The Daily Telegraph - Travel
Roads to referendum
Week 2: Finland to the Czech Republic
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 Aferry.co.uk 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 telegraph.co.uk/ travel, or on Instagram and Twitter: @JT_Travels