One of my favourite things about Wrocław is its convenient location, making it hard to run out of day trip ideas. The Lower Silesia region is dotted with magnificent medieval castles, manors, and baroque palaces. There’s something special at every corner, with many seemingly sleepy towns hiding actual gems just waiting to be explored. As we only had one day when we could venture outside Wrocław, we had to get our priorities in order. Our first choice was Książ, the former residence of the von Hochberg family that also happens to be the third largest castle in Poland.
How to get to Książ Castle from Wrocław
The best way to get to Książ Castle from Wrocław is by taking a regional train to Wałbrzych. These are extremely affordable, with a single ticket costing around 20 PLN (£3.50), and the journey takes approximately an hour. The closest train station is Wałbrzych Szczawienko, around 3-4 km away. As we didn’t know this at the time, we got off at Wałbrzych Miasto, which is fine too but takes much longer to get to the castle.
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From there, you can catch a public bus number 8 or 12 to Książ. You can find all the necessary information on the castle’s website. However, it’s worth noting that they don’t run very frequently, so you should double check the timetable beforehand.
At the time of our visit, a single ticket only cost 3.20 PLN (60p), making it the cheapest option. As a result of COVID, you couldn’t purchase tickets from the bus driver. To our surprise, there was a separate employee on board whose sole responsibility was selling bus tickets. Don’t ask how that makes any sense or is financially viable, as I still can’t wrap my head around it!
How much does it cost to visit Książ Castle
You can either visit individual attractions or choose an all-day ticket to see everything Wałbrzych has to offer. There are several different packages available on the Książ Castle website. These are very varied, so everyone is sure to find something for themselves depending on personal preferences, budget, or time constraints.
We had to be back in Wrocław by 4 PM, which meant we had to skip some of the attractions. Although we really wanted to explore the Former Mine, seeing as it’s located 10 km away from the castle, it simply wouldn’t be possible for us to visit both and make it back in time.
We eventually chose the 69 PLN (£12) package. It includes a single admission to the Castle with an audio guide set, a guided tour of the Underground, as well as a visit to the Palm House. We booked our tickets for the 10 AM time slot. If you choose the same package, you need to bear in mind that this is when your tour of the underground tunnels starts. Then, you get to explore the rest in your own time.
Exploring the underground tunnels
If I can offer you a word of advice, it would be not to skip this attraction that opened to tourists in 2018! I personally find the backstory really tragic yet captivating. The construction of these underground tunnels began in 1944 on the command of Adolf Hitler himself. Thousands of prisoners from the Gross-Rosen concentration camp were sent to Książ. They worked in inhumane conditions and beyond their means, with many of them dying as a result.
What I find particularly fascinating is that the construction continued until 6 May 1945, when the fate of World War II was already sealed. When the Red Army invaded Poland, many underground structures were destroyed. All tunnels leading to them were either masked or blown up.
To this day, the real purpose of these massive constructions that lie 50 metres deep remains a mystery. Some say they were going to be a shelter for Hitler and his relatives. Others suggest they were a location for chemical and biological laboratories. There are also those who believe it’s the hiding place of the legendary Gold Train, filled to the brim with gold stolen by the Nazis. However, in 70+ years, no one has been able to prove that it really existed.
The tour lasts approximately 45 minutes and features various audio and video installations supplemented with the guide’s comments. It seems almost unbelievable that such a massive structure is a creation of human hands, especially when you consider that the undiscovered part is likely to be twice as big! If you’re planning a visit, you need to remember that the average temperature underground is between 6°C and 12°C, so it’s advisable to bring warm clothes!
Inside Książ Castle
Once our tour of the underground was over, we went to explore the secrets of Książ Castle. As we prefer sightseeing at our own pace, we chose to walk around with an audio guide. There are over 400 rooms in total, but the fourth and fifth floor are sadly not available to visitors. Their walls hide the castle’s dramatic history, from the Nazi occupation in 1941 to plundering by the Red Army four years later. During that time, many historical chambers were rebuilt or destroyed and valuables stolen.
It took us approximately 1.5 hours to explore the available section, as the audio guide detailed the nature of each room and the history of their former inhabitants. I loved learning about the Hochberg family, especially the Welsh-born Mary Theresa Olivia Cornwallis-West, affectionately called Princess Daisy. She was a valuable source of knowledge about the Edwardian era, as she chronicled her life as an aristocrat. I found Daisy’s life story so fascinating I actually ordered two of her memoirs in the Black Friday sales!
The castle’s most representative chamber is undeniably the impressive two-storey Maximilian Hall with its black marble fireplace, decorative ceiling, and three small balconies. The part I personally found most fascinating, however, was the exhibition of over 200 photographs by Louis Hardouin, chef of the von-Hochberg court. He documented the Hochberg family, as well as the ordinary people who worked for them. It allowed me to take a trip back in time to the early 20th century and provided great insight into daily life at Książ Castle. As a feline lover, I was also thrilled to learn that around 50 cats still live on the castle’s grounds – although we sadly didn’t spot any!
