Gorce and Island Beskids
Gorce and Island Beskids
Małopolska region is famous for its lush, green forests and vast mountain ranges. You will find here breath-taking views of the picturesque peaks, glades and valleys. You certainly won't regret choosing Gorce and Island Beskids as the destination of your trip. The first of them is a mountain range, the highest point of which is the famous Turbacz (1310 metres asl). In the central part of the range there is the Gorce National Park where such animals as wolf, lynx and many species of birds, including black stork, capercaillie and three-toed woodpecker, are living. In Gorce and the adjacent part of the island Beskids there are areas protected under the European Ecological Network Natura 2000: Special Protection Area for Birds “Gorce” and Special Protection Area for Habitats “Ostoja Gorczańska”.
When you are in the region, it is worth going for a walk in the Island Beskids, within which there are many popular peaks, such as Mogielica (1,170 metres asl), Ćwilin (1,072 metres asl), Luboń Wielki (1,022 metres asl) or Śnieżnica (1,006 metres asl). Slightly less popular among tourists, but equally beautiful are: Jasień, Modyń and Krzystonów. These peaks are separated from each other by river valleys and passes, which creates a kind of “archipelago” and explains by the way the genesis of the name “Island Beskids”.
The Ochotnica valley is one of the longest in Poland. It is surrounded on all sides by the Gorce ranges: from the north by Gorzec, from the south by Lubań, and at the entrance to the valley you can see the beautiful meandering Dunajec river separating Gorce from Beskid Sądecki. The whole valley is guarded by 4 lookout towers located on the highest peaks in the area: Koziarz (943 metres asl), Gorce (1,228 metres asl), Magurki (1,108 metres asl) and Lubań (1,211 metres asl), and between the towers, there are over 130 km of bicycle, cross-country and skitour routes marked out as part of the project “Enclave of active leisure in the heart of Gorce”.
Places you will never forget
It is worth going on a trip to Gorce and Island Beskids with a previously developed plan, even the most general one. We suggest starting the hike from the Gorce National Park, where you will find a number of nature paths surrounded by beautiful trees; spruces, beeches and firs – many of which are even 100 years old! Although the natural richness of the GNP must be seen with one's own eyes, we also recommend to take a look at the exhibitions of the Educational Centre of the Gorce National Park in Poręba Wielka.
Of course, nothing can replace visiting real peaks and glades, which is why we encourage you to get to Bukowina Waksmundzka and Turbacz – two Gorce peaks offering picturesque views of the Tatra Mountains, the Nowotarska Basin, Pieniny and Lake Czorsztyn. Mountain panoramas can also be admired from observation towers, which are numerous in the area. One of them is located about 3 km north of Rabka, on the Królewska Góra peak. It is a wooden building over 25 m high, from which there are beautiful views of the Gorce, Island Beskids, Babia Góra and the Tatra Mountains. On the peaks of Gorce, namely Lubań, Magurek and Koziarz there are 30-metre lookout towers, which architecturally refer to wooden Gothic churches from the region.
Gorce and Island Beskids are separated from other ranges by two rivers: Raba and Dunajec. However, these two are not the only picturesque rivers in the area – Kamienica Gorczańska and the Spad falls prove that very well. Mogielica Reserve is located on the top the highest peak in the Island Beskids – Mogielica and has a lookout tower. In addition, there are 3 other nature reserves in the area: Kostrza, Śnieżnica and Luboń Wielki. They are all located on the slopes of the mountains with the same names. Luboń Wielki (1,022 metres asl) is one of the most characteristic mountains of the Island Beskids. On its south-eastern slopes you can find the inanimate nature reserve “Luboń Wielki”. It was established in 1970 and covers an area of 12 ha. You can find there – the largest in Island Beskids and one of the most beautiful in the whole Carpathians – flysch landslide with stone runs. The area is covered with rock forms of original shapes. They form rock perches and humps, several meters high, called Dziurawe Turnie. Moving along the trail leading to Mogielica or Krzystonów it is impossible not to cross the Stumorgowa Glade, from which we will see not only the surrounding peaks of the Island Beskids, but also the range of Gorce, Beskid Sądecki, Pieniny, and even the Tatra Mountains and the peak of Babia Góra. What more could you want?
