Going down a salt mine may sound like a dour, take it or leave it experience. But if you get the opportunity to visit the Wieliczca mine near Krakow in Poland, take it. You won’t regret it. Trust me this is one of Europe’s most riveting attractions.
And if you’re there on June 7 your visit will coincide with the Salt Festival. The Saltworks Castle courtyard will become a medieval town centre. The history of salt and its present uses will be explored. There will be salt evaporation demonstrations, beer brewing and rope making workshops.
The Wieliczca mine was among the first sites to be accorded World Heritage status. It produced salt from the 13th century until the 1990s and has been open to tourists for over 200 years.
Salt was once brought to the surface by a lift system powered by horses plodding in a circle. The walls of its galleries glisten with salt. There are underground lakes in which visitors floated until a accident persuaded a switch to boats on rails laid beneath the water. There’s even a chapel made entirely of salt – altar, reliefs, floor tiles, everything.
Among its celebrity visitors have been the German polymath Goethe and the composer Chopin. That latter may have come because his respiratory problems. The air in the mine is full of micro elements. There’s a rehabilitation and treatment centre 135 metres down where people come to exercise and breathe it.
British Airways recently launched a new service from Heathrow to Krakow.