Foothills hidden behind a veil of mystery

A view of the panorama of the Rożnów Foothills.
Ciężkowice, Rożnów, Wieliczka, Wiśnicz... Foothills. Although adorned with pearls of the purest possible kind, world-class monuments, first-rate works of art, landscapes of surpassing beauty and attractions of which no one else can boast, we rarely see them. Why is that? I don’t think anyone actually knows! However, if we show them a bit of interest, stop for a moment, put our ear to the wooden and stone walls, they start whispering extraordinary stories in our ears, and reveal to us a world we have never dreamt of! Shall we set off the trail?

Ciężkowice Foothills: not only the Stone City and the moustached angel

Does it snow in hell? Where is the Polish Carcassonne? Is there a bench dedicated to Ignacy Jan Paderewski on the market square in Ciężkowice? What promise did the bandit named Becz make for the gift of life? What was the Witches’ Scale used for? Did the Descent from the Cross in the Biecz’s Corpus Christi Collegiate Church come from Michelangelo’s workshop? Who hikes along the trail of the night aviators? Where do we find the army of angels? All these questions will be easily answered after a hike along the paths of the gentle uplands of the Ciężkowice Foothills.

So, what do we start with? Perhaps with the angels, who are listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. To find this remarkable group, you need to go to the church of St Michael the Archangel in Binarowa, take a look, among other things, at the Chapel of the Guardian Angels, but also take a peek at the outstanding polychrome paintings. And you have to look carefully: that’s the only way to find the angel with the moustache. On the walls of the temple, erected around the year 1500, we’ll see scenes of the Passion, the Last Judgment, sudden death, the seven virtues, learning how to prepare for death, and a view of the nearby Biecz. It’s easy to spot the beautiful image of Our Lady and Child, which is famous for its graces, the images of the holy virgins Barbara, Dorothy, Catherine and Margaret, the miraculously beautiful passion group on a rood beam, the interesting fittings from centuries ago... One absolutely has to stop and admire, full of awe.

It’s also the best possible reason to set off on the Wooden Architecture Route. Once you have started walking along the path of treasures carved out of wood, you probably won’t want to miss out on the charming churches of St Andrew and St Anna in Rożnowice, St John the Baptist in Rzepiennik BiskupiSt Martin in Czermna, St Anna in Święcany and St Stanislaus the Bishop and Martyr in Jodłowa.

The Stone City in Ciężkowice is a treasure carved out by nature, although people also contributed to its ‘construction’. It has its own Stronghold – Lower and Upper. Surmounting them means passing into the world of the Ciężkowice-Rożnów Landscape Park. This is when the blood-red Inferno, the mighty Eagle, the charming Mushrooms, the mysterious Fox Ravine, and the Pyramids will ‘grow’ on our path. There is also Paderewski’s Tower, a gentle reminder that in the nearby Kąśna Dolna, our virtuoso had his own estate with a charming manor house, and wanted to build a guesthouse near the Stone City.

When we reach the Rock with the Cross, it’ll mean that we’re at the place where the local parson, playing cards with the devil, lost the church. For this foul deed, he was turned into a witch, and the church was petrified to become an impressive vantage point over the surrounding area. In this enigmatic city made of stone, we can also find the profile of the Witch, the mighty Town Hall, the imposing Grunwald, which is the gateway to the infernal depths and at the same time the hiding place of enormous treasures. Nor is there a better place to set off in the footsteps of the nocturnal aviators: a quiet walk of several minutes along a path marked out by our nocturnal friends, bats.

And yet we’re not going to miss Ciężkowice itself with its beautifully preserved urban layout from centuries ago, the Church of St Andrew the Apostle, the charming Paderewski’s Bench, the winding path in the treetops and the health resort.

Biecz – beautifully referred to as ‘Little Kraków’ and also ‘Polish Carcassonne’ – will also eagerly reveal its secrets to us. The town of the Crown of the Polish Kingdom, one of the most beautiful towns of the Małopolska region, boasts not only a charming market square, a town hall with an impressive 56-metre tower, the Collegiate Church of Corpus Christi, the Franciscan monastery, the House of the Robber Becz, the House with a Tower, Kromerówka, the Queen Jadwiga Hospital, the Starościński Stronghold, and the Museum of the Biecz Land, but also the mighty walls with the Blacksmith Tower and the Councillors Tower... Biecz, although relatively small, has the number of attractions that could be envied by much larger towns.

These are just a handful of the treasures that the Ciężkowice Foothills offer. Ambling about unhurriedly, we’ll discover more of them: those made by human hand, but also those that nature has contributed to. They’re worthy of the greatest recognition as well. It’s also a land flowing with honey and wine.

