A magical winter snow break, skiing not included. That is how I would describe my recent weekend getaway to the Polish ski resort town Zakopane. Tucked in the snow-covered mountains of southern Poland, Zakopane is a small village that is popular amongst locals and hikers who like to brave the Tatra mountains bordering with Slovakia. In spring and summer it’s a picturesque mountain village with blooming pastures. In winter it is a white fairytale like wonderland covered in a blanket of snow. Besides skiing and snowboarding there is much more to do like hiking, horse-drawn or husky-drawn sleigh rides, ice skating or renting a ski-scooter. For me it was a welcome spa break in the mountains where I combined pampering, shopping and nature into a mini break.
Getting to Zakopane
The drive from Krakow to Zakopane is beautiful with views on snowy woodlands and the mountains as a backdrop. Although it’s only 100 km, it takes approx. two hours to get from Krakow to Zakopane due to the busy one lane road. Approaching the mountain village you instantly encounter the signature architecture that characterizes Zakopane: wooden houses in a Witkiewicz Style, as it is called. On the ski slopes you can see skiers as tiny ants moving up and down.
Aries Hotel & Spa
We stayed at the fantastic Aries Hotel & Spa, right in the epicenter of all the activity. For now I just want to say that it was a five star experience and if I ever go back, I will not consider any other hotel than the Aries Hotel. It is the perfect hotel to relax and unwind. Their spa and sauna facilities are fantastic! You almost don’t want to leave the hotel and stay inside all day. I have dedicated an entire blog post to the Aries Hotel & Spa here, with my personal photos and experiences. http://www.hotelaries.pl/
The main street in Zakopane, Krupówki street, is packed with Polish restaurants and bars. Nestled between Krupówki street and the snowy mountain slope you’ll find the local market. At the local market there are souvenir stalls (woodware, leatherware, memorabilia), winter knits and fur vendours, and tens of Oscypek cheese vendours. Oscypek cheese is a golden hued smoked cheese made of salted sheep milk from the Tatra mountains. It is usually eaten grilled with cranberry sauce or with crispy bacon. It is de-li-cious!!! Being in the crisp cold mountain air and the whole ambiance and entourage enhances the flavour I am sure, but still a must-try!
STRH Bistro Art Cafe
The best breakfast and lunch spot in Zakopane is STRH Bistro Art Cafe. It is a bit hidden so easily surpassed if you don’t pay attention to the street numbers (ul. Krupówki 4a – 3rd floor). You have to take an elevator to the top floor where STRH treats you to a 360 degrees panoramic view of Zakopane and the mountains. The interior is hip, the ambiance young and vibrant. There are several seating areas with comfy arm chairs, couches, or tables. Behind the bar there is a large outside terrace. Live instrumental music luster up the place in late afternoons, early evenings. The menu is boasting healthy breakfast bowls, smoothies, pancakes and eggs any style. For lunch you can indulge in soups, burgers, sandwiches and more. If anything, do try the tea (herbata) with almond milk, cinnamon, kardemon and agave syrup. http://strh.pl/
The cable cars up
There are two cable cars: the Mount Kasprowy Wierch cable car that goes up to the ski slope area and departs from Kuznice, the upper part of Zakopane. The funicular railway at the end of the local market takes you in 3.5 minutes up the Gubałówka hill. Once up there, you have plenty of small market stalls and restaurants where you can take in the stunning views. At dawn you can see the twinkling lights of Zakopane and beyond below. Even though it was pretty foggy that day, it was still quite spectacular. During Christmas time there is a small Christmas village with lighting installations. Horse-drawn sleigh rides with jingle bells make the whole fairytale ambiance complete.
Try a Kołacz węgierski
While taking in the majestic panoramic view warm your hands and bite into a nice warm, freshly baked Kołacz węgierski: a pipe shaped cake dough covered with a topping of your choice like cinnamon and apple, chocolate, sprinkles, coconut slivers, nuts etc.
Visit Tatras National Park and Morski Oko Lake
Not far from Zakopane is another natural gem that shouldn’t be missed while visiting the area: Tatras National Park and Morski Oko Lake. The ‘park’ (21.197 hectare) itself is beautiful for walking and snow activities. There are walking trails for beginners to advanced hikers. Most day trip tourists aim for the Morski Oko Lake amidst the Tatras mountains and bordering Slovakia. It takes approx a 3 hours walk or 1,5 hour horse-drawn sleigh ride to get to Morski Oko and then another 1 km (30 min) walk to the lake. The journey treats you to breathtaking picture perfect views. More about this in an upcoming blog post…
Visit the Thermal Pools in Bukowina
Especially if you’re not a ski person, the thermal pools are a great day past time while your kids and hubby are on the slopes. There are numerous baths and steam rooms, treatments and wellness amenities available. Bukowina is approx a 2km drive from Zakopane. http://www.termabukowina.pl/en