01 May Zakopane: Poland’s Winter Capital in the Tatra Mountains
For a totally different experience on your trip to Poland, head up into the Tatra Mountains to the country’s Winter Capital, Zakopane.
After a couple of days spent chasing gnomes in the city of Wroclaw, Zakopane offered a complete change of scenery. I may not be able to ski or snowboard, but I still like getting away from the city and breathing in the mountain air. Situated in the Tatras, Poland’s highest mountains, Zakopane is the country’s best known ski resort, but fortunately for non-skiers like me it is also great for hiking and climbing, particularly in the summer.
It’s a real shame because the weather was really bad and so it was impossible to see Zakopane in its true glory. The rain was bucketing down and the cloud was so low that you couldn’t catch even a glimpse of the mountains. There was no snow on the ground, just puddles of water. However, I could still imagine how picturesque this town would be if it were a beautiful sunny day with a blanket of snow.
Arriving at the Grand Hotel Stamary in Zakopane, I wished I had some more time to spend in this lovely room, but instead it was straight out to dinner with our local guide, Mateusz.
About a 5 minute walk from our hotel, we went for dinner at Staro Izba Tavern on Zakopane’s famous Krupowki Street. Mateusz was so proud and excited that his eyes were positively beaming as he talked about his home town. “People come here just to take a picture and say ‘Look at me on the Krupowki Street!‘” he enthused. Since it was poor weather and out of season things were a little quiet, but I’m assured the nightlife is pumping when things are in full swing.
The Staro Izba Tavern is constructed in the style of a Traditional Highlander House, and the interior is based on the buildings of the Podhale and Orawa regions. The restaurant had a really cosy atmosphere and there was a highlander group playing live music for a bit of entertainment. Our evening meal consisted of a local cheese called ‘Oscypek’ served with cranberry, followed by a really yummy chicken kebab with sauces and a jacket potato. Then came something that seemed to be a common theme on this trip- vodka shots to wash it all down!
The following day we visited Jaszczurowka Chapel, which is one of six wooden churches in Southern Poland that were added to the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 2003.
As we drove through the Tatra mountains, we pulled over by the side of the road to take pictures of these mountain houses. The Zakopane style of architecture was introduced by Stanisław Witkiewicz, and now all buildings must be constructed in this traditional highland style with pointed roofs- so don’t try building a house with a flat roof in Zakopane!
Onwards to Zakopane’s ski jump Wielka Krokiew, which has hosted several FIS Ski Jumping World Cups and has become very popular due to the success of Polish jumper Adam Malysz. It was hard to see through the mist, but this ski jump looked pretty high to me!
It may have been a grey day in the mountains, but this carpet of purple flowers sure brightened everything up.
Just before we made our way to the Wieliczka Salt Mine, we made one final stop to have a look at a typical village with wooden houses. I thought this was pretty interesting- a house that is made from just one tree. It’s amazing that something this size could be made using just one tree trunk!
So whilst the weather threatened to spoil our time in Zakopane, as you can see it was still worth seeing a different aspect of Poland. It would certainly be interesting to come back when the winter ski season is in full swing and Zakopane’s Krupowki street is alive with tourists!
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