Horseback riding in Lubuskie, Poland, at Palac Mierzęcin

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Katie Hammel, riding

Katie Hammel on a horseback riding vacation in Lubuskie, Poland

The Lubuskie region of Poland (located about halfway between Warsaw and Berlin) isn’t on the radar of many American tourists. But for those looking for a horseback riding vacation in Central Europe, there’s plenty of appeal, particularly at the Palac Mierzęcin (Mierzęcin Palace), a restored palace set on 200 acres of rolling hills, farmland, and forest.

The large complex of brick buildings contains a hotel, conference center, stables, spa, restaurant, and winery, and a large, sandy riding ring just a few yards away from the palace in which guests can stay overnight. When I arrived, there were a few horses grazing in a paddock steps from the entrance of the main palace; for a horse lover who hadn’t been in the saddle in more than a year, it was a welcome sight.
 
Take a carriage ride at Mierzęcin Palace

horse carriage, Lubuski, Poland

Take a horse and carriage ride in Lubuski, Poland

The hotel also offers carriage rides, so that night, I went out on an antique wood and iron carriage with leather seats, pulled by a tall and sturdy black Friesian mare with a thick wavy mane and forelock that demurely covered her eyes.   As she pulled the carriage down a cobblestone path, past the palace vineyards and into the woods, I became giddy with anticipation for the next day’s ride. Of course, I – naively – hadn’t thought about the language barrier. Unlike in Warsaw and Krakow, few people in this region speak fluent English.  My guide spoke very little English and the only words I could remember in Polish were “hello”, “yes”, “thank you”, and “beer.”

 

horse riding, Poland

Trail riding at Palac Mierzęcin, Lubuskie, Poland

Horseback riding in Poland

The next morning, as I tried to communicate my level of experience to the guide (it’s been years since my days as a competitor in show jumping and English equitation; I still know what to do, but my body doesn’t always cooperate), I realized that our lack of common language could be an issue. As a groom brought out my horse – “Grand,” he said, rolling his r’s from the back of his throat – I worried I may have given the wrong impression of my skill. Grand was massive, easily close to 18 hands tall, with powerful-looking hindquarters, a large head, and a gleaming dark bay coat. He was the kind of horse I would have begged to ride back in my prime, but now, as he eyed me warily, I felt a twinge of apprehension.

We walked toward the ring and I struggled to match the quick pace of Grand’s steps.  Thankfully, the groom brought over a mounting block before I even needed to contemplate how I would lift my legs to reach the stirrups, which hung at chest-level. Once I was on Grand’s back, as he pulled at the reins and shifted excitedly in place, the distance to the ground felt even farther.
 
Horse riding into the forest

horse riding, Poland

Horse riding holiday in central Europe

We started out slow, the guide’s horse, Pola, in the lead, as we made our way into the woods. Sunlight filtered through the leaves so that, despite the chill of autumn, the woods were warm and quiet.  After a few moments, Pola picked up a trot. With a lurch, Grand sprang into action, speeding past the guide’s horse to take the lead as I jostled in the English saddle, my muscles struggling to remember how to post smoothly with Grand’s footfalls. It didn’t take long to find a rhythm, as Grand’s trot slowed down and I relaxed, taking in the scenery around me. Tall birch trees surrounded the path, their leaves of green and yellow making an archway above, and the already fallen leaves crunched softly under our horse’s hooves.  When we emerged from the forest into a rolling green valley of long grass and wheat fields, I could feel Grand’s muscles tense in anticipation.

“Gallop?” the guide asked. Before I could answer her horse took his first steps, which Grand took as a challenge; he was off like a canon shot. I sat tall in my seat, trying to hold him to a canter, softly calling “whoa” and realizing he probably had no idea what I was saying, but he would have none of my feeble attempts to slow him, racing at a full-out gallop up the hill. I gave in and let him go, my eyes tearing up in the wind, and a huge smile on my face as we slowed to a walk at the hill’s crest.  Maybe, I thought, I’m not as good a rider as I used to be. I probably couldn’t have stopped Grand if I tried. I was just along for the ride, but it was such a great one that I didn’t really mind.
 
Horseback riding vacation at Palac Mierzęcin

For the next hour and a half, we explored more of the hotel’s sprawling grounds, weaving between the shadowy woods and the sunny fields, past the vineyards, and finally back to the palace. Despite a full hotel and the many kilometers of running, biking, and riding trails that crisscross the property, we only encountered one other person the entire time.

 

Palac Mierzęcin, horse carriage

Affordable riding holiday at Palac Mierzęcin

Affordable horse riding holiday in Poland

The Palac Mierzęcin is one of the best hotels for English riders I’ve ever come across. The spotlessly clean brick stables house ten horses, whose breeds include Friesan, Silesia, Wielkopolski, and Hucul; there’s also a Shetland pony for kids.  There are several riding rings (one set with jumps and cavaletti) and paddocks, as well as nearly 200 acres of trails through the woods and fields, past vineyards and a lake. And if – like me – you end your ride with muscles sore and screaming, the hotel’s gorgeous spa, which uses all natural ingredients from the vineyards, like grape seed and grape seed oil, can rub, steam, and soak the pain away. Best of all, prices are low in Poland. Rooms start at around $65 US, the same price as a one-hour carriage ride for 4-6 people, while rides start at a mere 35 zlotys, or around $10.
 
If You Go:  Palac Mierzęcin is located about two hours northwest of Poznan, or four hours west from Warsaw and three hours east from Berlin by train. You’ll need a car to reach the hotel, or arrange for a driver/guide for transportation.
Phone number of location: +48 95 713 15 00
Address: Mierzęcin 1 66-520 Dobiegniew, Poland

I was a guest of Palac Mierzęcin but all opinions are my own.

Katie Hammel is the Commissioning Editor of Viator.com and a freelance travel writer. She has contributed to BBC Travel, TravelandLeisure.com, 7×7 Magazine, the San Francisco Chronicle, Europe up Close, and more.

4 Comments

  1. Maria November 7, 2013 at 4:40 am

    Birch trees are beautiful and to ride through them must have been a wonderful treat. Then to gallop up the hill – exhilarating!

  2. The GypsyNesters November 7, 2013 at 11:38 am

    What a great idea! This looks like a lovely part of our world, one we’d love to explore! Thanks for opening our eyes to it. -Veronica

  3. Nancy D. Brown November 7, 2013 at 7:20 pm

    Katie Hammel’s review of riding in Poland surely makes me want to visit this part of the world!

  4. Nancy D. Brown November 7, 2013 at 7:20 pm

    I look forward to exploring Poland, too. Exploring another part of the world from the back of a horse; even better!

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