Footloose in Poland

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Some may think our suggestion of Poland for a holiday a little unusual, but the country has a wealth of hidden treasures. It is made easily-accessible by low cost airlines, accomodation and real value for money trains and buses. The resort of ZAKOPANE is a hidden gem in the Tatra Mountains. 
Travelling north for a city break in Krakow, you can witness some wonderful architecture and interesting changes since the fall of Communism. 

- See travel and trail information links at the bottom of the page -

  Highlights and places to visit:   

ZAKOPANE- A rustic ski resort has its doors open all year round. Distinctive wooden houses, chapels and hotels; Tatra mountain museums, superb mountain walks and cable cars; a striking graveyard for famous Polish artists and atmospheric restaurants with folk music

The Cloth hall and Market Square, Old town streets, Wawel Castle, St Florian's Gate and Bastion, Kazimierz (the Jewish quarter), Botanical gardens, CrazyGuides communist tour of Nowa Huta. 
Side trips to
Wieliczka Salt Mine or Auschwitz.

Home Page      Footloose in Poland  
              ~ 2 films on one DVD    

You can explore the ridges and valleys of the beautiful Tatra Mountain National Park, whilst making a base in this delightful town at the very south of the country. Even during our visit in September, this top mountain resort was still quite busy. This area is renown for folklore and tradition, yet almost undiscovered outside Poland. The summer months are heavily booked, and winter skiing extremely popular, especially for the Polish. The bus from Krakow rail station takes about 2 hours.

The mountain town of Zakopane has a rich history, and became a magnet for health, culture and tourism over 150 years ago. During communist times, working people saw a chance to stay there as a real privilege. In the town on a Saturday, you might be lucky enough to see a traditional Highlander wedding. Things to do: visit the Tatra Museum and historic wooden villa; listen to folk music in a rustic restaurant; visit the intriguing historic graveyard and take any of the popular hiking trails in the Tatra National Park region ~ We have chosen three easy trails, but there are many much harder ones! Because of the difficulty of reading Polish for most of us (there is little in the way of translation on the paths), you could embark on a trail that doesn't suit your level of fitness. 

The first is a circular walk along the Gubalowka ridge (5Km). You can take the funicular at the bottom of the town to the top and then make a very pleasant walk with magnificent views of the Tatra mountains. The atmosphere at the top is like a seaside resort, full of rustic food stands and gift stalls... but quite different to our own! You will be looking over the ski-slopes and chairlifts for about 2Km. Then it's a 2Km descent through woods (or chairlift!) past farms and a large skiing hotel (Mercure) back to an historic street which leads into Zakopane (1Km), full of fine wooden houses. 

Our second suggested walk is linear (4Km), along the floor of the steep-sided Strazyska Valley ending at a spectacular waterfall... The freshness of the mountain stream through the forest, wild flowers and weird rock formations make an exilarating half-day's trail. Towards the end there is a lovely rustic hut serving basic meals and beer. You return the way you came. The trail is reached by walking out of town, or by taking a minibus from opposite the railway station. Many of the walks are connected by what look like builders vans, but seem to be run on timetables to get you to and from central Zakopane. 
The third trail in our DVD, along the beautiful Koscieliska Valley, (9Km) was taken when we returned in mid-winter, with crisp snow and blue skies. Equally it is a delightful and very popular linear walk in the summer months. You set out along the near-level valley with spectacular views of the Tatra mountains. There are also various caves open en route in summer. At the end is a well stocked refreshment hostel, which lies at the gateway to a number of more energetic trails in the mountains. The best part is you can return part of the way by traditional horse and cart, or like we did in winter, a lovely horse-drawn sleigh. It is one of the best tourist trails in the region, the other is Morskie Oko which sadly we didn't have time for. 