If you haven't been to Gorce and the Island Beskids yet, you'll be pleasantly surprised after the first trip. Past centuries are the background of many Gorce and Beskid legends. One of the more interesting is the one that explains the origin of the formation of a huge boulder, known as the Devil's Stone, near Szczyrzyc. This famous monument of inanimate nature supposedly owes its existence to the devil himself. According to the legend, an evil demon, wanting to demolish the Cistercian abbey in Szczyrzyc, unexpectedly dropped a boulder not far from the target. Apparently, the devil was disturbed by the sound of the monastery bell. It is worth noting that on the eastern side of the Devil's Stone, there is a hermitage dedicated to Saint Benedict, today visited by pilgrims and travellers. In the vicinity of both these sites, you can admire the chapel of St Benedict as well.
On the east, the Island Beskids end with the Łososiński Range. It is a mountain ridge that stretches between Limanowa and Lake Rożnów. You can find here unusual landscapes with glacial glades and the most beautiful beech forests in the entire Island Beskids. The highest peak of the Łososiński Range is Jaworz (918 metres asl), on the slopes of which partisan units used to have their base during World War II.
The always vital tradition
For those who want to combine active leisure with a solid dose of knowledge, we recommend thematic routes – the Wooden Architecture Route and the Cistercian Trail. Both of these routes are primarily sacral in nature. The Cistercian Trail connects objects related to the Cistercian order. Many of them, including the Abbey of Cistercians in Szczyrzyc, dates back to the Middle Ages. Interestingly, the sanctuary founded in the 13th century is also the only continuously existing Cistercian monastery in Poland. When visiting the church, it is also worth taking a look at the monastery museum, in which we will see, among others a collection of coins, weapons, minerals, and even a unique collection of Szczyrzyc beer labels. The Papal Trails are also an interesting proposition – they were designed to commemorate the Holy Father John Paul II and his love for Polish mountains. The symbolic opening and dedication of the Papal Trails in the Polish mountains took part on 26 May 2003 in Rabka Zdrój. On that day, a monument of John Paul II the Tourist was unveiled in Park Zdrojowy. It opens the 200-km Papal Trail in the Island Beskids and Gorce. It is also worth mentioning the Wallachian Culture Trail – a cross-border trail dedicated to natural and cultural heritage associated with pastoral traditions in the Carpathian Mountains. The trail leads through beautiful landscapes, high mountain glades, and its creation was launched by Ochotnica, where Wallachian traditions are still very visible. You can go on a hike from Ochotnica Górna, through the Jamne stream, to the shepherd's hut Bacówka “u Bucka”, where you can buy traditional cheeses and take a closer look at the traditional sheep grazing, then go through Magurki and finish the hike in at Ustrzyk.
In Gorce and Island Beskids many folk traditions are still being cultivated, such as dziady śmiguśne in Dobra, which commemorate the 13th-century Tartar invasion. The inhabitants of Dobra gave shelter to prisoners who escaped from Tartar captivity after the invasion on the Cistercian monastery in Szczyrzyc. People, looking for shelter from the cold, were covering themselves with straw sheaves. To commemorate these events, on Easter Monday young boys make such costumes on their own. This tradition passes from generation to generation.
Culinary traditions are also cultivated in the region. Łącko boasts a cuisine rich in unique flavours. This is where the Festival of Blossoming Apple Trees and the Fruit Harvest Festival take place. This inconspicuous town in the south of the Małopolska region is famous for fruit-growing: according to historical sources, cultivation of fruits was already known here in the 12th century. Local fruit growers and farmers to this day proudly present Łącko apples, which are exceptionally browned and juicy. In addition, during the Fruit Harvest Festival, the Śliwowica Łącka liquor is presented to the world. This strong alcohol is not the only one known in the area - another one we should also mention is Żytko (or Żytniówka). Rye, spirit yeast, and clean, non-chlorinated water from local intakes are used to produce Żytko. When talking about alcohol, it is also worth mentioning the beer form Szczyrzyc, known already in the first half of the 17th century.
Among the dishes of the Beskid Wyspowy, the most famous is sauerkraut soup with mushrooms, which is still one of the main dishes served during Christmas Eve dinner. Noteworthy regional cuisine products also include: bread from Męcina, dried and smoked plum (called suska sechlońska), Małopolska honeydew honey, pancakes fried on metal plate on and kalach from Jodłowice.
The Gorce culinary traditions have their own publication - materials from the book “Former cuisine of Gorce highlanders” have been made available at www.gorczanskiesmaki.pl. You will find there mainly vegetarian dishes such as: pancakes fried on metal plate, Juha soup, plum soup, stuffed cabbage with groat and mushrooms and swedes from ashtray. When in Ochotnica Górna, look for shepherd's hut Bacówka u Bucka, where a wide range of cheeses are still produced using traditional shepherds' methods and where you will learn the differences between bundz, bryndza, gołka and oscypek.
