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Pieniny and Spiš

Pieniny and Spiš

wschód słońca w górach, ciemne zarysy gór, pomarańczowo-złote niebo wśród chmur

Pieniny and Spiš are one of the most attractive tourist regions of our country, they are both worth visiting regardless of the season. Natural values, cultural diversity, a multitude of monuments will allow you to get to know the unusual face of the Małopolska region.

The Pieniny area is located in the central part of the Pieniny Klippen Belt. From the north, the Pieniny border with the Gorce and Beskid Sądecki, and from the south with Magura Spiska. The entire range is 35 km long and 3.5 to 6 km wide. Pieniny are naturally divided by the river Dunajec into three fragments, namely Pieniny Spiskie, the Pieniny Właściwe and Little Pieniny. The highest peak of this mountainous land, formed of limestone, slate, sandstone and conglomerates, is Wysoka (1,050 metres asl).

Spiš attracts history enthusiasts because of its interesting past. The first traces of human presence in this area come from the Palaeolithic period. The subsequent turbulent history of the Polish-Hungarian and Polish-Czechoslovakian border did not spare this area.

The region offers many attractions. A dense network of intersecting hiking trails and several ski stations provide an unforgettable experience for winter sports enthusiasts and hikers. For all those seeking respite, we recommend Szczawnica and Krościenko nad Dunajcem – two high valued health resorts in which you can, among others taste the spring water with healing properties and unique taste. It is also worth taking advantage of the rich offer of cultural events.

Tourist paradise

Since 1932 Pieniny are under protection within the Pieniny National Park, which stretches on both sides of the border with Slovakia. The Pieniny Właściwe range stretches on the protected area, culminating in the Three Crowns massive towering over the Dunajec valley. It is here that you can find extremely rare species of colourful flora and fauna. The rocky environment provides excellent conditions for the life of butterflies with the graceful name Apollo butterfly, and the relict pines in Sokolica make the landscape extremely characteristic.

There are many animate and inanimate nature reserves in Pieniny and Spiš. In the Homole Gorge reserve in Jaworki you can admire a deep canyon decorated with limestone boulders. The White Water reserve will enchant visitors with volcanic rocks and streams creating phenomenal cascades and deep evorsions. In turn, in the Białka River Gorge reserve near Krempachy you can see the rocks of white and red limestone, which hide the famous Obłazowa Cave. These picturesque places were the scenery for several films, such as the “Janosik” TV series or “Karol: A Man Who Became Pope”.  In the Blue Valley reserve, you will find a unique beech old forest, where the oldest beeches are over 200 years old, and in the Wysokie Skałki reserve you can see the last upper montane belt spruce forest in Pieniny. On hot days, to cool down you can opt for a trip to Żary (you can admire from that site the beauty of the Spiš Pieniny), rafting down the Pieniny gorge of the Dunajec river or a walk to the Zaskalnik waterfall.

Remarkable historic places

When in Pieniny, it is worth visiting several historically priceless sites. The rich past of this area can be discovered by, among others, visiting the castle in Frydman – a magnificent fortified manor house that once served as the summer residence of Jerzy Horvath – a Hungarian magnate. The turbulent fate of Niedzica is “hidden” in historic buildings, such as the castle on Lake Czorsztyn. In its medieval walls you can feel the atmosphere of a fortress that once used to be bustling. Near the castle there are also a historic granary and a customs house. The castle in Czorsztyn is another destination for tourists visiting the Pieniny area. It has been partially restored and the exhibitions attract crowds of tourists from all over Poland. In addition to recreation, the health resort in Szczawnica also offers numerous health treatments, and the popularity of this place is getting even greater.

