Eric Boucher - 2008-12-01
Like many western Europeans, I thought Poland was one huge potato crop plain. It wasn't therefore the first destination that sprang to mind when I decided to have a bit of a change and test the powder snow elsewhere than in the Alps. Reading about the country's topography might well put you off: only 3% of the Polish territory is above 1625 ft altitude and a mere 0.2% exceeds 3250 ft. On the face of it, nothing to dissuade you from returning to Meribel, Innsbruck or St. Moritz If only you knew!
Zakopane, you what?
The snows of Kasprowy
Another misbelief to be corrected: Poland is not Siberia. The climate is nevertheless more continental than in the Alps with the season starting slightly earlier, from the beginning of November, and finishing sometimes at the beginning of May. You are therefore almost guaranteed thick snow of excellent quality over a long period. The average temperature in February is - 21°F, but days at - 23°F or - 26°F are not unusual in wintertime. The thermometer sometimes even descends to -31°F. But don't panic! It's a dry cold generally accompanied by bright sunshine and crystalline air, which I personally find far more bearable than our damp wintry weather.
Zakopane is located between 2600 and 3250 feet altitude, dominated by Kasprowy Wierch which soars to 6451 feet Nothing that will make you feel dizzy therefore! Yet, and it's an impression I shared with many foreigners on the spot, you really feel you're in the high mountains, with extremely majestic peaks that somehow recall those of the Alps - a surprise that few of us were expecting in Poland.
A home stay
While, generally speaking, prices are lower than in French, Swiss or Austrian resorts, don't expect a miracle all the same: Zakopane welcomes nearly 2 million tourists a year and remains an up-market resort, with services and prices to match. The accommodation therefore meets European comfort criteria.
A pleasant double room with breakfast in a medium-range hotel costs approximately £35 to £49.
The best way of getting to know the inhabitants is to rent a chambre d'hôte, even if the language is the major obstacle. There are plenty of these as evidenced by the multitude of Pokoje (room) signs dotting the locality. Prices range between £7 and £14 per person for a double room to our standards.
You'll be assured of a warm welcome and a complimentary breakfast in the large family dining room.
It's an understatement to say that traditional Polish gastronomy has barely opened up to Mediterranean influences.Yet it is well worth discovering as food that sticks to your ribs, perfectly adapted to temperatures below zero. Generally speaking, the cooked pork meats are excellent; you absolutely must taste for instance Polenwica, smoked fillet of pork. Another must is the seasonal dish bigos, a kind of very slightly sweetened sauerkraut mixed with mushrooms and diced pork meats. Among the soups, two classics: barsczcz, beetroot soup served with a little pâté roll, and Zurek for those who like sour tastes. You'll also see on all menus kotlet schabowy, pork chops coated with breadcrumbs, and you'll find it hard to resist pierogi, large raviolis stuffed with cabbage, mushrooms or cottage cheese. For dessert, you can pick between the delicious cottage cheese cake (sernik), poppy cakes (makowiec) and the famous cottage cheese pancakes (nalesniki). Last, a typical product of this region of the Carpathians: smoked ewe cheese (oscypek
If you really can't stomach the idea of such food, you can easily find international cuisine and many fast food restaurants. Pizzas are also easy to come by, even if they are sometimes garnished rather oddly. You can snack for £2, eat very well for £3.5 to £7 and dine almost gastronomically from £7-£8.
Even if you're impatient to put on your skis, it would be a pity to have travelled so far without visiting Crakow
to which at least one day should be devoted.
By plane: Both international and domestic flights to Krakow are available from airlines amongst them LOT Polish Airlines. Many low budget airlines fly into Poland; Easyjet, Centralwings, Skyeurope and others. Approximately 1? to 2 hours road travel by car or bus and 3 to 4 hours by train from Krakow to Zakopane.
Polish National Tourist Office in London
310-312 Regent Street London W1B 3AX
Tel.: (0)20 7580 8811
Chata Zbojnicka, Jagiellonska street. Open from 5 p.m. to midnight