Wiśnicz Foothills – from UNESCO treasures to the mighty seat of the Kmita family

Nowa Muchówka in Muchówka, Brodziński’s Stones on the border between Lipnica Murowana and Rajbrot, the Mushroom Stone in Połom Duży, the Turtle Stone in Tarnawa, the Grzyb Stone in Zegartowice, the Chronowskie Rocks in Chronów, Devil’s Stone in Kornatka, Devil’s Stone in Trzciana, Rocks in Droginia, Devil’s Stone in Szyk: these fanciful works, which are worth seeing, were ‘carved’ for us by Mother Nature, although there are also those who claim, especially people who are inspired by the names, that there are some evil powers behind their creation. All of them can be found in the Wiśnicz Foothills, stretching between the valleys of the Dunajec River and the Raba River. Although it’s a beautiful region, whose numerous attractions are wonderfully tempting, unfortunately, it lies a little bit off the beaten path of the main tourist areas. This is a pity, as there are treasures of great beauty here, worthy of admiration by all means.

One of the brightest stars in the firmament of the Wiśnicz Foothills is the Church of St Leonard in Lipnica Murowana, one of the oldest and at the same time most valuable wooden churches in the Małopolska region. Although it’s not very impressive from the outside, inside it hides wonderfully beautiful ornamental and figural polychromes. In the oldest of them on the ceilings of the chancel and nave, are polychromes that date from the 15th and 16th centuries. The scenes of the Decalogue, the Passion, the Crucifixion, the Last Supper or the Last Judgment are therefore worth a close look, as they are the works of true masters. And it should not be forgotten that the main altar of this unusual church – as legend has it – is supposed to be supported by a so-called Svetovit pillar from a pagan temple.

As many as two saints and one beatified person linked their lives to the small town of Lipnica Murowana: Urszula Ledóchowska, Blessed Maria Teresa Ledóchowska (their parents, Józefina and Antoni Ledóchowski, are buried in the Church of St Leonard) and St Simon, to whom Saints Leonard, Florian and Lawrence were said to have ‘descended’ from the triptych during fervent prayer. It’s not surprising, then, that Lipnica is home to the Sanctuary of St Simon and the Ledóchowski Sisters, and next to it, there is a monument to King Władysław I the Short, founder of the town. Now, we’re only a few steps away from the Church of St Andrew the Apostle and the Lipnica market square with an elevated statue of St Simon. It’s here that the famous palm competition takes place. While in Lipnica, it’s also worth taking a peek at the former Ledóchowski manor house and the beautiful statue of St Florian.

If you set out from Lipnica on the paths of the Wiśnicz Foothills, you’ll discover the mysteries of the Wiśnicz-Lipnica Landscape Park, visit the Piekarski Potok Valley and the Piekarska Mountain (510 metres amsl), reach the Cross of Insurgents and the viewing tower on Szpilówka. Although it’ll cost us some effort, it’s worth climbing to its summit to get a bird’s-eye view not only of the Foothills, but also of Kraków and Tarnów, of course in favourable weather conditions.

On our path, we should not miss Nowy Wiśnicz, with its mighty Kmita and Lubomirski families stronghold shrouded in legends and chilling tales, the Museum of Jan Matejko Memorabilia ‘Koryznówka’, the former Discalced Carmelites monastery, which now houses a penitentiary, as well as the stylish town hall. You can also spend a few moments to discover the famous and yet still very mysterious ‘Wiśnicz Columns’. What do they commemorate? Let’s find out for ourselves! Perhaps we’ll discover their secret. 

And we probably won’t miss the castle in Dębno, which has its roots in the 15th century; the ruins of the fortress in Melsztyn and Czchów or Wielka Wieś. The Wooden Architecture Route, apart from Lipnica Murowana, will lead us, among other places, to Sobolów, and it’s also worth having a look at the beautiful temples in Łapczyca, Chronów and Trzciana.

On the paths of the Wiśnicz-Lipnica Landscape Park, time slows down a little to allow us to find, for example, green bindweed, lesser butterfly-orchid, fringed gentian and perhaps also orchids. These treasures of the Foothills are truly worth discovering.

Rożnów Foothills – in the land of lakes and strongholds

Lake Czchów, Lake Rożnów, the Dunajec meandering between mountains, beaches for swimmers and water lovers in Gródek nad Dunajcem, Monkey Island, Tropsztyn Castle in Wytrzyszczka, sanctuary of Saints Zorard and Benedict in Tropie, unusually beautiful buildings and the impressive market square of Zakliczyn, Czchów with its intimate market square, Gothic Church and lofty tower, picturesque cemeteries from World War I that inspire reverie, Diable Skały, Diable Boisko, the Bobowa lace castle, but also the ruins of Zawisza Czarny’s stronghold in Garbów and the impressive remains of the lower castle in Rożnów. These are the greatest treasures of the Rożnów Foothills. They are also wonderful places to spend some of your free time. Here, you can escape the crowds: pop out for a few hours, or maybe disappear for a few days, holed up in charming private accommodation, although you can also look for a multi-star get-away with every imaginable amenity.

