Orava and Żywiec Beskids
A charming place with special spirit
Orava and the Żywiec Beskids are certainly one of the most interesting, although still relatively unpopular tourist destinations. They delight not only with the multitude of monuments, but also with breath-taking landscapes, unique flora and fauna and numerous pastures on which sheep are still grazed in the traditional way. Tourists are attracted here by the unique culture of Orava and Żywiec highlanders manifested in costumes, customs and traditional construction. In winter, the region is a great base for people who like to have some ski fun on snowy slopes. What's more, it also offers several scenic trails that can be traversed on snowshoes and skitours. Enthusiasts of cycling trips and active leisure will feel in the Żywiec Beskids like a fish in water! In turn, people who value peace and quiet, who dream of a break away from the hustle and bustle, will find here climatic places offering the opportunity to taste homemade cheese and butter and drink real milk.
Every true mountain lover should go hiking in the Babia Góra National Park, conquer the “Queen of the Beskids” – Babia Góra, hike on the Polica or Jałowiec range. There is no place for boredom here, we guarantee that everyone will find something for themselves!
The stunning splendour of the Beskid nature
The Żywiec Beskids offer many surprises for nature lovers who will find here rare plants and species of wild animals. Visit to the Babia Góra National Park is a must. The uniqueness of this place is evidenced by the fact that the park area has been fully protected under the Natura 2000 programme. It is also included on the list of UNESCO Biosphere Reserves. This place abounds in dense, beautiful forests – in the lower part they consist mainly of beech, spruce and fir trees, while in the upper part there are fantastic spruce woods.
The symbol of the park is laserwort – a plant with a white flower, characteristic only for this area. The most impressive concentration of laserwort is located under Sokolica and in the valley of Markowy Potok.
Above the area you will see Babia Góra, also called Diablak, the height of which reaches 1,725 metres asl. It is the highest peak of both the Żywiec Beskids and the entire Western Beskids. The forests there are home to many species of mammals, reptiles, birds, amphibians and even fish. In the Babia Góra National Park and its buffer zone you can meet wolves, lynxes, deer, bears, beautiful grouse and eagle owls.
In the Orava Basin, there are high bogs unique on the European scale, known as puścizny, which are a refuge for birds.
When planning a trip around the area, it is worth Sidzina-Bystra and the magnificent monuments of nature situated there, namely Adam, Ewa, Abraham and Sirius oaks, which according to legend, were granted to local inhabitants by King John II Casimir.
Signs of the past
Zawoja is not only a junction of hiking trails, but also a fantastic holiday destination. In the longest Polish village, you cannot miss the wooden parish church of St Clement, the history of which dates back to the mid-18th century. Near the church stands the Babia Góra Station, which housed at the beginning of the 20th century a tourist station of the Tatra Society. Another must-see is the Chatoża hamlet, where the historic Three Cellars are located, which once served as food storage warehouses. The Loretto belfry is an attractive tourist site as well. According to highlanders' tales, the sound of the bell was to protect the inhabitants of Zawoja against the storm and warn against fires.
When you're in Zawoja, it is also worth going to the Pasture of Lambs, located on the Wallachian Trail. From April to September we will meet here a shepherd who will not only make you taste the genuine oscypek cheese, but will be happy to talk about Wallachian pastoral traditions that have been perfectly preserved in this region.
When planning a trip, it is also worth visiting other places hiding real pearls of the Wooden Architecture Route, e.g. the church of Sts Peter and Paul in Lachowice from 1789 or the church of St John the Baptist in Orawka from 1651. In the church of St Nicholas located in Sidzina, you can admire the miraculous image of Our Lady of Sidzina, and under the peak of Okrąglica (1,239 metres asl) – the beautiful Chapel of Our Lady, the Guardian of Tourists. Finally, there is a great place to relax after hiking: the 19th-century manor park, located in the heart of Bystra, right by the charming Bystrzanka stream.
Museums full of memories – what to see?
Typical Orava and Żywiec Beskids architecture attracts tourists from all over Poland and not only! You can admire it in the open-air museums in Zubrzyca Górna, Zawoja Markowa and Sidzina, but also while hiking in the surrounding villages – many families still live in beautiful, old wooden cottages.
The Museum – Orava Ethnographic Park in Zubrzyca Górna deserves special attention. The origins of the institution date back to the 1930s, when the descendants of the Orava Moniak family transferred a part of their patrimony to the State Treasury. Thanks to this, we can now admire, among others, the stately Manor of the Moniak family and typical Orava cottages with wyżkas (chambers in the attic). Wonderful exhibitions are also waiting for us at the Museum of Folk Culture in Sidzina, where traditional crafts workshops take place regularly. The museum houses exhibitions depicting life in the period from the 18th to the 20th century.