There is no doubt that regular trips to Gorce and Island Beskids will improve not only well-being, physical condition, but also health. Especially that one of the important sites in the region are the Mineral Water Pump Room in Szczawa and the Rabka-Zdrój health resort located in the valley of Raba and Słonka. Rabka mineral waters deserve special attention, as they are of great importance in bathing, drinking and inhalation treatments. What's more, Rabka brine was used already in the Middle Ages. Several hundred years later, in the 19th century, tuberculosis, once one of the most dangerous diseases in the world, was treated in the town. It was then, in 1857, at the initiative of Józef Dietl, that a chemical test of Rabka waters was carried out. The result of the expertise confirmed their healing qualities, and Rabka was recognised as a health resort. The uniqueness of Rabka mineral waters was proved also in the interwar period. In this inconspicuous mountain town, children suffering from respiratory diseases, allergies and diabetes were successfully treated. In the 1920s, new sanatorium facilities were built in Rabka, and the surrounding landscape was taken under protection. In 2009, a brine graduation tower was also built here. Due to the huge successes that were achieved in the area of activities dedicated to the health of children and adolescents, in 1996 the city was honoured with the title of the “Town of Children of the World”, awarded jointly by the Chapter of the Order of the Smile, UNESCO and the voivode of the Nowy Sącz poviat. It is worth going to Rabka-Zdrój at any time of the year, but especially in summer and spring. It is then that a number of events take place here, including: Rabka Brine Festival, Rabka International Festival of Children's Literature, Children's and Youth Integrative Spartakiada, Carpathian Children's Festival of Regional Groups, Holiday Festival of Fairy Tales and the Salt Trail Cup cycling event.
Also worth visiting is the “Rabcio” Puppet Theatre, which dates back to 1949, when there was a need to support somehow children suffering from tuberculosis. Young patients staying in sanatoriums at the time had the opportunity to watch the first performance in the history of the theatre: “Rabcio Zdrowotek”.
The youngest will love Rabkoland – an amusement park known all over Poland offering over 30 attractions that children can use alone or with their parents. We will find there carousels, theatres for children and many other attractions. Enthusiasts of crazier entertainment will certainly be interested in the Limanowa International Mountain Race – Przełęcz pod Ostrą, which is actually a bolide competition.
If the region of Gorce and island Beskids still remains a mystery to you, come to this area in the summer. From the beginning of May to the end of September, the Forum of Communes of Island Beskids organises a festival called DISCOVER ISLAND BESKIDS. Its programme consists of, among others, climbing the peaks, having fun at Galician Railway Picnic in Dobra and joint cleaning of the Island Beskids. For fans of concerts, we recommend visiting the Free Republic of Ochotnica Festival, Ocho! Festival in Ochotnica Dolna, as well as the Dunajec Festival in Tylmanowa.
Gorce and Island Beskids are hospitable regions, rich in traditions, beautiful landscapes and a wide range of attractions for all types of tourists. It is impossible to describe them all, so we recommend visiting the region and experiencing them personally.
We usually pass them, when driving along the “zakopianka” road on the Kraków-Myślenice section, the A4 motorway or – a little slower – the “sądeczanka” road on the Brzesko – Nowy Sącz section. The Wieliczka, Wiśnicz, Rożnów and Ciężkowice Foothills are quite wrongly overlooked, and yet they hide many secrets. They are very diverse from the topographical and cultural point of view, they offer many tourist, historical and ethnographic attractions. They offer interesting attractions for all visitors, regardless of preferences. We invite you to a journey through this vast area of the Małpolska region that will delight everyone!
Lake Czchów was created as a result of damming the waters of Dunajec river on the dam in Czchów. Increasing the level of the river has changed the character of the region, but at the same time has stopped destructive floods. A few kilometres further south there is another artificial reservoir, namely Lake Rożnów. The proximity of Nowy Sącz makes it a popular place among tourists. Accommodation facilities await guests in Tęgoborze, Znamirowice, Gródek nad Dunajcem and Rożnów, you can also rent some floating equipment at the yacht marina in Znamirowice.
Another site to check is Lake Dobczyce on the border of the Wieliczka and Wiśnicz Foothills. This water reservoir was created due to the accumulation of the Raba waters and, as in the case of Lake Czchów and Lek Rożnów, its establishment solved in the area the problem of flooding. Not everyone knows about it, but water from Lake Dobczyce is a drinking water reservoir for Krakow.
