Serving as a climatic health resort since the late 19th century, Zakopane is a very old and established highland retreat, popular with Polish nationals. As a gateway to the Tatra mountain range on the Slovak border, it is steeped in clear light and cool temperatures.
In winter, there’s skiing and snowboarding on the slopes. In summer, you can hike many kilometres of rambling mountain trails, ascending challenging ridges and peaks, and alternately breathing in bucolic vistas of flower-filled meadows. The entire Podhale region is peppered with old castles, secluded villages, ancient wooden churches, and shrines.
The mountains are also steeped in the myths of the indigenous Góral, who have been dwelling in the highlands of Central and Eastern Europe for centuries. They maintain staunch local traditions and their culture was the inspiration for Zakopane’s famous architecture. The so-called ‘Zakopane style’ was pioneered by the artist and intellectual, Stansislaw Witkiewicz, who designed a villa for Zygmunt Gnatowski and decided to draw on Podhale traditions, rather than the Swiss and Austro-Hungarian chalet style in vogue at the time. He went on to design many of Zakopane’s most interesting buildings, including several churches.
Zakopane is a busy and commercial town, a place to pick up souvenirs as well as organise forays into the mountains. At the local shops and markets, an array of local arts, crafts, and produce is on offer, including carved wooden boxes, leather goods, knitted items, and sheep hides, along with a famous white cheese called Oscypek. Zakopane is particularly bustling after dark when hearty taverns fill with revellers, fireplaces are lit, and families settle in to raise glasses and feast on roast lamb or hog. Zakopane is the place to rest your weary legs and discover the Polish love of a good time.