We highly recommend taking advantage of the wide range of open-air museums, because they are truly magical places – thanks to them it is easier to touch the past, while the set-ups, workshops and performances make these places full of life again! You can hear there the traditional music and singing, see the work of artisans and peasants and try some regional delicacies.
Rocking horses, colourful birds on a stick (called klepoki) or a walker with moving animals – these and many other wooden toys can be seen in the Beskid Wooden Toy Centre in Stryszawa, where everyone can feel like a child again!
Active leisure surrounded by the mountains – get inspired!
The main ski resort in the area is Zawoja, but Mosorny Groń is in turn the most popular one. This is where winter sports beginners can practice their skills at a ski school, while veterans of skiing and snowboarding can have fun on snowy slopes until late evening. It is worth adding that the station holds FIS license enabling the organisation of national and international ski competitions, and the centre itself encourages to organise other sporting events.
Mosorny Groń is open at any time of the year. We especially recommend it in the autumn, when the tourist traffic is lower, and the view of the mountains shimmering in different colours is breath-taking. Admiring these fantastic landscapes will certainly be even more attractive when you use the Baca lift or the Wojtek lift complex.
In winter, we especially recommend hiking on snowshoes and skitour trips. The Żywiec Beskids offer fantastic conditions for this type of activity: beautiful landscapes, unspoiled areas, away from crowded ski slopes and city noise.
Fans of extreme sports can take advantage of the downhill offer at Mosorny Groń. The Żywiec Beskids are a great place for running – especially in spring and autumn, when the trails are less frequented by tourists, which gives favourable conditions for this sport. It is also worth mentioning the cyclical Alpine Running Festival organised near Babia Góra.
The charms of varied hiking trails
Żywiec Beskids and Orava are great areas for different kinds of tourism – hiking, skiing and cycling. Despite the growing popularity, the region still seems to be intact. It delights with wonderful views and surprises with unique flora and fauna. All this makes it an ideal place to relax.
Undoubtedly, the best starting points for the trips in this region are Zawoja and Zubrzyca Górna. The routes to Babia Góra (1,725 metres asl), as well as to Polica and Jałowiec ranges start here. It is worth passing a section of the Main Beskids Trail: Mędralowa – PTTK hostel at Markowe Szczawiny – Babia Góra – Krowiarki Pass – Polica – Bystra Podhalańska.
Current information and a list of trails (including educational, horse, ski, cross-country, cycling, historical ones) can be found on the Małopolska Tourist Routes website: https://malopolska.szlaki.pttk.pl/.
Culture and traditions in a contemporary setting
The inhabitants of the area around Babia Góra and Orava eagerly cultivate local traditions on the occasion of family, church and state celebrations.
During the Christmas season it is worth going to the “Orava Carolling” to the Cultural Centre in Jabłonka or to the Orava Ethnographic Park in Zubrzyca. If you like to watch nativity play, don't miss the moment when traditional puppet cribs are presented. In the local cribs, in the scene of the birth of Jesus, we will see not only Mary and Joseph, but also figures of a nobleman, Highlanders, tinker Jews, an old man, merchants, and even of Striga, Death and Devil! This rare custom can be admired, among others in Lipnica Górna.
During Easter, the tastiest dish on the Orava tables is krzonówka – a dense soup with horseradish and visible pieces of sausage, ham and eggs, not only very nutritious and tasty but also inscribed on the list of regional products.
Admirers of pastoralism will certainly be interested in the traditional redyk (sheep trailing), which nowadays has the character of a folklore show. In the spring, on the day of St Adalbert (23 April) shepherds go out with flocks of sheep to the mountain pastures, where sheep will graze until the day of St Michael the Archangel (29 September), protector of shepherds. The festivities are accompanied by highlander dances and songs as well as magical rites, among which one can distinguish burning bonfires (watras) in a shepherd's hut or “making noise”. One of the largest and most colourful events related to the redyk is the Babia Góra Autumn, which takes place every year in the last days of September in Zawoja.
On the last Sunday of July, the Blueberry Festival takes place in Zubrzyca Górna. This is not only a fun for the palate, but also an opportunity to learn about old crafts, regional products of Polish and Slovak Orava, as well as about dance and music of the region.