Zakopane is known for skiing and hiking. And cheese. Before I came, I thought the first would play the most important role. It turned out to be a combination of the three. And maybe mostly the cheese…
Arriving winter wonderland in the early afternoon, I dumped my bag at Helios Hotel, and headed for the funicular to Gubalowka. On the way we passed through a local market, selling traditional handcraft, clothes, slippers and food. This was my first (but certainly not the last, as you might have already guessed) meeting with the local cheese. The small oval shaped pieces of patterned sheep cheese were quickly grilled, and served hot with cranberry jam. Mmmm, delicious! I had barely finished the first when I spotted a second stall, and we decided to have one more. I was officially addicted.
The Gubalowka Funicular ran through an alley of evergreens, taking us up to 1120 masl for magnificent views of Zakopane and the Tetra mountains.
There are several restaurants on top for some food and drinks to accompany the view. Since I love to try the local food when I travel, we went for traditional Kwaśnica soup with meat and potato and potato cake with mushroom, cheese and bacon. For drinks we had warm beer(!) with ginger. Well, I had never tried that, so of course I had to! To be honest, it was not my favorite, but still.
For dinner later in the evening, we went along the walking street looking for a restaurant. Just after the end, we found a place that looked cozy, and even brewed their own beer. Watra looked very small from the outside, but when we entered we found an enormous hall in the next room, with massive wooden benches and tables, a dance floor, and a live band! We decided to go all in and joined the locals. A thing to keep in mind, food portions are HUGE. The five of us shared mixed meat for three persons and a cheese plate as starter, and it was still lots of food left when we were more than stuffed!
It was time to get moving and check out the nightlife. The nightclub at Aries Hotel, Le Scandale Cocktail Room & Music Loft, is supposed to be the best in town, so we decided to give it a try. It sure was stylish and the bathroom amazing, but personally I am more a bar kind of girl.
Waking up to rain, we decided to go to Polana Szymoszkowa, just a few minutes away by bus. There were several places to rent skies, but we went for the first we saw, offering 4 hours for 20 zł. Perfect that we did not have to rent for a full day!
Choosing what type of lift card on the other hand, can be a challenge. Unlike the ski rental, it was no lift card by the hour, only full day, half-day and point card. As we were not sure about the conditions and the weather was not so good, we decided to go for the point card. We could always refill it if we wanted more. It turned out to be a great decision. The top of the slope was slushy. To put it mildly. It turned out to be more a workout turning in the heavy wet snow, than being fun. The last part of the run was better condition wise, but for me it was a little too flat.
Seeking shelter from the rain, we went for a break with something hot to drink. As the rain only picked up, it turned into lunch. Including grilled cheese… And as the waiter so correctly put it; this weather is most suitable for sitting in a bar. We agreed, and ordered a hot beer with honey, cinnamon and cloves.
The last few runs felt a little bit easier, but it was probably just because there were almost no other people, so we did not need to worry about navigating between them and could concentrate on looking more professional when turning…
Luckily, the workout worked up an appetite again (Even though I swore I would never be hungry again after the dinner the night before…), and the mixed dish to share at Kolibecka restaurant looked tempting. Let’s just say we could not finish this time either…
It seemed that there are hardly any bars in Zakopane, just lots of restaurants, but finally we found Cafe Piano. Yes, they do have a piano, but it does not look like it is used often. It is a small cozy bar with wooden interior, giving a nice and welcoming feeling!
Overnight, winter wonderland turned to spring (In fairness, with a rather rainy day in between), so we decided to go for a hike. Taking the bus for about 10 min to Dolina Koscieliska, we paid the 5 zł ticket for Tatry National Park, and got going. We soon realized that the rain the day before had made the road quite icy and slippery, but we figured we could handle it. That was not the case for the woman planning to do the hike in high-heeled shoes… Quite frankly it was an easy hike, so it would be possible during the summer, but still… We did not see them again.
Hiking along the gravel road, a couple of horses with carriages carrying local tourists passed us. I must admit I wished I was in one of them a few times while sliding on the ice like Bambi. However, the road between the evergreens and steep mountains steadily lead us to Hala Ornak following along the lively river. Our reward; sitting outside in the heating sun, looking up towards the snowcapped Błyszcz mountain with an ice cold beer in our hand. And nibbling grilled highland cheese with cranberries. For dessert, we enjoyed the local apple cake, with the same view and beer. Apparently, there is a competition between the chalets in the mountains to have the best apple cake. As I have only tasted one of them, this took first place. Judging by the taste of the grilled cheese (that I have tried a lot of!), I would say it was medium+.
On the way back, an incredible amount of snow and ice had already melted, so it will probably only be a few days until the track is bare.
Back in town I was keen on some winter again, so we went straight to the Kasprowy wierch cable car to go to the top. Sadly we had not done our homework and did not realize that the cable car had its last run to the top at 15.00. To my defense, the ski slopes at the other places were to my surprise open until 20.00, so I did not even think this would close early. Anyway we learned our lesson, and pre-booked the ticket for the next day…
Due to the popularity of the Kasprowy wierch cable car, you have to choose the exact time when to go up, and return two hours after. At the top there are a few slopes with chair lifts on both sides. As I was craving to do some more skiing, I rented equipment at the top (2 hours for 20 zł) and got going. Bear in mind that the selection at the top is very limited, so I would advise to rent the skies downtown. That way you don’t waste the short time you have for skiing either. Also, there is a special ticket combining the cable car and the chair lifts. Buying them separate will cost you 20 zł per run with the chair lift. You do the math…
In general, I was quite surprised of the structure of the skiing in Zakopane. They did not have one big ski resort, but many smaller ones, most of them with just one lift and one slope. I also learned that many of the small private hotels had put up their own small lifts as well. For me this was a very strange, being used to larger areas with several ski lifts and many slopes to choose from at the same place. There are luckily a few larger areas a bit out of town. Or, you can easily do a day trip to Slovakia.
Getting to Zakopane:
Flying in to Krakow, I got on the train to the main train station, right next to the bus station. It was cheap and convenient, taking only 15 minutes. There are several bus companies going to Zakopane, but I found Polskibus very convenient, and booking the ticket online in advance was nice and easy.
Experienced in February.