Pieniny and Spiš
Pieniny and Spiš
Pieniny and Spiš are one of the most attractive tourist regions of our country, they are both worth visiting regardless of the season. Natural values, cultural diversity, a multitude of monuments will allow you to get to know the unusual face of the Małopolska region.
The Pieniny area is located in the central part of the Pieniny Klippen Belt. From the north, the Pieniny border with the Gorce and Beskid Sądecki, and from the south with Magura Spiska. The entire range is 35 km long and 3.5 to 6 km wide. Pieniny are naturally divided by the river Dunajec into three fragments, namely Pieniny Spiskie, the Pieniny Właściwe and Little Pieniny. The highest peak of this mountainous land, formed of limestone, slate, sandstone and conglomerates, is Wysoka (1,050 metres asl).
Spiš attracts history enthusiasts because of its interesting past. The first traces of human presence in this area come from the Palaeolithic period. The subsequent turbulent history of the Polish-Hungarian and Polish-Czechoslovakian border did not spare this area.
The region offers many attractions. A dense network of intersecting hiking trails and several ski stations provide an unforgettable experience for winter sports enthusiasts and hikers. For all those seeking respite, we recommend Szczawnica and Krościenko nad Dunajcem – two high valued health resorts in which you can, among others taste the spring water with healing properties and unique taste. It is also worth taking advantage of the rich offer of cultural events.
Since 1932 Pieniny are under protection within the Pieniny National Park, which stretches on both sides of the border with Slovakia. The Pieniny Właściwe range stretches on the protected area, culminating in the Three Crowns massive towering over the Dunajec valley. It is here that you can find extremely rare species of colourful flora and fauna. The rocky environment provides excellent conditions for the life of butterflies with the graceful name Apollo butterfly, and the relict pines in Sokolica make the landscape extremely characteristic.
There are many animate and inanimate nature reserves in Pieniny and Spiš. In the Homole Gorge reserve in Jaworki you can admire a deep canyon decorated with limestone boulders. The White Water reserve will enchant visitors with volcanic rocks and streams creating phenomenal cascades and deep evorsions. In turn, in the Białka River Gorge reserve near Krempachy you can see the rocks of white and red limestone, which hide the famous Obłazowa Cave. These picturesque places were the scenery for several films, such as the “Janosik” TV series or “Karol: A Man Who Became Pope”. In the Blue Valley reserve, you will find a unique beech old forest, where the oldest beeches are over 200 years old, and in the Wysokie Skałki reserve you can see the last upper montane belt spruce forest in Pieniny. On hot days, to cool down you can opt for a trip to Żary (you can admire from that site the beauty of the Spiš Pieniny), rafting down the Pieniny gorge of the Dunajec river or a walk to the Zaskalnik waterfall.
Remarkable historic places
When in Pieniny, it is worth visiting several historically priceless sites. The rich past of this area can be discovered by, among others, visiting the castle in Frydman – a magnificent fortified manor house that once served as the summer residence of Jerzy Horvath – a Hungarian magnate. The turbulent fate of Niedzica is “hidden” in historic buildings, such as the castle on Lake Czorsztyn. In its medieval walls you can feel the atmosphere of a fortress that once used to be bustling. Near the castle there are also a historic granary and a customs house. The castle in Czorsztyn is another destination for tourists visiting the Pieniny area. It has been partially restored and the exhibitions attract crowds of tourists from all over Poland. In addition to recreation, the health resort in Szczawnica also offers numerous health treatments, and the popularity of this place is getting even greater.
