Poland’s very own St. Moritz, Zakopane is the nation’s top center for winters sports and its highest town. It transforms in warmer months to a verdant base for hiking and trekking in the Tatra Mountains, the highest range of the Polish Carpathians. Zakopane’s popularity goes back to the 1870s, when its clean air, idyllic surroundings, and folkloric past began to attract writers, artists, and craftsmen in search of inspiration.
Among them was the architect Stanislaw Witkiewicz, father of the more famous writer, playwright, and painters known as Witkacy. He designed a house for a client that was inspired by the farmhouses and outbuildings of the Podhale, the highland region north of Zakopane and it launched the Zakopane style, which dominated the look of housing throughout Poland until World War I. Some of the buildings Witkiewicz designed still stand and can be visited; among the best examples is Villa Koliba, completed in 1893 and now housing the Museum of Zakopane Style.
When he was known as Karol wojtyla, the late Pope John Paul II (who hailed from these parts) liked to take good schuss on these trails. The ski slopes of the Zakopane region, the highest of which grace Mount KasprowyWierch (6,520 feet), are suitable for skiers of all levels. Don’t expect Aspen, but you’ll find that the town has good equipment and facilities, including a cable car, chair lifts, and decent runs, plus a season that can extend as late as April. Hikes and trekkers will appreciate the 186 miles of trails that crisscross Tatra National Park, just south of Zakopane.
The massive gingerbread house containing the 54-room Grad Hotel Stamary opened in 1905 and now, after a total makeover, holds Poland’s best spa. You’ll find traditional touches at the more intimate chaletlike Hotel LipowyDwor, with 15 small, well-maintained rooms on a quiet street near the center of town.
On Krupowki Street, the long, pedestrian main street, where horse-drawn sleds make their way, several restaurants offer traditional Carpathian cuisine and live alpine music. The best is StaroIzba; its menu includes excellent lamb dishes, kielbass, and kwasnica, a hearty mutton and sauerkraut soup.
WHERE : 65 miles/105 km south of Krakow.
BEST TIME : Dec-Mar for skiing; Jun-Sep for trekking; mid-Aug for International Festival of Mountains Folklore.
EXPERIENCE : this through Experiential Travel Journeys. Please Call us or Email us.