Visit Debra's Zakopane Diary


Walk with us in Zakopane & Krakow on this DVD extract  ~ press the 4-arrows button if you want full screen playback

Part two ~ KRAKOW   THE DETAILS...
From Zakopane you take the bus back (or in our case an entertaining but slow train ride) 120Km north to the picturesque university city and former Royal Seat of Poland. Krakow's city centre is quite compact and our suggested trail is not a long one, but it is extended by a river walk, to make around 10Km. There is a certain familiarity about this University city, perhaps from the sheer number of Polish people you meet serving in bars and restaurants in the UK! 
Our suggested city trail begins in the University Botanical Gardens, and then it's a stroll down the elegant Kopernica with its many churches. It's not long before you reach the ring road around the Old Town.  Originally a  medieval walled city it has many hidden treasures in its streets. The wall was demolished over a century ago when defence was no longer needed. However, there still remains a majestic round bastion (barbican)at the Florianska Gate.


Next you take a stroll down Florianska, the Royal route, across the gigantic market square (Rynek Glowny) with its original Cloth Hall, and listen to the lone trumpeter's sombre notes from the Basilica tower. The medieval old town is based on a grid pattern so you can explore the university and the back streets without fear of getting lost. There are many interesting underground bars and restaurants here too. Continuing on down Grodska (following the Royal route) you arrive at Wawel Castle, once the Royal seat of Poland, later occupied by the Austrians.


Leaving the old town, next on the trail is the renowned Jewish quarter of Kazimierz, steeped in tragic history. It is here where some of Krakow's best restaurants are to be found. To enhance the Jewish visit, you can take a detour over the the river to visit Oskar Schindler's factory (as featured in Spielberg's film "Schindler's List"). Leaving the district via the "Church on the Rock", we suggest first a riverbank walk then up through parkland to finish at an the Kościuszko Mound, an unusual historical earthworks giving superb views (what else do you get at the end of our walks?) of Krakow.  A bus will take you back to the city centre. 

For an extremely entertaining side trip, you can travel back 30 years in a Trabant time-machine to the planned communist town of Nowa Huta. It's run by CrazyGuides and includes a visit to see the steel manufacturing town that was a "gift" from Lenin to the Polish people (see film above). Not perhaps your regular tourist choice but very, very educational and a lot of fun. On our visit, the host was Crazy Qba who gave us an extended tour of the area and a real taste of life under the former communist government. We visit Central Square, the Stylowa restaurant, the steelworks and a low-rise appartment - a time capsule filled with surprising communist memorabilia.

Visit Debra's Krakow Diary

NB:   A certain amount of the second film, Krakow, has been shown in our Footloose in Budapest, Prague & Krakow DVD, but this DVD has been extended including a full-length, and definitely full-on, "CrazyGuides" Trabant communist tour! ...The 40-minute Zakopane film is all new.
Take a crazy communist Trabant ride with us on this DVD extract - press the 4-arrows button if you want full screen playback
  Feature pages:  
Austrian Tyrol
East European Cities
Scottish Highlands
Classic Tour Scotland
London II Unusual
Keukenhof Gardens
Italian Lakes
Italy III Campania
Italy IV TuscanyRome
Italy V South&Sicily
England Lake District
Oxford & York
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Reaching Zakopane is relatively easy. From Krakow airport take the shuttle train to the city's main railway station, then walk round to the  adjoining bus station to take the bus, which takes around two hours (120Km). You might need a small taxi ride from Zakopane bus station to your accomodation. If you haven't booked a room, there are usually a number of opportunities on offer by friendly B&B owners with cardboard notices at the town's railway station! (Can't vouch for this, but we are sure they are clean & comfortable, and they won't charge an arm and a leg).
Many of the walking trails are inside the Tatra National Park boundary, and there is a small charge for a ticket to enter. They will sell you a decent map and guide book (in English) at their kiosks.
A cable car ride to the summit of Kasprowy Wierch should now be open (it was being restored when we were filming).
Food is rustic and hearty, often served on wooden platters, and good value for money... there is one MacDonalds if you really want!
  Our 3 trails in Zakopane plotted on GoogleMaps

Climate ~ Krakow
  Map of our trail through Krakow plotted on GoogleMaps

There is a modern shuttle train from Krakow Airport to the central (Glowny) railway station, but weirdly the platform is an annoying 300m from the airport concourse. If you have enough patience to use the free shuttle bus, then do... but if your suitcase has wheels, then just leg it! You can pay on the train.
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