But lakes are only a natural introduction to the green attractions of this region. We invite you to Jamna, a mountain with a height of 530 metres asl, and more precisely: to the Chatka Włóczykija hostel. The place offers wonderful views of the Foothills, and in good weather you can also see the Tatra Mountains. It is close to the Devil Rock reserve in Bukowiec, which was established to protect the outcrops of the Ciężkowice sandstone. According to legend, the rock was brought from Hungary by the devil himself. The site is a bit smaller than Stone City in Ciężkowice, but equally interesting.
The Stone City Reserve is the biggest natural attraction of the Ciężkowice-Rożnów Landscape Park. Rock outcrops built of heavy sandstone, scattered over a length of 700 m, starting with “Witch” and “Town Hall” rocks to the highest situated “Skałka” (367 metres asl) are under protection. The most famous outcrop is the “Witch” visible from the provincial road 977. Indeed, when we look closely, we will see in it the outline of a human face. They say it is a witch that was turned into rock because she insulted the priest who was going to see a sick person. Since we are already in the Stone City, it is impossible to ignore the Ciężkowice Waterfall. To reach it, you have to go along the Witches Gorge. Its name comes from the legend according to which witches used to celebrated here Sabbaths with devils.
20 km south of Ciężkowice you will find the Beskid Morskie Oko. Located on the slope of Maślana Góra (753 metres asl), it is a landslide lake that was created in 1784. It lies very close from Jelenia Góra (684 metres asl), where there is a reserve protecting mountain sycamore, Carpathian beech and fir.
Let's stay in Ciężkowice Foothills and go to the Brzanka Range Landscape Park, famous for habitats of European beaver, otter, crested newt, Carpathian newt and yellow-bellied toad. The highest peak of the park is Brzanka (536 metres asl) and it is worth climbing there, because on the top of it there is a viewing platform from which you can perfectly see the whole area of Foothills and, in good weather, the Tatra Mountains as well.
The reserve located in the Styr mountain massif was created to preserve the natural forest communities typical of the Carpathian Foothills. The Cisy w Mogilnie reserve on the northern slopes of Jodłowa Góra (715 metres asl) is located near Nowy Sącz. On the area of 56 ha, common yew (cis in Polish, hence the name of the reserve) is protected here. Interestingly, it was this tree species that was protected as the first one in Poland, and it happened during the reign of King Władysław Jagiełło.
Let's now move to the Wiśnicz Foothills to see the Wiśnicz-Lipnica Landscape Park. The “must see” list includes rock outcrops known as Brodziński Stones, the wooden church of St Leonardo inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List, the Kamień-Grzyb Nature Reserve and the Bukowiec Reserve.
From the Wiśnicz Foothills we shall go to the Wieliczka Foothills, and more precisely: to the Mogilany region. We come here to see the Kozie Kąty nature reserve, which protects a mixed stand with fir and the Cieszynianka floristic reserve protecting the island position of Hacquetia epipactis.
For centuries religions were functioning side by side, intertwining throughout the entire Małopolska region, so it's no wonder that the Foothills abound in many magnificent sacred buildings, of both the Christian and Jewish origins. The vast majority of wooden buildings are included on the Wooden Architecture Route.
We encourage you to visit the complex of the parish church of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Czchów. The building was erected in 1346 in the Gothic style. It is the oldest and best-preserved monument of religious architecture of the Brzesko region.
There is a Romanesque church in Tropie nad Dunajcem, one of the oldest in this part of Poland. According to tradition, it was built in the place where the hermitage of St Andrew Zorard, a Benedictine monk, was living at the turn of the 10th and 11th centuries. Only the walls of the chancel survived from the original building. Another Romanesque church can be found in Dziekanowice. According to historians, it could have been built at the turn of the 11th and 12th centuries.
In Iwkowa there is a cemetery church of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary dated on the second half of the 15th century. We also recommend a visit to the parish church of St Nicholas the Bishop in Tymowa, founded in the 14th century. Both objects lie on the Wooden Architecture Route.
Other nearby temples that are included on the Route are: auxiliary church of St John the Baptist in Rzepiennik Biskupi from the early 16th century, the parish church of St Bartholomew in Jastrzębia, the parish church of Our Lady of the Rosary in Przydonica, the parish church of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross in Podole-Górowa, the church of St Peter and Paul the Apostles in Rożnów, the church of All Saints in Bobowa.
The interiors of the following temples are equally interesting: the church of St Margaret in Żurowa, the church of St Michael the Archangel in Jodłówka Tuchowska, the church of St Justina in Paleśnica, the church of St Stanislaus in Wilczyska, the church of St Catherine in Ryglice, which was built on the site of a 17th-century wooden temple or, finally, the monastery complex of the Franciscans in Zakliczyn.
