Visitors to Krakow often take advantage the day trips to the nearby picturesque country-side and the breath-taking views of the Tatra and Pieniny Mountain ranges along with their respective national parks. The Tatra Mountains are home to Zakopane and a little further south the Pieniny Mountain range which is shared between Poland and Slovakia. Zakopane is the most well-known, popular and all year destination in Poland that Polish families flock to visit during the seasonal festivities and holidays. Since Polish hospitality is renowned, Zakopane has been also revealed as the most fashionable place to tie the knot for Polish couples, and it is also becoming more and more popular for international weddings. It is also a great place to organise a stag or hen do, though bearing in mind that Krakow is located only 110km from Zakopane, one might do better with organising his stag do Krakow, and keeping the wedding reception in Zakopane.
If you relish the invigorating mountain air and incredible scenery then be sure to earmark a visit to one or both of these mountainous retreats.
Poland’s highest city in altitude, at just over 11,000m has its origins with the highlander settlers from as far back as the 15th century with mining for copper, silver and gold and, of course, farming, one of the oldest ironworks established in the 19th century. Nestled in the Tatra Mountains close to the Zakopianka River the city offers a wide variety of activities for visitors in all four seasons of the year. The journey from Krakow takes 90 minutes but will be reduced when the new highway is opened or you can take train from Krakow with a very scenic route requiring 2 to 3 hours.
After The Great War Zakopane became popular with artists, writers and poets who wished to find inspiration in the peace and quiet this mountain location provided. They resided in many of the Dom Kultury which are still there today and made available for tourist lodging although there are plenty of quality hotels that have been built to accommodate the ever increasing visitors. One of the most famous residences is the listed monument Dom pod Jedlami built in 1897 displaying the typical Zakopane architecture using wood and local stone. Naturally, the artistic culture and folklore concerning Zakopane is abundant with museums and galleries populating the area, the Tatra Mountain Museum exhibiting the history and lives of the highland families, the Koliba Villa museum situated in Kościeliska St. which was the first street to be built there. The many art museums and galleries in and around the centre highlight the reputation of Zakopane as a mecca for artists, one such gallery is dedicated to Władysław Hasior and his work that was praised internationally, Andy Warhol might have shared his inspirations too as they often captured that same effect in their work and they were both of Polish descent. Embroidery, stained glass, jewellery and other local crafts are also found in varying Zakopane style buildings.
Every Summer in August there is the Highland Folklore Festival which has the gold ribbon event of traditional folk dancing, the event is so popular that it attracts all kinds of international folk dancing groups to the area to compete. The event lasts for an entire week and features competitions for folk singers, musicians and theatre performers. Who knows that the next one may have a group of Morris Dancers! Spring and Summer initiates the hiker and rock climber season, there many trails to explore or rock faces to climb in the surrounding area which also has 5 lakes and in particular the Morskie Oko region.
Zakopane has its own thermal spas and well being centres to relax you after a full day’s hiking. Horse and olde worlde wooden carriages with a driver in highlander dress will be happy to take you on a tour should your feet tell you so or you could settle for a walk in the two oldest streets, Kościeliska which could be described as an open air museum and Krupówki as they hold and show you the true heart of Zakopane’s uniqueness and why the Poles love to go there. You maybe a bit peckish by now and so what culinary delights does Zakopane offer? Well, the many karczmas or eateries have the traditional highland recipes such as roasted lamb leg, mutton dishes and trout fresh from the nearby lakes, a superb selection of cheeses of which Oscypek made with sheep’s milk then smoked which is sold all over Poland even at the beaches on the Baltic Sea the regional delicacy. The potato cake with goulash is a favourite with many visitors and soups with Kwasnica being a popular choice. If you are really adventurous there are some highlander dishes to try but not found in the more mainstream restaurants.
Zakopane is the country’s Winter capital and the activities available go from downhill skiing or skiing tours, snowboarding, cross country ski trekking, snowmobiling, horse and husky sleigh tours, quad biking, snow shoe walking tours and the nation’s cherished sport of ski jumping. All of these activities except ski jumping can be taken for short or longer periods according to your length of stay with all the equipment necessary if you don’t have your own. Let’s say that you could go skiing for the day even if your accommodation is in Krakow with the many companies offering package deals to suit.
Tatra Mountain National Park
Part of the Carpathian mountain chain with the Tatra’s highest peak at 2,300m in Poland and 2,665m in Slovakia, a natural land border between the two countries possesses some of the most glorious panoramic views in Europe. Take the cable car up to Mount Gubałówka and enjoy the scenery overlooking the area and suburban Zakopane or take time out to relax in the thermal bath & spa centre there or the spas of Bukovina nearby. Hiking and trekking in the valleys, lakes and hills observing the wildlife makes for a fulfilling day out. The organised official highlander trekking paths add up to over 600km with a choice on how you want to enjoy the views by horse & carriage, bus or on foot and accompanied with an official guide. Also, the options of cycling and the adventurous horse-riding in the national park and the choice of five waterparks spread over the Polish and Slovakian sides of the mountain area. The rock climbers amongst you have special zones set aside for you to practice your mountaineering skills. A little known fact, the film Ravenous was shot in the Tatras and strangely enough a Bollywood production was filmed there as it resembles the landscape in Kashmir. When the winter season comes then the popular skiing resorts and pistes open and the ski jumping championships begin.
Pieniny Mountain National Park
The Pieniny region has the benefit of a milder climate by comparison to the Tatra region and has more flora and fauna than forests. The highest point reaches 1052m and you are likely to catch a glimpse of wolves or bears which roam both sides of the Polish and Slovakian confines. The most striking feature is the Dunajec Gorge which was shaped and formed by the fast flowing Dunajec River, so much so that the river has created three main areas called Central, Male and Spis. The most enjoyable way to discover the Pieniny is by rafting, you can travel through the gorge on the river paddling and rowing for nearly 20km with the occasional white water experiences too. Naturally, the hiking and climbing activities are well documented and the winter activities reflect the same options as the Tatra region. However, in the Pieniny you can visit the castles, Niedzica Castle dates back to 1325, you can also stay the night and maybe solve the riddle of the hidden treasure folklore legend, furthermore, a short trip down the river to explore the ruins of Czorsztyn Castleor Black Castle also from the same era. A medieval two-handed long sword (132cm) was found during excavations in the early 1900s and is on view in the Zakopane Tatra Museum.
So, here we are back in Zakopane- the main connection to visiting the Tatra and Pieniny mountains and parks. If you’d like to visit Zakopane as a part of your Poland tour it is worth booking your trip with a reputable Polish travel agency . This destination is not to be missed when you have a chance to visit Poland – it is a provincial town in the mountains but one of the most alluring hotspots to visit when in Poland.