In addition to secular monuments, there are also some noteworthy religious buildings – you cannot miss the church of St Elisabeth in Trybsz, the church of All Saints in Krościenko nad Dunajcem, or the oldest temple in the in the Polish Subtatra region, namely St Stanislaus church in Frydman. Worth mentioning are also: the church of St Catherine in Nowa Biała, the church of St Martin in Krempachy and the church of St Quirinus in Łapsze Niżne, belonging in the 14th century to the Order of the Holy Sepulchre. Noteworthy is also the church of All Saints in Kacwin, built in 1313, which was in possession of Lutherans from 1602 and returned to Catholics 30 years later. Built in 1278, the church of St Bartholomew the Apostle in Niedzica, belonging to the group of Gothic Spiš churches, still enchants with stone traceries in the windows of the presbytery. Few people know that there are former Greek Catholic churches in the area – one in Jaworki and another in Szlachtowa. Currently, they are functioning as Roman Catholic churches.

Museum side of the Pieniny

When traveling around the region, it's worth visiting some museums. An absolute must-see is the Museum of the Pieniny National Park in Krościenko nad Dunajcem, where the natural, historical, landscape and cultural values of the Pieniny and its surroundings are exhibited. In the entrance pavilions of the national park we will find interesting exhibitions on various topics, e.g. “Pieniny forest ecosystems” or “Pieniny rock ecosystems”. One of them is in Szczawnica, two in Czorsztyn, and another two in Sromowce Kąty and Sromowce Niżne.
Particularly noteworthy is the Spiš Folk Culture Museum in Czarna Góra, where the buildings of the Korkoszów homestead and the Sołtys Homestead in Jurgów – branches of the Tatra Museum in Zakopane – are presented. Another interesting proposition is the “Sypaniec” regional chamber in Łapsze Niższe and the regional chamber in Sromowce Wyżne presenting the everyday life of the inhabitants of Pieniny in the past. A similar theme is presented by the open-air museum in Kluszkowce, also known as the Czorsztyn Settlement. The private Pieniny Mock-ups gallery in Krościenko nad Dunajcem offers visitors the opportunity to see miniatures of these beautiful mountains. At the Pieniny Museum in Szlachtowa you can see exhibits related to the history of Szczawnica, and at the carriage exhibition in Niedzica – carriage and horse carriages belonging to the former owners of the castle.

No less attractive is the nature exhibition of Tadeusz and Anna Oleś in Krościenko nad Dunajcem. It includes an impressive collection of rare animal specimens from around the world. The author's gallery “Pod Okółkiem” in Krościenko nad Dunajcem presents the paintings of Andrzej Michał Beliczyński made with the use of watercolours and pastels. In the “Krzywa Jabłonka” gallery in Szczawnica we will see folk art and handicrafts of Pieniny artists, same as in the wooden church in Sromowce Niżne, which since 2010 is no longer a sacred object, but acts as a local museum.

Active leisure in Pieniny

Szczawnica and Krościenko nad Dunajcem are recommended as starting points for hiking trips. Tourists can choose routes to the Three Crowns or towards Sokolica, depending on their preferences and skills. The trails start in the centre of the village and lead to Pieniny, Gorce and Beskid Sądecki. The red trail leads to Prehyba (1,176 metres asl) or Lubań via Jaworzyna (1,050 metres asl). The blue trail is also a very interesting route – it runs along the ridge of Pieniny Właściwe and Little Pieniny. The Tatra, Gorce and even Slovak Levoča Mountains can be clearly seen from here. This trail is also ideal for ski tours. After an exhausting walk, you can experience a respite in one of the mountain hostels: Orlica, Trzy Korony and Pod Durbaszką.

You can also admire the mountain panorama by taking the chairlift up to Palenica, from which you can also ski in the winter season. The gravity slide located on the mountain slope is also an interesting spot.

Fans of two wheels fans will find in Pieniny and Spiš many bicycle routes. The bicycle trail around Lake Czorsztyn is an ideal destination for lovers of monuments who, by combining active leisure with sightseeing, will remember the visit to Pieniny for a long time. The Pieniny Road, i.e. the red trail along the Dunajec gorge, can be travelled on foot and by bicycle, which is an additional advantage. The VeloDunajec bicycle route runs along the Dunajec river as well.

