I’ve just come back from my week’s holiday in Poland. Unusually for me, I only stayed with my relatives at the weekends, and during the week I enjoyed my own company in the ski resort Zakopane. Zakopane and the nearby Tatra National Park attract nearly 4 million visitors a year and is heavily, some say overly commercialized. I could perhaps call it a Keswick on extremely powerful steroids. People flock there to hike and climb, but also for its aqua parks and thermal baths, 5 star spa hotels, nights out and dining in mountain themed eateries, souvenir shopping and so on. While I wasn’t terribly impressed with the high street Krupówki, packed with tourist traps, modern shopping centres blocking the mountain views, identical stalls and of course tourists themselves, I found that many streets further away from the centre were much nicer, quieter and richer in authentic local architecture. Zakopane boasts some gorgeous 19th century Swiss-like wooden villas, and the new buildings tend to imitate this unique style.
It took me nearly 3 hours to get there from Krakow by bus so on Monday afternoon I spent some time getting my bearings. I ate pierogi with a local bryndza cheese and eventually hiked the Gubałówka mountain, which at 1123 metres above sea level stands taller than Snowdon (the elevation gain however is only about 300 m, since Zakopane itself is situated so high up). From there I admired the impressive Tatra range and tried to decide on the next day’s walk. I took the funicular down – at 19:30 it was already dark! Just like everywhere else in Zakopane, Gubałówka comes with several traditional restaurants, a guesthouse and, at the foot of the mountain, a large outdoors market selling the famous oscypek cheese, local handmade goods and of course souvenirs. As if it wasn’t enough, there is also a ferris wheel and and a mini climbing wall, plus another massive restaurant is on its way.
Tuesday was the sunniest and warmest day during my entire stay. I hopped on a mini bus and some 45 min later I was on my way to Morskie Oko lake, the largest body of water in the Tatra mountains. It’s an easy 2 hour walk on a tarmac road, kind of unexciting for the first hour or so. Upon reaching the lake, the trail continues around it and splits, takings us up a steep stony path leading to yet another, smaller lake. I found it hard going up mostly because of the sheer number of people constantly passing me in both directions. It was definitely worth it and the view from above took my breath away, I’d never seen anything like it! Once I hiked all the way to Czarny Staw pod Rysami I sat down and felt very humble and indeed very small next to the majestic peaks partially hidden in the clouds. Most people chose to stop and rest like I did, but a few carried on towards the highest mountain in the Tatras: Rysy.
On my way to Morskie Oko (“The Eye of the Sea”):
The mountain lodge overlooks the turquoise, incredibly clear lake:
A tough – but rewarding – hike up the “Black Lake”:
I kept on checking the weather forecast, worrying about the rain but it never came. On Wednesday I had a lazy-ish time in Zakopane following my 25 km walk/hike the previous day. I went to see a beautiful, old cemetary, which unlike the town appeared understated, if a little quirky. Many mountain rescue members who died saving others’ lives are buried there, alongside artists and writers:
In the tourist information centre I met góral, or a local highlander in his traditional attire. Right outside though, a modern world awaited. Zakopane caters for all tastes…
I had an ambitious plan to hike to Kasprowy Wierch from Kuźnice village near Zakopane, where many interesting trails begin. To my big surprise, there was no queue to the cable car – it takes hours in the high season to buy a ticket – and subsequently my plans went out the window and within 15 min I was enjoying the splendid views from the summit. Kasprowy Wierch is 1987 metres tall and the temperature despite the sunshine was near freezing. I joined a free 40 min tour with a local guide, then wandered around taking photographs and before I knew it 2 hours had passed and I had to travel back on my timed ticket. Some people purchased an “up” only ticket and continued along the ridge to other summits, or walked down to Kuźnice. I wanted to make the most of my last day in the Tatras so I followed a relatively easy trail through the forest and down the valley Dolina Białego , emerging next to Wielka Krokiew ski jumping hill.
A windy, freezing but fantastic morning on Kasprowy Wierch:
Best spent 109 złote (around £20) ever!
Equally stunning in black & white:
On my way back from Kuźnice – Dolina Białego (“White Water Valley”):
And that was it: 3.5 days in the winter capital of Poland. Even if Zakopane wasn’t quite to my taste, 4 million tourists a year can’t be wrong, hey ? It’s about the mountains after all, and Zakopane with it’s extremely well developed infrastructure is an ideal base for both true mountaineers and casual visitors. Did I mention there is a very well stocked Lidl too? 🙂
The view from my Airbnb:
As I write these words, I already know I will pay another visit and it will be a longer one, probably around mid April – early May 2023. No more cable cars, 100 % hiking 🙂