Zakopane – The Foothills of the Tatra’s

In Zakopane, I found my first slice of the Central European countryside. I also later found snow for the first time. My travel to this side of Europe has always been in summer and then in autumn. When it is early summer or late autumn, chances are that I still find snow not only on the Tatra’s (Polish – Slovakian mountain range) but also in its foothills of which Zakopane takes the most interesting position.

I came to hear about Zakopane for the first time in my hostel in Krakow. I believe it was in the evening when I had just finished cleaning up after my dinner when I overheard someone in the back of the table saying ‘I took a day trip to Zakopane’. Later in the night as I sat in the common area I heard some other voices speak of Zakopane again. I guess it was then that I first typed the letters Z A K O P A N E on my screen on google.

What showed was not just the mountain scenery which I was expecting from what I had overheard but also a string of pictures with very peculiar and beautiful houses. Over the years of traveling to Zakopane and the Tatra’s in Poland, the wooden houses made in the true Zakopane style is what really sticks in the memory of all my travelers. There is the weather, which is always unpredictable but nice and cold, the food which is always rich, and the people which are mostly friendly.

How to reach Zakopane?

From Krakow, it is a 2 hours drive to Zakopane. There are frequent buses that take you from Krakow to this mountain town. There is an interesting train that makes this journey as well.

Zakopane for me is a break from the big city tourism, even though tourists have discovered it, they still only mostly make day trips from Krakow, making an evening here on the central street, the Krupowki street a very peaceful affair.

There are times when I just walk up and down the street to get a feel of the place, well not entirely as no feel is complete without eating something. The food options on Krupowki remained strictly polish for a long time and I was not complaining, just over the last 2 – 3 years, the kebab and chocolatiers have come in. The Asian food is still not seen anywhere and I guess it will stay that way.

Krupowki street

The Krupowki is full of women selling sheep cheese other mountain products which probably are all homemade. The cheese is smoked in special cabins just outside the town and this imparts a very special flavor to them, which with a cranberry spread makes it perfect to match up with the taste. On a clear day sitting out on the wooden benches, sipping a beer and having a polish sausage is an activity I have indulged in as I have on a rainy day, with coffee and cake.

For a more detailed meal, I prefer sitting in the cozy inside. The menu is held together with a mini ax, which is also the symbol of the town. Most of the activities from food to architecture has to do with the terrain which is like other mountain landscapes have plentiful wood and grazing pastures for the livestock to feed on. They say that the land is rich and so are its people. The Zakopanians had a minimum impact of the communist regime, unlike in big cities like Krakow and the capital Warsaw or even Berlin.

Well, coming back to food, my favorite is the mountain trout grilled with a dollop of pure butter and coupled with mushrooms from the valley. Though mushrooms and fish are a strange combination, I like to have them side by side, as I can’t wait for one to finish before I start the other. Red meat is not one of my favorites but here I have enjoyed a black pudding sausage or a lamb in cream sauce and even though I have told myself I would finish the whole plate, I have been unsuccessful many times.

Food stall

This is the reason that the fish helps a lot to feel not so guilty. The pierogi here which is a polish tradition, the dumpling, takes the honor of being my favorite over its rival in Krakow. I might just be bragging here on how biased food wise I am towards Zakopane.