Zakopane, Poland

“Home is where the heart is, no matter how the heart lives”

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The saying goes; some of the best things in life are free. But is that true?
Does cost determine our happiness, or is it just an added byproduct of the overall experience?
Is our judgement on whether something is either good or bad considering expenditure?
I think not many would disagree that the answer to that is yes. We all do it. More than likely people have become accustomed to think in that way, especially in a world where the language of money speaks. Price it seems is a pivotal factor in our decision making.
This then produces further questions…
Does price correlate to better quality, experiences, or products?
Is a designer £1,000 suit that much better than a £100 one?
Are budget holidays or cheaper destinations not as fulfilling as those which require a bigger down payment?
When it comes to world locations I would argue expenditure quite often doesn’t follow the normal pattern, with a little mountain city hidden away in the southern part of Poland proving the point perfectly.

Zakopane, the winter capital of Poland; a hidden gem of a destination nestled amongst the stunning Tatra Mountain range, for so long a mystery to those from outside Polish lands. Famous in its homeland, yet barely heard of by the rest of the world, this magical destination has everything you could desire whether you’re a winter wanderer or summer explorer. Poland’s stock is however on the rise, stylish historical cities such as Krakow are now common go-to destinations, and not just for the typical drunken weekends away. Krakow (an incredible city by its own account) is only a two hour drive from our Narnia like location, and with more and more tourists flocking to the area Poland’s best kept secret is quickly being let out of the bag.

Many people’s incorrect image of the country is that of industry, and a grey gritty environment. Due to this it has quite often been overlooked as a place to visit, as most could never envisage that Poland could in fact contain cities full of character, and vividly colourful countryside. Tell people you’re going skiing there and watch for the bewilderment spread across the face…
“Poland… Do they even have mountains?!”
Oh yes, they most certainly do and it is a joy to behold.

With mountains, like the inevitable turning of time always comes one thing… Snow, and whether it’s seasonal or all year round it subsequently attracts those who enjoy partaking in wintertime activities.
The popularity of skiing holidays has been on the rise for quite some time, and it’s clear that it is no longer exclusively held by those with wealth. Of course ski holidays still have the potential to be excessive when it comes to price. The famous resorts across Europe such as in France or even further a field like America and Canada need huge sums of money just in travel costs alone, and that’s without taking into account the costs of equipment hire, lift passes, and ski related expenditure. With this has come the emergence of up and coming resorts; places not normally thought of as ski locations, hidden away by locals not keen on sharing the goods with those from outside. However, to say Zakopane is an “up and coming” ski spot does it a monumental injustice.
Our Polish masterpiece has always had the goods so to speak. They didn’t just randomly appear overnight. Zakopane has been developing its ski experience now for twenty odd years to bring it up to the modern day standards of its European neighbours. Year by year more money is pumped into a growing industry improving at an exponential rate with the expansion of resorts, improved experiences, and a more user friendly environment for those not of Polish decent, and although prices have naturally started to creep up Zakopane is still vastly cheaper than the majority of ski resorts around the world.

Okay, so it’s a good destination if you’re trying to save the pennies, but that doesn’t make it special does it?
In relation to skiing Zakopane provides for all abilities, and has numerous resorts to mix things up with. Most however are on the small side, and unless you are a beginner or only fancy popping the skis on for a short amount of time, they aren’t really worth your while. That’s not to say they are bad, just lacking in challenge and variety. Two areas do break that mould though, and quite rightly deserve recognition.

For those who range in abilities, and fancy a resort which provides for everyone; families, groups, advanced skiers, young and old, or the one who just prefers to sit in the bar drinking mulled wine, then Bialka Tatrzanska is for you. By far the largest resort in the area, Bialka has it all; large ski areas including baby slopes, a mixture of blue and red runs, a ski park, and importantly some heated chair lifts (for those days where you can’t feel your backside). But it doesn’t stop there. The resort which has expanded at rapid rate on a yearly basis also boasts its very own thermal baths, Terma Bania. Large in size the natural geothermically heated pools which are surrounded by snow allow for those achy muscles to be soothed and extremities to be defrosted after a tough day on the slopes.

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For those looking for something much more advanced then Zakopane can be limited, however Kasprowy Wierch a mountain in the heart of the city offers an authentic challenge for seasoned skiers and snowboarders alike. Based in the national park this all natural resort is untouched from almost all development. Protective laws ensure that future expansion is unlikely, resorting in slopes catering solely for those high in ability. As unfortunate as this is for families and typical holiday makers wanting a huge commercial resort carved out of the mountain side, it does give a unique experience for the real ski enthusiasts.
As well as the designated black runs, Kasprowy provides acres upon acres of varied off-piste landscape just waiting to be explored. Although, it is worth noting that due to the laws protecting the land it isn’t strictly speaking legal, and if caught by a park guide a fine will usually be imposed. This law however doesn’t seem to be applied to the local community quite as stringently. Unsurprisingly it’s quite a contested issue. If venturing off into the wild the best advice would be to attach yourself to a local guide or experienced skier, who not only will be able to protect you from falling foul of the laws, but with their extensive knowledge of the area will enhance the ski adventures for all involved.