“Rally by the Dunajec Valley” encourages competitive cyclists to participate in the fun, which in addition to sports emotions, also provides opportunities to spend time surrounded by nature.
However, this is not the end of the attractions offered by the Pieniny region. Horse riding fans will also find something for themselves with the Transbeskidian Horse Trail running through this area. Szczawnica-Piwniczna is its most popular route. To choose the right walking, horse or bicycle route, please visit malopolska.szlaki.pttk.pl.

Cross-country skiing enthusiasts are invited to Krościenko nad Dunajcem where the boulevards by the Dunajec river have properly prepared skiing routes running alongside. Sports adrenaline can also be found in rope parks, such as ABlandia Amusement Park or Adventure-Sky in Krościenko nad Dunajcem.

Moreover, numerous running events are very popular among sports fans. The youngest enthusiasts can participate in Mini Runs in Szczawnica, which promote a healthy lifestyle among children and teenagers. The competition offers several routes adapted to the age and predisposition of the competitors, so you can choose a distance from 100 metres to even 2 kilometres. Adults also willingly take part in the competition during the Triada run. An interesting fact is the form of the race itself, which in addition to being fast and intense, consists of running up the peaks at night. 

Attractions at the foot of the mountains

One of the most characteristic attractions in this area is undoubtedly rafting down the Dunajec River Gorge, with tradition dating back to the 19th century. During rafting you can admire the Pieniny peaks, including the Three Crowns. For the sake of natural and historical values, the gorge was recognised as a natural monument. Rafters wonderfully amuse their passengers on the way by telling jokes and anecdotes.

An equally interesting experience is a cruise on the “Harnaś” ship on Lake Czorsztyn. Passengers on board can enjoy a cup of coffee while admiring the surrounding natural and architectural monuments.

You can't get bored in Pieniny and Spiš! An interesting experience is participating in the folklore custom of playing music around mojs. During the night before the feast of Pentecost, each of the bachelors in the neighbourhood strive to put a moj (little tree) in front of the house of a maiden. Then they sing songs in honour of the Mother of God and wander the whole village merrily. Disguised as gypsies, local youths collect donations for their “child”, and the girls from nearby houses dance with them to the music they play.

This live folklore is also presented during the inauguration of the Pieniny Summer event. Everyone who stays in Szczawnica at the time has the opportunity to see the traditional costumes of rafters, carriage drivers and highlanders from Spiš and Pieniny. A fair of folk craftsmanship and concerts of highlander bands complete the atmosphere, which for many mountain fans is a priceless holiday memory.

Shepherd culture plays a very important role in the social life of this mountainous region, which is also an interesting opportunity to learn more customs. Every autumn, time comes for redyk, i.e. the traditional return of sheep from the pastures. All the sympathisers of this event can celebrate, among others, in Jaworki, and in the Majerz clearing, they can welcome the shepherd (baca) and his young helpers (known as juhasi) returning from the shepherd's hut.

Muzyczna Owczarnia, which is one of the most popular meeting places for music lovers, is also extremely popular. Concerts and meetings are organised there throughout the year. Another events worth recommending are Ethno-Novo, Autumn in Szczawnica, the Pieniny-Kultura-Sacrum Festival in Krościenko or the Baroque Ancient Music Festival in the Spiš.

Pieniny and Spiš are famous for their wonderful regional cuisine including dishes such as: gałuski dumplings, kołoc pie, plum soup (known as śliwianka), oscypek cheese, kwaśnica (sauerkraut soup) or trout. Several dishes unknown in other regions are a treat for lovers of traditional delicacies.

Another unique attraction awaits you at the Szczawnica health resort, where you can try one of the twelve mineral waters. Some of them are available by the sources without any restrictions, others are served in the “Magdalenka” pump room. Equally valuable are the properties of the “Stefan”, “Maria” and “Michalina” waters available in Krościenko nad Dunajcem.

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Orava and Żywiec Beskids

Orava and Żywiec Beskids

widok ze szczytu góry, gołoborza na pierwszym planie, wokół zielone wzniesienia

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.

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