Located in one of the most naturally beautiful places of Poland sits the small town of Zakopane. It’s known as the White City due to the preference for winter activities such as skiing. However, we are here for some summertime magic! When the slopes are not covered in snow, they reveal some incredible hiking trails and beautiful emerald lakes high up in the Tatra Mountains. The town itself shows off ornate wood carving in the Goral architecture and some surprises for your tastebuds.
Zakopane is a good starting point to get back to nature and begin your day with a hike. While there are many trails to traverse of varying difficulty here are a few to start you off! Make sure you begin early in the morning with waterproof gear, warm clothes and good shoes if you intend to tackle the big guy: Rysy Mountain. This is actually the highest peak in Poland and to reach it will not be a walk in the park! From the top you can look over the border to Slovakia and have spectacular views of Czarny Staw on the way up. Czarny Staw or ‘Black Pond’ is anything but black… a stunning clear blue lake set just above Morskie Oko.
The walk to Morskie Oko may be a little easier for those less actively inclined. Instead of a 6hr 30min hike in each direction, you may prefer the convenience of a 2-hour walk to ‘The Eye of the Sea.’ Though incredible in its surroundings, keep in mind you’ll also be surrounded by many tourists during the summer. The early bird gets the Instagram photo without anyone in it! If you do venture up to Rysy Mountain, you may even encounter some unusual fellows such as lynx, marmots and mountain chamois but they’re pretty shy so if you do spot one, it’ll be an added bonus. As always, safety first so don’t go up into the mountains in bad weather.
A whole paragraph dedicated to cheese? Of course! The cheese here harks back to the highlanders who are sheep farmers throughout history. Their sheep were also hard workers and produced milk to be made into a very special salted cheese. Oscypek has been produced in Zakopane region since the 14th century and it shows no signs of slowing down. Many families will have their own distinct recipe and the final result is formed in a spindle shape with designs and patterns. The cheese itself is smoked and often served grilled with cranberry marmalade. Yum!
Once you’re done hiking the mountains, you’re going to need those energy levels back up. Start off with a mulled wine (or even a shot of vodka) and then tuck into some of the hearty meals on offer. Bigos is a traditional meat stew or you could start with a sour cream topped beetroot soup called borscht. Golabki, cabbage stuffed with meat and rice will help fill you up even more and if by some miracle you have room left, there is always pierogi. This melt in your mouth dumpling has all kinds of tasty fillings so it’s lucky you’re here for more than one meal! Finish it all off with something else local… highlander tea. It’s definitely not as granny as it sounds!
When walking around town, you’ll notice immediately the distinctive architecture with steep roofs, square log exteriors and ornate carvings. Poland’s distinctive mountain lore has often been romanticised more than any other and the Gorals from the highlands have influenced Zakopane with many of these traditions. If you’re fascinated too, check out the Tatra Museum to learn more about the culture and achievements of the Podhale people. Another sight to explore is the Peksowy Brzyzek cemetery. Before you get creeped out, I’ll explain why this visit is a must. Not only is it the resting place for many Polish notable figures, each site has stylised & carved markers of stone, wood and metal. There’s sculptures and effigies where twisted branches, rocks and nature all meet and intertwine, giving it a fairytale feeling.