Grudki–state border between Poland and Belarus–Bialy Lasek–Shereshevo–Pruzhany–Rozhany. Highlights include 16th-18th-century villages with the original layout, wooden buildings with rich ornamentation characteristic of the region and numerous churches, predominantly Orthodox. Apart from the main route, the trail has two alternative legs, one branch and two connecting sections. The project was nominated for the main award in the 1st contest Poland Even More Beautiful. Seven Miracles of EU Funds in the Cross-border and International Tourism category.
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