To describe Zakopane in three simple words, you can easily call it ‘heaven on earth’. Here’s more about the little country town – situated in the shadows of the Tatra mountains – in Southern Poland.
Even before you reach this modest peasant resort town, you want time to slow down and gradually come to a standstill. The scenic road route from Krakow to Zakopane is enough to keep you up throughout the two-hour journey. What you see on both sides are little picturesque hills bespeckled with pine trees and country-like mustard-brown wooden chalets – topography that’s bright and yellow-green in summer and buried in purple-white snow during winter months. In front of you, the view of the towering Tatra mountains – that seem to come closer as you progress towards your destination – is spectacular. And once you’re there, all you wish to do is stand and stare at what lies in front of you and take deeper breaths to feel the unadulterated air.
Old-world countryside homes
What defines Zakopane are its typical old-world houses – these pearls of architecture are set on high, square stone underpinnings, have steep, shingled roofs and boast of folk furnishings. Their distinctive features include huge verandas, attics covered with separate roofs and beautiful, opulent wood carving decorations. Visit Villa Koliba – the first building erected in Zakopane style, as per eccentric artist Stanislaw Witkiewicz’s design – situated at Koscieliska Street, the oldest street bordered with time-honoured houses. A delightful residence converted into a museum since 1993, every little detail here – from curtains, artifacts and historical photos to handicrafts and coffee pots – bears the cultural stamp.
If you’re getting hooked on these wooden wonders, slip outside the town and climb up a hill to visit The Chapel of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in Jaszczurówka (in pic above). Built in 1904-1907 by Goral (or Highland – a term used for people native to Southern Poland) carpenters, the beautiful, historic church resembles the shape of a Highland hut. Its ornate turrets, dainty detailing on the roof and stained glass windows are noteworthy.
Your next stops can be the Church of Holy Mary of Czestochowa – the first Parish church – and its neighboring magical graveyard that’s famed throughout Poland. Many famous artists, writers and local patriots were laid to rest here; their tombs and graves are brilliant works of art in themselves.
Adventure awaits you
The Tatras, the only alpine mountains in Poland, charm you with sky-reaching rocky peaks and valleys treasuring post-glacial tarns and unique flora and fauna. Besides Polish species of deer, roe, fox and badger, the Tatras house rare beasts like lynx, brown bear, eagle, heathcock, chamois and marmot. Have always been an outdoor enthusiast? Set off for a short, beautiful walk to the picture-perfect valleys of the Tatras or mountain hike for a rewarding scenery. The Tatra’s solid rock walls with varying difficulty levels are a perfect school for those planning to scale the highest mountains in the world.
No wonder Zakopane is known as the undisputed winter capital of Poland. There’s so much to do even when it’s snowing here. If you’ve already mastered the art of skiing and snowboarding, take the challenging ski routes from Kasprowy Wierch, where snow sometimes remains till May or enrol for beginner lessons on a number of easier slopes under experienced instructors’ tutelage. There’s enough to keep yourself entertained during the summer months too. Raft on the Dunajec river, take a professional horse riding class or simply go on a biking trail around the town and enjoy segway and ATV rides.
To simply admire the panorama with a glass of chilled beer, walk down Krupowki Street to the Gubalowka Summit (1120 m) funicular train station. The train leaves every 5 to 30 minutes between 9 am to 6 pm, on demand. After a pleasant time amid mountains, you can either return by cable train or stroll down through the woods which doesn’t take more than an hour. Another way to enjoy the stunning view is to take a ride on a cable car from Kuznice to Kasprowy Wierch.
Food, art and culture
You can sample this local delicacy at one of the many stalls at Gubałówka market or at a regional inn like Bakowo Zohylina Wyznio. Zakopane has a couple of these traditional joints that give you a true taste of Highland food, culture and music – all under one roof.
Feast on delicious food amid a very rustic ambiance made up of cedar-wood ceiling, fire pit and walls plastered with stuffed animals to recreate an otherworldly hunter’s den.
Glass paintings are also an essential component of every proud Highlander’s home and is a unique form of art practiced in this region. If you’ve got a creative instinct and some spare time on hand, go for a glass painting session with a local artist (starting 25zl per person). Play with colours and learn the century-old tradition of painting lively religious and folk scenes on glass baubles and frames.
Zakopane has a lot of folkloric souvenirs you take back home. You’ll find a number of shops and stalls selling wooden knick knacks and attractive winterwear in wool and leather, especially at Krupowki promenade and the Gubałówka market, located near the funicular train. Buy gloves, hats, beanies, socks, traditional handmade Highlander shoes that look like mojris, bear-hunting jackets, fridge magnets, mugs, embroidered and lace tablecloths, cute stuffed toys, skiing gear, sheep skin rugs and more.
HOW TO GET THERE
Zakopane is 109 km (a little less than two hours ) by road from the charming old Polish capital of Krakow. If you aren’t hiring a car, bus is the best way to reach Zakopane; the ticket for the hourly bus costs around 16zł per head. While Zakopane is well-connected by train to various cities of Poland, the journey may take longer. If you wish to grab some rest after a long international flight or finish that latest novel, the rail can be your ideal choice.
The unit of currency in Poland is the zloty, each of which consists of 100 groszy.
1 Polish Zloty = 17.43 Indian Rupees (approx, as per current rate)