The scenic town of Zakopane, situated near Poland's border with Slovakia, offers a real feast for the eyes.
There is undeniable magic flowing through the majestic snow-clad Tatras ranges and the mountain resort of Zakopane that lies nestled in its foothills. I heard about this picture perfect town from friends studying in my university in Warsaw and decided to go visit — a decision I will never regret! Zakopane can be reached by train or bus from the province capital, Kraków, which is about two hours away.
Zakopane lies near Poland's border with Slovakia, in a valley between the Tatra Mountains and Gubalówka Hill. Often hailed as the winter capital of Poland, the winter wonderland is a popular destination for mountaineering, skiing and tourism and is visited by over 2,500,000 tourists a year. Whatever be the season that you choose to visit this quaint town in Poland, rest assured that you will not be disappointed. Winter is the peak tourist season when visitors can indulge in sports activities like skiing, snowboarding, ski jumping, snowmobiling, sleigh rides, snowshoe walks and ice skating. In summer, tourists can take part in activities like hiking, climbing, bike and horse rides in the Tatra Mountains.
My first view of Zakopane literally had me catching my breath; there were those majestic snow-clad peaks, forested hiking trails with hidden waterfalls and clearings, not to mention charming horse-drawn carriages and highlanders dressed in their traditional costume.
I had two ‘must go to’ places in my agenda — Morskie Oko and Kasprowy Wierch. While Morskie Oko is the largest and fourth-deepest lake in the Tatra Mountains located deep within the Tatra National Park, Kasprowy Wierch is a peak of a ridgeline in the Western Tatras and one of Poland's main winter ski areas.
Morskie Oko lived up to my expectations. The view of snow mountains close by interspersed with greenery is breathtaking by itself; add to that a lake in between the mountains and what you have is a picture perfect frame against a scenic backdrop. The trek to Morskie Oko Lake was on a horse cart. The nine-km ride was adventurous because the horses were huge and since the cart was not fully occupied, we were moving fast, rattling through the forest roads.
The cable car ride to Mount Kasprowy (1987 mts) takes approximately 15 minutes and takes place in two stages with a change in 1325 mts. Kasprowy Wierch has a cafe up in the snow bound peaks at 1989 mts. A cup of coffee or beer is much recommended as the temperatures are lower than the Zakopane town. A few minutes of clicking photos in the snow will freeze your fingers making you crave for something hot, ergo the cafe. Also present is a Meteorological Observatory built in 1938 right at the top.
Coming to the town of Zakopane, there is a small old town street with traditional wooden houses selling honey, cheese etc. The traditional cheese oscypek made from sheep milk is a must try as also the Kwasnica (sauerkraut) and Golonka (pork knuckle). Most of the buildings here are made of wood including pubs and bars though I did not spend much time as I preferred the natural trails and lakes to bar crawling.
The inhabitants of Zakopane are famous for their energetic folk dancing and singing as well as their vibrant and intricately embroidered clothing — best admired at traditional weddings. The locals like to be greeted with Dzien Dobry (Good Morning) and I found them very warm and welcoming. I remember a heart-warming incident when I was staying in a rented villa. The owner was out of town when I was vacating and he asked me to keep the money in the cupboard and leave. The trust he gave a stranger left a warm feeling in my heart.
Since this was my first trip to snow-covered mountains, Zakopane will always remain a place I want to go back to again and again. I wish to revisit Zakopane in winter, when it's fully covered in snow and the temperatures are below -20 degrees C.
(As told to Priya Sreekumar)