Orava and Żywiec Beskids
Orava and Żywiec Beskids
A charming place with special spirit
Orava and the Żywiec Beskids are certainly one of the most interesting, although still relatively unpopular tourist destinations. They delight not only with the multitude of monuments, but also with breath-taking landscapes, unique flora and fauna and numerous pastures on which sheep are still grazed in the traditional way. Tourists are attracted here by the unique culture of Orava and Żywiec highlanders manifested in costumes, customs and traditional construction. In winter, the region is a great base for people who like to have some ski fun on snowy slopes. What's more, it also offers several scenic trails that can be traversed on snowshoes and skitours. Enthusiasts of cycling trips and active leisure will feel in the Żywiec Beskids like a fish in water! In turn, people who value peace and quiet, who dream of a break away from the hustle and bustle, will find here climatic places offering the opportunity to taste homemade cheese and butter and drink real milk.
Every true mountain lover should go hiking in the Babia Góra National Park, conquer the “Queen of the Beskids” – Babia Góra, hike on the Polica or Jałowiec range. There is no place for boredom here, we guarantee that everyone will find something for themselves!
The stunning splendour of the Beskid nature
The Żywiec Beskids offer many surprises for nature lovers who will find here rare plants and species of wild animals. Visit to the Babia Góra National Park is a must. The uniqueness of this place is evidenced by the fact that the park area has been fully protected under the Natura 2000 programme. It is also included on the list of UNESCO Biosphere Reserves. This place abounds in dense, beautiful forests – in the lower part they consist mainly of beech, spruce and fir trees, while in the upper part there are fantastic spruce woods.
The symbol of the park is laserwort – a plant with a white flower, characteristic only for this area. The most impressive concentration of laserwort is located under Sokolica and in the valley of Markowy Potok.
Above the area you will see Babia Góra, also called Diablak, the height of which reaches 1,725 metres asl. It is the highest peak of both the Żywiec Beskids and the entire Western Beskids. The forests there are home to many species of mammals, reptiles, birds, amphibians and even fish. In the Babia Góra National Park and its buffer zone you can meet wolves, lynxes, deer, bears, beautiful grouse and eagle owls.
In the Orava Basin, there are high bogs unique on the European scale, known as puścizny, which are a refuge for birds.
When planning a trip around the area, it is worth Sidzina-Bystra and the magnificent monuments of nature situated there, namely Adam, Ewa, Abraham and Sirius oaks, which according to legend, were granted to local inhabitants by King John II Casimir.
Signs of the past
Zawoja is not only a junction of hiking trails, but also a fantastic holiday destination. In the longest Polish village, you cannot miss the wooden parish church of St Clement, the history of which dates back to the mid-18th century. Near the church stands the Babia Góra Station, which housed at the beginning of the 20th century a tourist station of the Tatra Society. Another must-see is the Chatoża hamlet, where the historic Three Cellars are located, which once served as food storage warehouses. The Loretto belfry is an attractive tourist site as well. According to highlanders' tales, the sound of the bell was to protect the inhabitants of Zawoja against the storm and warn against fires.
When you're in Zawoja, it is also worth going to the Pasture of Lambs, located on the Wallachian Trail. From April to September we will meet here a shepherd who will not only make you taste the genuine oscypek cheese, but will be happy to talk about Wallachian pastoral traditions that have been perfectly preserved in this region.
When planning a trip, it is also worth visiting other places hiding real pearls of the Wooden Architecture Route, e.g. the church of Sts Peter and Paul in Lachowice from 1789 or the church of St John the Baptist in Orawka from 1651. In the church of St Nicholas located in Sidzina, you can admire the miraculous image of Our Lady of Sidzina, and under the peak of Okrąglica (1,239 metres asl) – the beautiful Chapel of Our Lady, the Guardian of Tourists. Finally, there is a great place to relax after hiking: the 19th-century manor park, located in the heart of Bystra, right by the charming Bystrzanka stream.
Museums full of memories – what to see?
Typical Orava and Żywiec Beskids architecture attracts tourists from all over Poland and not only! You can admire it in the open-air museums in Zubrzyca Górna, Zawoja Markowa and Sidzina, but also while hiking in the surrounding villages – many families still live in beautiful, old wooden cottages.
