The Daily Telegraph - Travel

Roads to referendum

Week 2: Finland to the Czech Republic


Jonathan Thompson

When it comes to fairy-tale destinatio­ns, the Polish city of Lodz wouldn’t trouble many – if any – bucket lists. Nicknamed “the Manchester of Poland”, it was a smoking industrial behemoth during the 19th century, before collapsing into catastroph­ic decline after the Great Depression.

But fairy tales are writ large here today – or rather, painted large. Across the city – Poland’s third largest after Warsaw and Krakow – colossal, colourful murals are appearing on the walls of derelict apartment blocks, warehouses and factories. And many of these arresting pieces of art are enormous, ebullient interpreta­tions of traditiona­l Polish tales.

Lodz (pronounced “Woodge”) is on an upward trajectory of its own, with young artists and entreprene­urs flocking here, drawn by cheap rents, a lively social scene and initiative­s such as Urban Forms, the street art project that spawned these multistore­y murals.

From Manufaktur­a – a vast Gothic factory now stylishly renovated into a boutique shopping and entertainm­ent village – to the city’s Shoreditch-esque hipster heart “Off Piotrkowsk­a”, this is a renaissanc­e of Detroitian proportion­s, which should be putting Lodz firmly on the tourism map.

Our Mini Grand Tour – an epic pre-referendum road trip to all 28 EU countries in one calendar month, behind the wheel of a racing-red Mini Clubman, is unearthing a steady stream of these semi-hidden gems. In the Czech Republic, Brno – the capital of Moravia – is a fairly-tale city in the more traditiona­l sense, with its twin-spired cathedral, sloping cobbled streets and medieval market squares, guarded by dramatic Spilberk Castle.

Like Lodz, it seems ridiculous that Brno isn’t a larger blip on the British travel radar. Both cities are of similar size, with good airports and plenty to do, making them ideal city-break options.

Such cities are a running theme of our second week on the road in Europe. Our route – designed by UK adventure travel specialist­s The Flash Pack, using a series of connection­s – enables us to explore pretty Mariehamn (the capital of Finland’s Aland Islands), the ancient Finnish capital Turku, and Baltic pin-ups Tallinn and Riga. Later – past Lodz and Brno – we arrive in the almost laughably beautiful Mikulov in South Moravia, where we learn a series of traditiona­l dances from the region’s “premier folklore band”, Straznican. The fairy tale continues…

Follow Jonathan Thompson’s journey at travel, or on Instagram and Twitter: @JT_Travels

 ??  ?? Thompson, right, gets to grips with folk dancing South Moravian style
Thompson, right, gets to grips with folk dancing South Moravian style
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