From the moment we stepped off the bus from Krakow, everything about Zakopane, a small town in the south of Poland, was like a fairytale.
Nestled in the Tatra Mountains close to the border of Slovakia, Zakopane is a destination popular for its snow-covered peaks during the skiing season and its green rolling hills for hiking in the summer. I was hoping that in April the ground would be clear of snow so we could do some of the great hikes and see the fantastic views and lakes the area had to offer but we were met with snow that had fallen almost as deep as my waist and more still was falling from the sky!
We were staying in a little B&B a short walk out of town on a quiet road and it looked picture perfect. A traditional mountain villa with pretty wooden features, and we even had the bonus of a Jacuzzi and sauna which was blissful to warm ourselves up in after a day out in the cold. I had asked for a room with a view but was disappointed when all we could see from our balcony was the white fog. But on our second day, when the fog cleared and the sun came out, I could not take my eyes off the view. A small mountain villa sat in front of us surrounded by snow-covered trees with the picturesque mountains and blue sky as a backdrop. Despite being freezing I didn’t leave that balcony for ages!
Krupówki is the main street in Zakopane and this is where we spent a lot of our time walking up and down looking at all the cafes, restaurants, bars and shops. There are so many places to choose from to eat so, of course, we stuffed our faces with all sorts of cakes and pastries and tried all the traditional Polish food including Oscypek, a grilled delicacy in this region made from sheep’s milk. A lot of the restaurants are closed and so the street is very quiet during the day but it comes alive at night with folk bands, singing and dancing and you can eat your hot stew sitting next to an open fire listening to the Polish band. I couldn’t think of a better way to spend an evening in the Polish mountains!
At one end of Krupówki we came across a pretty spot where a little bridge climbed over a waterfall and rock formation and a row of horse and carriages and sledges were lined up waiting to take people on a ride around town. It was so pretty it reminded me of something out of a Disney film.
At the other end of Krupówki is Mt Gubałówka which you can take the funicular up and look out at the fantastic views over the town and the other mountains. There’s quite a lot going on at the top including places to eat, market stalls selling Polish trinkets, souvenirs and much needed warm clothing as well as a ski slope for beginners. Alex attempted skiing for the first time and although I couldn’t feel my fingers and toes from the cold, I had too much fun seeing him falling over to go inside! There’s also an advanced slope at the other end of the mountain and when we saw loads of little children skiing down the advanced slopes by themselves it didn’t make him feel any better about his beginner’s attempt! We decided to take the easy route down and used the ski lift which gave us some wonderful views as well as watching all the skiers whizzing past underneath us.
In the cold and snow Gubałówka is an ideal mountain to visit, as we had taken the cable car up to the top of Mt Kasprowy Wierch, a popular mountain for skiers, but it was so high up that all we could see was white everywhere. I could only see things that were less than a couple of meters in front of me. At one point I wandered off too far (as I have a tendency to do) and couldn’t see anything at all – just white snow and white fog – and it felt like I was completely alone on the top of the world. I was too scared I would fall off the mountain down the ski slope though so I carefully made my way back to the safety of my husband’s arms and the mill of other people!
Despite the peaks of the mountains being covered in fog and the lakes all frozen over, which somewhat limited our chances of hiking, it was still such a pretty little town and one that I would urge people to visit at any time of year. It’s a very traditional Polish town – the majority of the food is Polish (although you won’t have a problem finding pizza if you wanted!) and most of the locals don’t know much English, but this just added to the charm of the place. I would love to go back during the summer when the sun is shining and the mountains are green but, covered in snow, the small town of Zakopane definitely feels like it came straight out the pages of a fairytale.