In the third part of our trip to Poland in the summer 2012* we were having fine rest in Pieniny Mountains and in SPA Szczawnica.
Time of the stay: July 12-18, 2012.
Route of arrival: Kazimierz Dolny – Szczawnica (about 264 km).
Accommodation: Hotel Batory
Elegant hotel in the one hundred years old building, situated in a quiet place in Upper Park. Fortunately we got a room with beautiful views of the resort and the mountains. And in the lovely restaurant we spent many pleasant evenings.
This is an extremely picturesque mountain range, forming part of the Carpathians. The highest peak, Wysoka, measures 1050 m above sea level. The biggest attraction of this area is Dunajec rafting.
Szczawnica – view from the clearing Bereśnik
Another attraction is the Czorsztyn Lake – an artificial reservoir created by a dam on the Dunajec River, built in Niedzica village. Very picturesque elements of the landscape are created there by two castles in Niedzica and Czorsztyn.
Dunajec castle in Niedzica (left) and Czorsztyn castle (right)
Each visitor will find in Pieniny something satisfying him the best – hiking, biking, mountain climbing, boat trips, swimming or canoeing on the river Dunajec or… tasting local dishes.
Oscypek, a regional cheese from sheep milk
Highland folklore, especially the music and legends of the famous robbers, is another attraction of this part of Poland.
Folk band from Pieniny
Szczawnica lies in a valley stream Grajcarek, which is a right tributary of the Dunajec. The city is situated at an altitude of 430 to 510 m over the sea level.
It is one of the oldest health resorts in the Carpathians, mentioned already in the 14th century. Its curative waters and healthy air are the best treatment for respiratory and gastrointestinal tract.
Photo: Andrzej Harassek
The creator of the SPA was Hungarian family Szalay, who purchased these goods in 1828, and especially Joseph Szalay, who became the owner of the city in 1839. He however gave Szczawnica in 1876 to the Academy of Sciences in Cracow, which, in turn, sold it in 1909 to the Count Adam Stadnicki. After World War II SPA was nationalized and finally in 2005, in result of the lawsuit, felt into the hands of Count Stadnicki great-grandchildren, siblings Mańkowski. This is the first such re-privatization in Poland. Helen, Nicholas and Christopher Mańkowski own 25 facilities that they carefully renew. Thanks to them, somewhat neglected Szczawnica regains slowly its former glory.
In comparison to other mountain resorts this town is distinguished by a specific, wooden architecture, full of characteristic openwork ornaments.
Dietel Square – a characteristic architecture of Szczawnica
Weather was not perfect; it rained sometimes, so we gave up with a walk to Homole ravine or funicular to Palenica Mountain. But even in cloudy, rainy day you can take car trips around the area, going just like that, into the unknown. Hot broth of lamb in the highlander’s inn has a unique taste in this case!
Regional restaurant in Jaworki
Just in case we realized the most important point of our program – Rafting on the Dunajec River – right after arrival to Szczawnica, as weather was still nice at this moment.
The expedition takes place in so called Dunajec River Gorge – in the valley of the River Dunajec, grooved in the limestone rocks.
The height of those steep walls is 300-500 meters above the water. The river runs through deep corners here, sometimes it is impossible to predict which direction to sail on the raft. This is one of the most picturesque places of Poland and Slovakia (in some sections Dunajec forms the border between the two countries).
Dunajec River Gorge
On the Slovak side there is a pedestrian and bicycle trail along the river. It is also possible to sail by pontoon raft. The most convenient way (this is also the option for the lazy) is to go on canoes. Connected by five, they create a raft, most way pushed by two oarsmen, but partly carried only by the water stream. Leading oarsmen plays a role of a guide – explaining the places passing by and telling some legends.
The most popular view during the raft is overlooking the Three Crowns Mountain (which one can also climb).
Three Crowns Mountain – in autumn
The longer route runoff is about 18 km. Rafting starts at Sromowce Niżne, where to you can be brought by a special bus from Szczawnica (car can be left on a special parking lot). The road leads through a very scenic part of Pieniny National Park. The raft ends (long variant) in Szczawnica, near the parking lot. Everything is done well – no queue for tickets and boats are waiting…
Walking in Szczawnica
Much of the resort stretches along Główna Street and Joseph Szalay Street, which are full of the traffic roads, so noisy then. Despite this discomfort practically every house offers there some accommodation. It is also the shopping and dining center. So who is looking for true relaxation, should climb up the Zdrojowa Street (on the photo), a kind of a promenade which leads to more elegant and quieter part of the town. You can see there how excellent efforts are undertaken to restore the SPA. Zdrojowa Street ends with the Dietel Square, where in a pump room visitors can drink curative waters (we also tried one, of course!). There is also a museum, which presents the history of the resort.
