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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