The magical castle garden terraces
If you’re visiting Książ Castle between April and September, you can also wander around its impressive garden terraces. They are laid out on 12 different levels and cover a massive area of 2 hectares. Their appearance has changed over the centuries, but we owe their current form to Princess Daisy herself. When the von Hochberg family moved into the castle, she was so disgusted with the stark, minimalist Prussian landscape that she ordered a reconstruction of the garden park. For this purpose, she brought gardeners and an architect from her native Newlands to arrange an English-style garden for her. She was very demanding and held everyone to high standards. I’ve read that it took 100 gardeners and over 20,000 plants to maintain the gardens each year!
A result of their collective efforts are these exceptionally beautiful castle terraces. Even though we visited on a cold, gloomy day, it didn’t take away from our impressions one bit. I genuinely felt like a princess myself walking around stunning boxwood compositions and decorative stone fountains!
If you’re planning a visit in the colder months, not all is lost! Since 2019, there’s a new attraction available called the Gardens of Light where the gardens fill the night with a thousand lights in a spectacular light show. I would personally love a chance to see the terraces from a different perspective, and see if they retain their charm after sundown!
Getting from Książ Castle to the Palm House
When we finished exploring the castle’s grounds, we had one more attraction waiting for us – the Palm House, located around 2 km away from Książ. Before we set off sightseeing, I checked the bus timetable so that we could time our visit accordingly. Unfortunately, mishaps happen, even to more seasoned travellers. I somehow read the timetable all wrong, and when we made it to the bus stop, we realised that the next bus wouldn’t be arriving for another hour.
A quick Google Maps search showed the Palm House was a 25-minute walk away. It sounded like a breeze, so we decided against getting a taxi and were soon off on our way. However, I have to warn you that for the most part, the trail led us along a busy road. I definitely felt a little out of place and I would be lying if I said it didn’t scare me, but all’s well that ends well. When we finally saw the Palm House looming on the horizon, it made the walk worth our while!
The history of the Palm House
The Palm House was built on the initiative of Hans Heinrich XV as a gift for his nature-loving spouse, Daisy (and some girls can’t even get a text back). Some call it the largest and most beautiful bouquet of flowers imaginable, although I would also add most expensive to this list. The construction took 3 years and cost 7 million marks in gold, which was an astronomical sum at the time!
As I dug deeper into the history of this place, I discovered that it wasn’t the only impressive number. The entire complex spans across an area of 1,900 square meters. Apart from the Palm House, it also includes a greenhouse, a Japanese garden, a rose garden, a fruit and vegetable garden, and an area to grow shrubs. Shortly after construction work finished, the Palm House became home to 80 exotic plant species from all around the world.
It’s also worth mentioning the unique material used to line the interior of this impressive 15-metre building. In order to please his wife, Hans Heinrich XV had seven train wagon loads of hardened lava from the Etna volcano transported to Wałbrzych from Sicily. Builders had to break volcanic tuff into smaller pieces to create grottos, waterfalls, and walls with plant pockets that tourists can enjoy to this day. Daisy’s favourite part of the Palm House, however, was undoubtedly the rose garden. As a matter of fact, she loved roses so much she had a variety with snow-white petals named after her!
Visiting the Palm House
Guided tours of the Palm House are not available. If, like us, you enjoy exploring at your own pace, this shouldn’t bother you. However, if you’d prefer someone to talk you through the most unique plants that grow there, I’m sorry to disappoint you.
You can currently find 250 plant species from various corners of the world inside the Palm House. There are bamboos from Asia, eucalyptus trees from Australia, cacti from Central America, and citrus plants from the Mediterranean. And if that wasn’t enough, it also houses various animals – fish, turtles, peacocks, and since 2019, lemurs. Sadly, we only spotted the first two during our visit, but we had a great time anyway. We spent a little over an hour walking around the entire complex, which included a coffee break.
The Palm House café
The café located inside of the greenhouses was hands down my favourite area of the Palm House. Wooden tables are shaded by garlands of ivy and separated by walls of greenery. There are fig and palm trees all around the place, and you can even find a fruit-bearing coffee tree! You do not get to try these coffee beans, but the café owners have something just as promising up their sleeve. They serve coffee from Julius Meinl, Europe’s first professional coffee roastery. There’s also a range of different delicious desserts available, including one named… yes, you may have guessed it… Daisy!
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I was utterly obsessed with the café’s interior and would’ve happily stayed longer if we didn’t have a train to catch! Thankfully, the bus stop is right opposite the entrance to the Palm House. From there, it took us less than 10 minutes to get to the Wałbrzych Szczawienko station where we boarded a train back to Wrocław.
Would you consider adding Książ Castle and the neighbouring Palm House to your bucket list? If you enjoy a good conspiracy theory, I would also love to know… What do you think was the original purpose for the Castle’s underground?