To be in the Rożnów Foothills and not make it to Zakliczyn would be a truly regrettable, and perhaps a sin difficult to forgive. Although this town isn’t large, it’s charming and at the same time atmospheric, with a soul. Not only it has a gigantic market square with a vast, historic town hall, but also quite a few single-storey burgher’s houses of unusual half-timbered construction. The oldest of them are traditionally set with their gables facing the market or the street, and their eaves – supported by three usually ornamental pillars – extend far out over the pavement, forming the so-called high arcades. Once covered with shingles, later with fibre cement or sheet metal, today increasingly with tiles. Unfortunately, nowadays it’s rarely possible to see historic wooden walls, as these disappeared under plaster or were covered up with boards. On our way, we’ll probably find some houses which live out their lives in silence... However, it’s worth taking care of them as well, as they testify to a centuries-long, beautiful, although sometimes very turbulent history.

While in Zakliczyn, it’s impossible to miss the Church of St Giles the Abbot, the monastery complex of the Franciscans of Primitive Observance, the town hall, the Municipal Museum Under the Scale, as well as an unusual double sundial on the gable wall of the former parish school. If you have more time, you can go to the fast-flowing Dunajec River to rest for a while and plan your further adventures...

Once you’ve gained strength, you can set off, towards Lusławice. It was once one of the most important centres of Arian life in Poland, the place of Fausto Sozzini’s activities. This was also the location of the printing works and the famous Lusławice School. A little later, the Lusławice manor became the home of Jacek Malczewski, who set up a painting school there for talented local children. But the best times for the estate came after 1975, when the whole of this beautiful establishment was acquired by Krzysztof and Elżbieta Penderecki. It’s thanks to them that the mansion has regained its former splendour, and that several thousand species of trees and shrubs have found a welcoming home in the 16-hectare park, creating a magnificent arboretum. No wonder, then, that we can also find the Krzysztof Penderecki European Centre for Music here.

If we choose the path of music, we will certainly have a look at the not-so-distant Kąśna Dolna, where Ignacy Jan Paderewski settled for a few moments. Today there is a small museum in the beautiful manor house named after the brilliant composer, pianist, key politician, but above all, great statesman. Concerts are held here and the surroundings and picturesque park are known for their calm and tranquillity.

On the banks of the charmingly meandering Dunajec River and the mighty reservoirs of the Rożnów Foothills: Lake Czchów and Lake Rożnów  – you’ll find not only numerous beaches and swimming areas, water equipment rentals and rope parks, bicycle paths and trails, but also the strongholds of the former lords of these lands. In Rożnów, the sky is still pierced by the picturesque remains of the ‘eagle’s nest’ castle that once belonged to, among others, the famous Zawisza Czarny from Garbów of the Sulima coat of arms, but also the impressive remains of the never-completed lower castle, the work of Hetman Jan Tarnowski, with its magnificent stone bastion (decorated with a cartouche of the Leliwa coat of arms and a bas-relief of a bearded man holding a Turk’s head in his hands), imposing gate and a large fragment of the massive curtain wall.

Since we’re here, we can easily reach Tropie. This place, elevated high above the waters of the Dunajec River, was once known as the Sądecka Gate. Today it forms a picturesque stop on the route. It offers a beautiful view of the Dunajec River valley, yet there’s also a hermitage and one of the oldest sacral buildings in Poland: the 11th-century Church of St Zorard and St Benedict, founded by Casimir I the Restorer. On the other side of the Dunajec River, it has a picturesque neighbour: the highly elevated, reconstructed Tropsztyn Castle surrounded on three sides by the waters of the Dunajec River. It’s also quite close to the impressive defensive tower in Czchów. Let’s also mention that the area is traversed, among others, by VeloDunajec, one of the most beautiful Polish cycling routes.

It’s also worth paying a visit to Bobowa, once a famous Hasidic centre, the seat of the Halberstam tzaddik dynasty, today tempting with its famous bobbin lace, a charming lacemaker fountain and numerous monuments. We won’t leave out the royal town of Grybów with its Hosch manor house, neo-Gothic basilica and town hall, synagogue or old vicarage. Those who enjoy oenotourism will also find in the Rożnów Foothills a few stops worth exploring. The most valuable natural features can be found, among others, on the paths of the Ciężkowice-Rożnów Landscape Park. And all that is just for the start of your adventure with the Rożnów Foothills.

