The Podlaskie region is a place of picturesque landscapes, primaeval forests, and numerous rivers and lakes. Its small towns give the entire region a unique charm, whilst both its natural environment and its location on Poland’s eastern borderlands shape its entire identity.
The landscape of Podlasie is particularly impressive, owing largely to its vast forested areas, which are protected by four national parks. The region encompasses the Puszcza Białowieska (Białowieża Forest), Europe’s largest surviving natural, primaeval forest, which teems with fauna and flora. The trees, with an average age of one hundred and twenty-six years, form a habitat for the European bison, the continent’s largest mammal.
Another wonder of nature in the region is Lake Wigry, with its numerous islands, inlets, and peninsulas. Podlasie encompasses the basins of two rivers, the Biebrza and Narew. The area around the Biebrza is one of the most extensive and best-preserved natural lowland bog systems in Europe, with over two hundred species of birds, moose, beavers and otters still living there in the wild.
Podlasie has numerous small towns and villages, but no major urban agglomerations. The capital of the region is Białystok, a city which was built around the residence of the aristocratic Branicki family.
The family’s Baroque-style palace continues to impress and is often referred to as the Versailles of Podlasie. Białystok is encircled by the Puszcza Knyszyńska (Knyszyński Forest). Nearby, the fifty-seven kilometres of the Szlak Tatartski (Tartar’s Trail) runs through an area long settled by the Lipka, or Polish, Tatars. The trail runs from the area’s main town of Sokółka and passes through the villages of Bohoniki and Kruszyniany, with their ancient, wooden mosques; in the case of the latter, the oldest in Poland. The historical, fortified town of Łomża, which stands on the banks of the Narew River and borders on the Puszcza Kurpiowska (Kurpiowski Forest), is one of the largest in the region.
The eastern part of Podlasie marks a cultural frontier, being settled mostly by Belarusians and Ukrainians. A defining characteristic of this part of the region is the large number of beautiful Orthodox churches and chapels, as well as the school of icon painting in Bielsk Podlaski. There is an interesting modern-day Orthodox church in the town of Hajnówka. The historical towns of Drohiczyn and Mielnik were built upon the steep banks and slopes of the Bug River and its valley, as was the nearby town of Siemiatycze. The village of Smolniki is known for its scenic views, reminiscent of mountain landscapes.
Thanks to the picturesque charm of its local towns, Podlasie has long been a key destination for filmmakers. Andrzej Jakimowski’s Zmruż oczy (Squint Your Eyes) was filmed in the area around Suwałki. Podlasie also welcomed the cast and crew of the Ranczo television series and Lake Siemianówka was featured in the Hollywood production The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch & the Wardrobe.