When speaking of those who know the area like the back of their hand, there are none better than that of Addventure Tours who specialise in vacations to Zakopane. Highly professional in all manners of work this multi-diverse team provides the best all-round holiday experience for those venturing to the Malopolska region. Their expertise in winter vacations, snow-sport instruction, and the local surroundings are only matched by their unique personalised touch which they consistently produce for guests. Tailor-made packages to suit the individual needs and demands of travellers make a trip to an almost unknown destination super easy and enjoyable.
In the total absence of hassle those visiting are free to experience this winter wonderland at its finest, whilst the professionals work hard at optimising the experience. Not only are the packages specifically designed, but also include all-inclusive offers thus allowing almost all parts of the trip to be covered and organised for you. As a location which is still quite raw and uncut this is highly advisable, only enhancing the vacation. Although experts in the winter field Addventure Tours also offer summer travel packages, which range from activity sports to hiking trips in a market which has just as much to offer in the sunny season as it does in the winter.

Once the snow has melted from the peaks, and all the wildlife thawed out Zakopane starts to bloom. From the spring through to the autumn the whole outlook of this mountainous region changes completely, and not for the worst. Almost unrecognisable in parts it’s like the fashion model who has ditched the giant sweater and boots for a more scantily clad crop-top and mini-skirt. Stunning in appearance yet different on the surface, it is however undeniably indistinguishable at its very core; still very much Zakopane despite its interchangeable looks and manner.
With the change in the weather (which throughout the summer months can be rather tumultuous) comes the ability to explore a more open and expansive landscape. With numerous scenic spots it’s a nature lovers dream come to true. Hikers are treated to such jaunts as the valley of five lakes which includes the mystical Morski Oko, or mountain hikes up iconic cliffs like Giewont and Rysy. Even for those inexperienced walkers there are plenty of opportunities to enjoy Zakopane’s natural beauty. Gubalowka, a famous hill overlooking the centre provides a truly wonderful viewpoint of the city and its extraordinary backdrop, while Kasprowy and the national park both of which synonymous with the area offer an escape from the outside world.

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Talking of famous landmarks there is none more illustrious than that of the central high street, Krupowki. Around two kilometres in length this long cobbled strip is what everything in Zakopane revolves around. From shops to bars and hotels to restaurants it has it all… As traditional as it is iconic, this is no ordinary high street. As many quality food and drinking establishments as there are located off Krupowki one roof top café by the name of Tygodnik sets the bar the highest, and most certainly shouldn’t be overlooked. So unassuming and hidden away from outside, it can quite easily be missed.
Horse drawn carts line the paths whilst locals in highlander attire converse amongst a setting so picturesque it could quite easily pop out of a postcard. During the cold chill of winter log fires blaze and crackle through the windows, illuminating the snow covered avenue. Whereas in summer as flowers flourish and the walkways bristle into life, everything expands outwards covering the street in a unique atmospheric vibrancy.

Due to the scenic surroundings come snow or come sunshine Zakopane has become an idyllic location for those wishing to tie-the-knot. Although weddings in the region seem to follow the customary pattern of mainly being undertaken by locals, there is a niche market developing giving opportune moments for those from the wider community. KC Love Stories are an independent wedding planner from the area specialising in bringing people’s dreams into reality, making that all important day splendidly exclusive. Covering all bases they really go that extra mile for loved up couples and their close ones, ensuring it will be a time not short-lived in anyone’s memory.
Whether it be a wedding set amongst pristine snowy surroundings, or on a warm summers evening as the sun sets behind the rugged Tatras, how many could say they got married in such a memorable and remarkable location?
Handcrafted wooden buildings decorated in the typical highlander fashion play host to an elaborate day (and night) of celebrations… Get ready for some homemade local lemon vodka, live music, games, food in abundance, and enjoy Poland’s highlander culture in the real traditional way.

It’s the traditional feel and time-honoured ways which give Zakopane its main selling point. As with any tourist destination with the influx of more travellers arriving from further afield brings increased sums of money, developments, and inevitably the rise in prices. The expenditure and improvements shouldn’t be an issue, but the area must avoid the temptation of commercialising itself too much. To be doing so would be selling the soul of a majestic and magical destination, which must ensure at all costs to keep its historical values alive… It’s integral to the charm.
This is the reason Zakopane is so special; the rarity of finding a place which remains so enclosed within a time-warp, with a natural life almost unrecognisable for most living in the modern day world is extremely high. To visit such places nowadays is challenging, time-consuming, and usually expensive… Zakopane is none of these. In fact it is the complete opposite.
Breathe in the fresh air, and the aroma of burning wood which creates a hazy view across the city. Strap on a pair of skis or boots and explore breath-taking beauty not commonly associated with Polish lands, all for a cost that seems impossible to believe.
So do increased prices correlate to a better holiday experience?
When it comes to the charming and exquisite winter wonderland of Zakopane… It most certainly does not!

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Credits & Links:
Addventure Tours - Zakopane Holiday Specialists
KC Love Stories - Wedding & Events

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