Liz Coggins discovers Poland’s winter wonderland – Zakopane

Liz Coggins discovers Poland’s winter wonderland – Zakopane

Imagine an uninterrupted landscape of frosted pine forests , chocolate box timbered houses, horse drawn sleighs and majestic snow covered mountains – imagine Zakopane Poland’s fairytale winter wonderland

Known as the ‘winter capital of Poland’ and set amidst the grandeur of the Tetra Mountains, Zakopane has been an attraction for poles since the 1870’s when the purity of the mountain air attracted the attention of doctors. Within a few years this incredible mountain village was transformed becoming the haunt of Krakow’s artists, composers and poets who behaved outrageously, giving it an air of decadence, but leaving a legacy of art, architecture and culture.

After the two wars tourism took over and it became Poland’s most famous ski-resort boasting one of Europe’s earliest ski jumps naturally constructed using the slope of a hill; whilst the mountain region around Zakopane was designated as the country’s first national park.

But Zakopane is not just winter sports, walking and hiking. It’s the perfect place to enjoy mountain scenery and get a taste of the art and culture of the highlands of Poland whilst indulging in a spa treatment or two along the way. It’s also the ideal place for a two centre holiday combining it with the gothic and historical delights of Krakow.

It’s easy to reach Zakopane – a two hour flight will get you to Katowice or Krakow. My coach journey from Katowice to Zakopane is to be recommended. It took the scenic route passing through incrediblely beautiful villages and countryside that looked as if it should have been on a Christmas card. Although it was early in the year, the sun streamed down and glistened on the white snow so much so I was glad I had brought my sunglasses!

The first thing that will hit you when you finally arrive in Zakopane is its architecture. It has its own style that was designed by Stanislaw Witkiewicz in the late 18th century. The leafy, tree lined streets have wooden buildings made from logs with steep pointed roofs and attic windows. Adorned with intricate carvings the three and four storey balconied houses have a unique and incredible presence making the Swiss chalet look quite mundane!

Zakopane has only one main street – Krupowski Street -but it’s a street full of character with its sleighs lined up to take tourists on a tour of the town and beyond.

But in summer, during the international theatre festivals, the street becomes a stage to some incredible productions and street theatre from all over Poland. At the bottom of the street is the market where you can buy just about anything from wooden crafts, dolls and toys to leather goods and clothing and a huge selection of food including the local smoked ewe’s cheese, oscypek.

A visit to the Tatra Museum in town is well worth it. Here you can see local folk culture at its best re-created through a peasant’s house and there’s some stunning embroidered folk costumes to be seen. .

Zakopane has some wonderful historical churches. Their interiors have highland wooden décor with hand carved altars and pews. The Chapel of the Sacred Heart of Jesus is a must to visit. Its beautiful exterior built in Zakopane style, has a triple layer roof and geometric ornate windows. St.Clements Church is the oldest church in Zakopane and has a great history and a cemetery full of local famous people.

In mid-August Zakopane plays host to the International Festival of Mountain Folklore. This week long event attracts groups from highland regions around the world, as well as top local acts and all the concerts are free and you can even learn to folk dance at the festival .

Zakopane has accommodation to suit all budgets but one of the finest is The Hotel Belvedere, set on the edge of the Tatra National Park. The hotel is set on many levels and from my room I had an uninterrupted view of the snowy capped mountain and pine forest as if they were my very own.

The hotel has a luxurious spa , great if you want some “me time”, relaxing and being pampered. The beauty salon offers a range of treatments – but better book well in advance as its is a favourite with the locals. The indoor pool area has a water slide, a roman bath, Jacuzzi, infra-red sauna and both Finnish and Turkish saunas.

On the top floor, overlooking the mountain is The Angel Bar, its décor resembling a highlanders house, with its own terrace, where in summer you can sunbathe and sip highlander tea – that’s tea with vodka of course!

Breakfast at The Belvedere is one of the finest I have ever known. With fruits, breads, cereals, pancakes, sausages, salads, pickles plus every kind of egg and meat, its a veritable feast. When you are in Poland you are never very far away from a tray of cakes and I loved the Polish

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