Separate attention should also be paid to the monastery complex of the Franciscans in Wieliczka with a picture of Our Lady of Grace, the Duchess Wieliczka, auxiliary church of St Adalbert in Szymbark, which according to tradition stands in the place where St Adalbert celebrated a mass on his way from Hungary to Poland. Be sure no to miss the UNESCO World Heritage Site: the church of St Michael the Archangel in Binarowa and the church of St Leonard in Lipnica Murowana.
We have two important churches in Nowy Wiśnicz. The first is one is a complex of the parish church of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, where in the presbytery you can admire a painting “Resurrection of Lazarus” by Jan Matejko. In turn, the Carmelite monastery complex in Nowy Wiśnicz is located in... the prison. You can enter there only once a year, during the Weekend with Monuments of the Bochnia Poviat, organized every year on the first Saturday and Sunday of September.
When visiting sacred buildings in the Małopolska region you cannot miss the collegiate basilica of St Nicholas in Bochnia. This largest and oldest church in the town was built in the 15th century. Next to the church there is a free-standing wooden belfry of the pillar structure from the early 17th century, which was entered into the Wooden Architecture Route.
There are many sacred testimonies of Jewish culture in the area as well. In Bobowa, it is worth seeing the synagogue and the Jewish cemetery – both places associated with the Hasidic centre founded at the end of the 19th century by Rabbi Szlomo Halberstam. In the synagogue, services are held during Hasidim pilgrimages to the tombs of Bobowa tzadikim.
Małopolska region was the place of many fights during World War I. The most important battle and the breaking of the eastern front took place near Gorlice, where Russian troops were defeated by the German and Austro-Hungarian troops and forced to retreat. Many soldiers were killed in the fighting on the front, hence in the area there are many cemeteries where they were buried. One of them is the object number 123 Łużna on the Pustki hill, located on the World War I Eastern Front Trail. It is the largest of all 400 necropolises of the First World War in Western Galicia. Nearly 1,201 soldiers are buried here.
Something for the body and the spirit
The Foothills are famous for culinary specialties that cannot be found anywhere else. These include suska sechlońska – a variety of plum, which is characterized by a fleshy flesh and wrinkled, sticky skin in dark blue colour. The Raciechowice area is known for apple orchards! The local fruit ripens in a harsher climate, and due to the sunny southern slopes, they acquire a unique taste.
From the “Piękny Jaś” you can make literally everything, which is by the way confirmed by the culinary competition accompanying the annual feast in Zakliczyn. It is worth knowing that this plant has been included in the list of European Protected Geographical Indications.
And if you're not yet fed up with food, then we invite you to the Salt Festival in Wieliczka. Or maybe something stronger from a nearby vineyard? No further than 3.5 km from Wieliczka there are plantations of Chardonnay, Riesling, Merlot, Cabernet, Muscat, Gruener Veltliner and Pinot noir varieties, and visitors can taste wines and learn about their history and production process. It is worth looking for small family vineyards throughout the entire Foothills.
At the end of the culinary feast, we offer a delicacy in the form of piaszczańska sausage, which is registered in the EU system of protected designations of origin and protected geographical indications, as well as traditional specialties guaranteed. According to legend, this pork specialty cured in herb marinade and rock salt used to be was delivered to the Wawel Royal Table. The addition of herbs distinguishes piaszczańska sausage from other sausages, because in Poland spices other than salt, pepper and garlic aren't usually added to the production of sausages.
However, Foothills are distinguished by much more than just regional flavours. Bobowa is famous for the International Bobbin Lace Festival, and every year in Dobczyce there is a peculiar event called “Grazing in Dobczyce”. The name comes from the old name of the local population, which was called koziorze (goatherds). This feast associated with colourful procession is accompanied, among others, with competition for the prettiest goat, vintage vehicle shows, charity events, sports competitions and culinary tastings. Just before Easter it is worth coming to Lipnica Murowana, where the competition for the highest palm is organized – the record palms can reach several meters!
For music lovers, we recommend the Kromer Festival in Biecz, during which historical interiors resound with early music performed on historical instruments. Remaining in the area of music, we can recommend another attraction, namely the educational concert CHOPINspired – a unique project showing the enormous influence of Frederic Chopin's work on both Polish and foreign composers.
If you are looking for interesting objects for photography, it's worth paying attention to the 3D painting “Salt World” on the Wieliczka Market Square - currently the largest image of this type in Poland. It contains characteristic fragments of real interiors of Wieliczka salt mines (e.g. St Kinga's Chapel) specifically arranged and seen in a huge rock chasm.