In addition to secular monuments, there are also some noteworthy religious buildings – you cannot miss the church of St Elisabeth in Trybsz, the church of All Saints in Krościenko nad Dunajcem, or the oldest temple in the in the Polish Subtatra region, namely St Stanislaus church in Frydman. Worth mentioning are also: the church of St Catherine in Nowa Biała, the church of St Martin in Krempachy and the church of St Quirinus in Łapsze Niżne, belonging in the 14th century to the Order of the Holy Sepulchre. Noteworthy is also the church of All Saints in Kacwin, built in 1313, which was in possession of Lutherans from 1602 and returned to Catholics 30 years later. Built in 1278, the church of St Bartholomew the Apostle in Niedzica, belonging to the group of Gothic Spiš churches, still enchants with stone traceries in the windows of the presbytery. Few people know that there are former Greek Catholic churches in the area – one in Jaworki and another in Szlachtowa. Currently, they are functioning as Roman Catholic churches.
Museum side of the Pieniny
When traveling around the region, it's worth visiting some museums. An absolute must-see is the Museum of the Pieniny National Park in Krościenko nad Dunajcem, where the natural, historical, landscape and cultural values of the Pieniny and its surroundings are exhibited. In the entrance pavilions of the national park we will find interesting exhibitions on various topics, e.g. “Pieniny forest ecosystems” or “Pieniny rock ecosystems”. One of them is in Szczawnica, two in Czorsztyn, and another two in Sromowce Kąty and Sromowce Niżne.
Particularly noteworthy is the Spiš Folk Culture Museum in Czarna Góra, where the buildings of the Korkoszów homestead and the Sołtys Homestead in Jurgów – branches of the Tatra Museum in Zakopane – are presented. Another interesting proposition is the “Sypaniec” regional chamber in Łapsze Niższe and the regional chamber in Sromowce Wyżne presenting the everyday life of the inhabitants of Pieniny in the past. A similar theme is presented by the open-air museum in Kluszkowce, also known as the Czorsztyn Settlement. The private Pieniny Mock-ups gallery in Krościenko nad Dunajcem offers visitors the opportunity to see miniatures of these beautiful mountains. At the Pieniny Museum in Szlachtowa you can see exhibits related to the history of Szczawnica, and at the carriage exhibition in Niedzica – carriage and horse carriages belonging to the former owners of the castle.
No less attractive is the nature exhibition of Tadeusz and Anna Oleś in Krościenko nad Dunajcem. It includes an impressive collection of rare animal specimens from around the world. The author's gallery “Pod Okółkiem” in Krościenko nad Dunajcem presents the paintings of Andrzej Michał Beliczyński made with the use of watercolours and pastels. In the “Krzywa Jabłonka” gallery in Szczawnica we will see folk art and handicrafts of Pieniny artists, same as in the wooden church in Sromowce Niżne, which since 2010 is no longer a sacred object, but acts as a local museum.
Active leisure in Pieniny
Szczawnica and Krościenko nad Dunajcem are recommended as starting points for hiking trips. Tourists can choose routes to the Three Crowns or towards Sokolica, depending on their preferences and skills. The trails start in the centre of the village and lead to Pieniny, Gorce and Beskid Sądecki. The red trail leads to Prehyba (1,176 metres asl) or Lubań via Jaworzyna (1,050 metres asl). The blue trail is also a very interesting route – it runs along the ridge of Pieniny Właściwe and Little Pieniny. The Tatra, Gorce and even Slovak Levoča Mountains can be clearly seen from here. This trail is also ideal for ski tours. After an exhausting walk, you can experience a respite in one of the mountain hostels: Orlica, Trzy Korony and Pod Durbaszką.
You can also admire the mountain panorama by taking the chairlift up to Palenica, from which you can also ski in the winter season. The gravity slide located on the mountain slope is also an interesting spot.
Fans of two wheels fans will find in Pieniny and Spiš many bicycle routes. The bicycle trail around Lake Czorsztyn is an ideal destination for lovers of monuments who, by combining active leisure with sightseeing, will remember the visit to Pieniny for a long time. The Pieniny Road, i.e. the red trail along the Dunajec gorge, can be travelled on foot and by bicycle, which is an additional advantage. The VeloDunajec bicycle route runs along the Dunajec river as well.