Wieliczka Foothills – not only the mysterious darkness of the treasure world

The ‘Wieliczka’ Salt Mine, is not only the largest, best-known treasure of the Wieliczka Foothills, but also a top-class tourist attraction, included in the first prestigious UNESCO World Heritage List (in 2013, the Bochnia Salt Mine was also added to this list). Here, wandering through the mysterious underground walkways, we’ll enter the world of miners, an extremely difficult job, but also a world of colourful stories and legends. We’ll see treasures we never dreamed of.

Where did the salt come from in this place and what colour is it? Who was in charge of ‘trimming the snowmen’? Is a methane miner a miner who ‘refuelled’ gas into cylinders? The answers to these questions can easily be found in this pearl wrestled from the land. Here, in the semi-darkness of the galleries and imposing chambers, we can still hear the whine of the steering wheel, the metallic sound of saws, the thumping of pickaxes, but also the strange, fear-filled mysterious crackling. But this will only happen if we take a walk along the Miners’ Route. It’s not just a tour of the mine, but also experiencing it with all your senses. On the Miners’ Route, we’ll not only see its raw and mysterious face, but we’ll also learn about the techniques of salt mining in many different historical periods. Participants light the way with only their personal miner’s lamp, as they perform a variety of tasks, e.g., determining the direction of the journey, checking the state of the mine’s atmosphere, turning into carpenters, methane miners and crushers. Of course, you can also choose the Tourist Route

While in the mine, we’ll probably also be tempted by the countless treasures collected by the Krakow Saltworks Museum, both those exhibited underground and those on the surface in the beautiful medieval Saltworks Castle. And yet, there’s another ‘stronghold’ waiting for us: the mighty Brine Graduation Tower and its extraordinary atmosphere. A stroll through Wieliczka is also highly recommended: charming surprises await us at practically every turn. It’s also a paradise for cyclists, especially those wishing to test their fitness by tackling, among other things, a climb with a grade of more than 16 percent along Kopernika Street.

Whoever’s going a little further afield, will also not complain about a lack of attractions. It’s an area that is not only picturesque but also very varied, challenging especially for those who love cycling. Some of the local roads and trails can really make you sweat. However, we would like to reassure you straight away: there are also more gentle trails through the valleys, ideal for a family holiday.

Or perhaps our passion for discovery will lead us to Świątniki Górne, picturesquely located on the mountain ridges. The inhabitants of these areas used to have the duty and also the privilege of serving in the cathedral in Kraków. They were, at one time, the bellringers who used to sound, among other things, the Sigismund Bell. Hussar armour and sabres were also manufactured in the village. However, when the days of great Polish cavalry passed, Świątniki began to make... padlocks and locks. And this is still the case today.

Maybe we’ll also take a look at Dziekanowice, home to the Romanesque Church St Mary Magdalene and St Nicholas, dating from the turn of the 12th and 13th centuries, with a beautiful Romanesque nave decorated with 12th-century polychromes. Will Dobczyce appear on our path? If so, we’ll see not only what remains of the once monumental royal stronghold, but also the beautifully situated open-air museum, the Church of St John the Baptist and an impressive expanse of clear water: Dobczyce Lake.

If we like to discover the mysteries of nature, we can always go to the area around Mogilany. It’s there that you’ll find the Kozie Kąty Nature Reserve, which protects lady fern, hairy wood-rush, quaking sedge, mezereum and green bindweed. And if we want to get to know Sanicula epipactis, it’s best to visit the Cieszynanka Reserve dedicated to this species.

And so, walking from village to village, from valley to valley, we discover extraordinary examples of art: those that are enchanted in stone, but also wrought in wood – all created by nature.

Foothills – culinary masterpieces

The foothills in the Małopolska region are famous not only for their varied landscapes, but also for everything that brings delight to our taste buds. This is, after all, the home of suska sechlońska, a plum characterised by super-plump flesh and wrinkled, sticky skin dark blue in colour, apples with an exceptional taste, ‘Piękny Jaś’ beans, piaszczańska sausage of the kind that was once supplied to the royal court, but also numerous strains of grapes ripened in local vineyards. You can also count on unique culinary works of art. All you have to do is come and discover the secrets of the far corners of the Małopolska region.

It’s not only the Wooden Architecture Route, the World War I Eastern Front Route, the Małopolska Gourmets Route, the Traditional Crafts Route, or the Małopolska Wine Route, but also peace and quiet. It’s also a fascinating landscape whose rhythm is defined by fields, a mosaic of meadows, forest complexes and picturesque clumps of trees and, increasingly, rows of vines. Does this mean the perfect holiday? Yes. For the foothills are a unique treasure of the Małopolska region. The foothills are worthy of your due attention, so let’s hit the road!



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