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TRAVEL ABCs: Zensational Zakopane

I loved Krakow and marvelled that Warsaw’s rebuilt “old” town actually looks 300 years old (when it was a pile of rubble after the war), but Zakopane is the place in Poland I loved most, thereby earning the coveted Z spot in my ABC favourites list.

A disclaimer: Zakopane once belonged to the ancient Polish region of Galicia, from where my name-giving grandfather hailed, and it’s the closest I have got to his village (which is now in the Ukraine). My visit there explained a lot to me about my heritage and in particular my grandfather’s outdoorsy character, however it’s spectacular too, and a personal connection like mine isn’t required to enjoy this terrific town.

Set in the foothills of the scenic Tatra Mountains 100 km. south of Krakow close to the Slovakian border, Zakopane boasts beautiful tree-lined streets and traditional wooden homes bursting with colour, draped from window flower boxes. Wooden churches and ornately carved buildings dot the town and in the Old Town cemetery carved wood tombstones preside over garden graves in a supremely idyllic setting.

Winter, it’s said, is a wonderland (it is dubbed the Winter Capital of Poland), though my visit was in the Fall.

In either season, a prime attraction is the Kasprowy Wierch cable car ride. Located in Kuznice (upper Zakopane), the two-stage journey to Mount Kasprowy takes approximately 10 minutes, after which guests can stay for about 90 minutes to take in the panoramic view of the mountains, town and valley.

Historic wooden chalet

Being set amidst the Tatras, Zakopane is also a gateway to a host of outdoor activities, from hiking and biking to rafting and climbing, plus skiing, snowshoeing and other winter sports (the town bid unsuccessfully to host the 2006 Winter Olympics).

In town, don’t miss the interesting (summer) market, cemetery, and shops and restaurants of colourful Krupówki street – be sure to sample the area’s unique cuisine, including famous smoked cheese, oscypek. Several folklore museums depict the region’s highland culture.

A tour of the area’s turn-of-the-20th-century wooden chalets – perhaps by horse and carriage – is a blast from the past and solidifies this rural enclave’s quintessentially Central European ambiance. And that rare sensation that you’re in a town in another time.

Folklore festivalHonourable mention: Zermatt, Switzerland
Bucket list: Zanzibar, Tanzania

This concludes my “ABC” favourites series, inspired by and answering once and for all that unanswerable question: “So, what’s your favourite place?” Then again, maybe, hopefully, I can update my list in a few years with new entries. Thanks for reading, and for sending me some of your favourites, including:

Hugh Martell of Vancouver, who wrote: “Some of my very favourite places in the world to visit (in no particular order) – Hallstatt, Austria (if I had to choose only one); Bora Bora, Tahiti; and Neuschwanstein Castle, Germany.

See the entire series, which began March 25, HERE.

First published at Travel Industry Today

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