“Rally by the Dunajec Valley” encourages competitive cyclists to participate in the fun, which in addition to sports emotions, also provides opportunities to spend time surrounded by nature.
However, this is not the end of the attractions offered by the Pieniny region. Horse riding fans will also find something for themselves with the Transbeskidian Horse Trail running through this area. Szczawnica-Piwniczna is its most popular route. To choose the right walking, horse or bicycle route, please visit malopolska.szlaki.pttk.pl.
Cross-country skiing enthusiasts are invited to Krościenko nad Dunajcem where the boulevards by the Dunajec river have properly prepared skiing routes running alongside. Sports adrenaline can also be found in rope parks, such as ABlandia Amusement Park or Adventure-Sky in Krościenko nad Dunajcem.
Moreover, numerous running events are very popular among sports fans. The youngest enthusiasts can participate in Mini Runs in Szczawnica, which promote a healthy lifestyle among children and teenagers. The competition offers several routes adapted to the age and predisposition of the competitors, so you can choose a distance from 100 metres to even 2 kilometres. Adults also willingly take part in the competition during the Triada run. An interesting fact is the form of the race itself, which in addition to being fast and intense, consists of running up the peaks at night.
Attractions at the foot of the mountains
One of the most characteristic attractions in this area is undoubtedly rafting down the Dunajec River Gorge, with tradition dating back to the 19th century. During rafting you can admire the Pieniny peaks, including the Three Crowns. For the sake of natural and historical values, the gorge was recognised as a natural monument. Rafters wonderfully amuse their passengers on the way by telling jokes and anecdotes.
An equally interesting experience is a cruise on the “Harnaś” ship on Lake Czorsztyn. Passengers on board can enjoy a cup of coffee while admiring the surrounding natural and architectural monuments.
You can't get bored in Pieniny and Spiš! An interesting experience is participating in the folklore custom of playing music around mojs. During the night before the feast of Pentecost, each of the bachelors in the neighbourhood strive to put a moj (little tree) in front of the house of a maiden. Then they sing songs in honour of the Mother of God and wander the whole village merrily. Disguised as gypsies, local youths collect donations for their “child”, and the girls from nearby houses dance with them to the music they play.
This live folklore is also presented during the inauguration of the Pieniny Summer event. Everyone who stays in Szczawnica at the time has the opportunity to see the traditional costumes of rafters, carriage drivers and highlanders from Spiš and Pieniny. A fair of folk craftsmanship and concerts of highlander bands complete the atmosphere, which for many mountain fans is a priceless holiday memory.
Shepherd culture plays a very important role in the social life of this mountainous region, which is also an interesting opportunity to learn more customs. Every autumn, time comes for redyk, i.e. the traditional return of sheep from the pastures. All the sympathisers of this event can celebrate, among others, in Jaworki, and in the Majerz clearing, they can welcome the shepherd (baca) and his young helpers (known as juhasi) returning from the shepherd's hut.
Muzyczna Owczarnia, which is one of the most popular meeting places for music lovers, is also extremely popular. Concerts and meetings are organised there throughout the year. Another events worth recommending are Ethno-Novo, Autumn in Szczawnica, the Pieniny-Kultura-Sacrum Festival in Krościenko or the Baroque Ancient Music Festival in the Spiš.
Pieniny and Spiš are famous for their wonderful regional cuisine including dishes such as: gałuski dumplings, kołoc pie, plum soup (known as śliwianka), oscypek cheese, kwaśnica (sauerkraut soup) or trout. Several dishes unknown in other regions are a treat for lovers of traditional delicacies.
Another unique attraction awaits you at the Szczawnica health resort, where you can try one of the twelve mineral waters. Some of them are available by the sources without any restrictions, others are served in the “Magdalenka” pump room. Equally valuable are the properties of the “Stefan”, “Maria” and “Michalina” waters available in Krościenko nad Dunajcem.
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.