The Museum – Orava Ethnographic Park in Zubrzyca Górna deserves special attention. The origins of the institution date back to the 1930s, when the descendants of the Orava Moniak family transferred a part of their patrimony to the State Treasury. Thanks to this, we can now admire, among others, the stately Manor of the Moniak family and typical Orava cottages with wyżkas (chambers in the attic). Wonderful exhibitions are also waiting for us at the Museum of Folk Culture in Sidzina, where traditional crafts workshops take place regularly. The museum houses exhibitions depicting life in the period from the 18th to the 20th century.
We highly recommend taking advantage of the wide range of open-air museums, because they are truly magical places – thanks to them it is easier to touch the past, while the set-ups, workshops and performances make these places full of life again! You can hear there the traditional music and singing, see the work of artisans and peasants and try some regional delicacies.
Rocking horses, colourful birds on a stick (called klepoki) or a walker with moving animals – these and many other wooden toys can be seen in the Beskid Wooden Toy Centre in Stryszawa, where everyone can feel like a child again!
Active leisure surrounded by the mountains – get inspired!
The main ski resort in the area is Zawoja, but Mosorny Groń is in turn the most popular one. This is where winter sports beginners can practice their skills at a ski school, while veterans of skiing and snowboarding can have fun on snowy slopes until late evening. It is worth adding that the station holds FIS license enabling the organisation of national and international ski competitions, and the centre itself encourages to organise other sporting events.
Mosorny Groń is open at any time of the year. We especially recommend it in the autumn, when the tourist traffic is lower, and the view of the mountains shimmering in different colours is breath-taking. Admiring these fantastic landscapes will certainly be even more attractive when you use the Baca lift or the Wojtek lift complex.
In winter, we especially recommend hiking on snowshoes and skitour trips. The Żywiec Beskids offer fantastic conditions for this type of activity: beautiful landscapes, unspoiled areas, away from crowded ski slopes and city noise.
Fans of extreme sports can take advantage of the downhill offer at Mosorny Groń. The Żywiec Beskids are a great place for running – especially in spring and autumn, when the trails are less frequented by tourists, which gives favourable conditions for this sport. It is also worth mentioning the cyclical Alpine Running Festival organised near Babia Góra.
The charms of varied hiking trails
Żywiec Beskids and Orava are great areas for different kinds of tourism – hiking, skiing and cycling. Despite the growing popularity, the region still seems to be intact. It delights with wonderful views and surprises with unique flora and fauna. All this makes it an ideal place to relax.
Undoubtedly, the best starting points for the trips in this region are Zawoja and Zubrzyca Górna. The routes to Babia Góra (1,725 metres asl), as well as to Polica and Jałowiec ranges start here. It is worth passing a section of the Main Beskids Trail: Mędralowa – PTTK hostel at Markowe Szczawiny – Babia Góra – Krowiarki Pass – Polica – Bystra Podhalańska.
Current information and a list of trails (including educational, horse, ski, cross-country, cycling, historical ones) can be found on the Małopolska Tourist Routes website: https://malopolska.szlaki.pttk.pl/.
Culture and traditions in a contemporary setting
The inhabitants of the area around Babia Góra and Orava eagerly cultivate local traditions on the occasion of family, church and state celebrations.
During the Christmas season it is worth going to the “Orava Carolling” to the Cultural Centre in Jabłonka or to the Orava Ethnographic Park in Zubrzyca. If you like to watch nativity play, don't miss the moment when traditional puppet cribs are presented. In the local cribs, in the scene of the birth of Jesus, we will see not only Mary and Joseph, but also figures of a nobleman, Highlanders, tinker Jews, an old man, merchants, and even of Striga, Death and Devil! This rare custom can be admired, among others in Lipnica Górna.
During Easter, the tastiest dish on the Orava tables is krzonówka – a dense soup with horseradish and visible pieces of sausage, ham and eggs, not only very nutritious and tasty but also inscribed on the list of regional products.
Admirers of pastoralism will certainly be interested in the traditional redyk (sheep trailing), which nowadays has the character of a folklore show. In the spring, on the day of St Adalbert (23 April) shepherds go out with flocks of sheep to the mountain pastures, where sheep will graze until the day of St Michael the Archangel (29 September), protector of shepherds. The festivities are accompanied by highlander dances and songs as well as magical rites, among which one can distinguish burning bonfires (watras) in a shepherd's hut or “making noise”. One of the largest and most colourful events related to the redyk is the Babia Góra Autumn, which takes place every year in the last days of September in Zawoja.
On the last Sunday of July, the Blueberry Festival takes place in Zubrzyca Górna. This is not only a fun for the palate, but also an opportunity to learn about old crafts, regional products of Polish and Slovak Orava, as well as about dance and music of the region.
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.