The Dietel square, a pump room on the right
In this part you can also find a neat Upper Park, which main attraction is the large larch “Manor House” – a cultural center with a ballroom for 500 people and a theater hall (before WW II many Polish stars performed there). The original house was built in 1884, reflecting popularity of the resort. Unfortunately, in 1962 the building burned down, but the family Mańkowski rebuilt it, and from 2011 it again acts as a culture, a congress and a banquet centre.
The Manor House
On the surrounding hills you can see the old socialist holiday homes for workers. Some of them, modernized and equipped with various treatment rooms, are turned into exclusive hotels. But still Szczawnica is a blend of old and new, bad and good. The old are sometimes neglected and abandoned wooden houses, which may one day regain its past glory.
Pizzeria in highlander’s style
Who wants to listen to the live folk music, can go to a concert to “Halka” restaurant in the city center, where small folk band performs on the terrace every Sunday.
Niedzica and Czorsztyn
To the west of Szczawnica is Czorsztyn Lake, an artificial reservoir created by the dam on the Dunajec River in the vicinity of Niedzica village.
The Czorsztyn lake and the dam
Near the dam, on her left side, Dunajec medieval castle dominates the bay. The castle was built in the early 14th century by Hungarians. For centuries it served as the Hungarian watchtower. Although it changed owners several times (temporarily they were Poles), and since the end of World War I it was situated on the Polish territory, until 1945 Dunajec castle was in hands of another Hungarian family, named Salamon. It is now a museum and hotel. Museum is worth to see as rooms are equipped with authentic furniture and objects dating from the 16th to the 19th century. And it is believed that a ghost of White Lady occurs at night there!
Dunajec castle (Niedzica) – interior
On the opposite side of Lake Czorsztyn lie picturesque ruins of a Polish Gothic castle Czorsztyn. His crew was responsible for controlling over the Dunajec valley. Unfortunately the splendor of the castle, which once hosted few kings, did not survived. It is compensated by a beautiful view of the countryside, including a view on the Dunajec castle. The village Czorsztyn doesn’t exist anymore as was covered by the water of the Czorsztyn Lake. (Those interested can tour the dam.) A practical note for visitors: drive directly to the castle ticket office, because in the ticket price there is also a fee for parking which is located nearby!
Photo: Czorsztyn castle.
Szlachtowa and Jaworki
During our sightseeing tours we visited two neighboring villages Jaworki and Szlachtowa, formerly inhabited by the Lemko population. Lemkos are East Slavic, Ruthenian ethnic group living in the historic region of Galicia, Transcarpathia and the northern part of Slovakia. In 1947, during an Operation “Wisła” (which was directed against the Ukrainian nationalist organizations) Lemkos were forcibly relocated to the so called Recovered Territories (western Polish regions, awarded to Poland after World War II as compensation for the lost eastern territories). They were replaced by people of Podhale and Spisz.
Old Lemko’s house
Lemkos’ presence is reminded by Orthodox Churches, converted now to Roman Catholic churches. We know however Jaworki and Szlachtowa villages mainly from their surroundings and regional inns, “dzlchtowa” and Bacówka “Jaworki”, which both serve delicious regional cuisine. In Jaworki we liked so much the broth of lamb and lamb meat, that we came back there again.
Restaurant Bacówka Jaworki
During the touring the area we had the opportunity to see how much life has changed there. Poor small houses are replaced now by opulent villas, and having a mansion here shows the wealth of its owner. In Jaworki we also encounter the odd music club Music Barn, where rock, blues, jazz and country concerts are held, and well-known Polish and foreign artists agree to perform there, in such a small village!
As the winter capital of Poland is not far away from Szczawnica, only 41 km in a straight line, we decided to see a piece of the Tatry Mountains from Krupowki street, the famous promenade in Zakopane.
A closer contact with the Tatry Mountains we left for those endowed with a better physical condition. We had luck in a bad luck – in the way we got the rain that was falling down up to the moment when we arrived to Zakopane (and because of the Tour de Pologne we drove nearly 2.5 hours). The break in the rain lasted until… we get into the car to go back. Long enough to drink two coffees outside restaurants and walk on a rather crowded promenade. And as at times the sun was shining, we could clearly see the rocky Giewont. (See also: Following chamois).
And this ended the program of our stay in a lovely Pieniny area, which, despite the variable weather, can be considered very successful. Reasons for this was not only the attractiveness of this part of Poland, but also the hospitality of the owners of the Batory hotel and nice service in its restaurant, where we used to end days with drinking something stronger and relax on the terrace while listening to a fine and subtle music.
Picture painted on glass – robbers and highlanders
Photo: Renata Głuszek, Jarosław Dobkiewicz, Wikimedia Commons
Pieniny kaarten: www.szczawnica.na-pulpit.pl
*Whole route (2-26 July): Rzepin (2-3) – Warsaw (4-9) – Kazimierz Dolny (9-12) – Szczawnica (12-18) – Kraków (18-19) – Tarnowskie Góry (19-22) – Paczków (22/23) – Jelenia Góra (23-26)