Zakopane is a small little mountain town located at the southern tip of Poland in the lower Tatra Mountains. It is popularly known for its Ski resorts and mountaineering trails. It is commonly referred to as the winter capital of Poland. A hill in the shape of a sleeping man is the most identifiable natural feature of this town. The Tatra Mountains are said to share a lot of characteristics with the Alps and you can see many of its peaks from this place.
Zakopane Ski Pads
Wherever you are in this small town of a few thousand residents you can see Ski pads and people practicing the launches. I was told there are more than 7000 Ski resorts in this lower Tatra area. Apart from Ski, there are a few distinctive elements of this town that still remain more or less confined to this area.
Architecture – Zakopane Style
The architecture of this town is unique and goes by the name Zakopane style. Attributed to Polish architect, painter, writer, and artist Stanisław Witkiewicz, who lived from the late 19th to early 20th CE. Houses and other buildings are made of wood like most hill areas, using the lock and block technique and no nails are used. The local Goral tribes use their own style and motifs to make these beautiful houses. I found all the buildings resembling the shape of the letter A. They are tall and narrow with single or double strikes making it read like an A. As you walk through the streets you wonder if anyone thought of moving on to other letters. Some houses have added their own style to the town’s style by fashioning their windows in such a way that the house façade looks like a face with eyes, nose, and lips.
Wooden Chapel Jaszczurowce
You cannot enter private houses, but Witkiewicz designed a wooden chapel called Jaszczurowce in the first decade of the 20th Century you can go inside and see the design closely. Detailed wood carvings at the altar and stained glass paintings fitted in wooden walls give you a sense of the local style. The basement of this chapel exhibits and sells stained glass paintings that are mostly painted around the theme of Christ and his life events. Standing alone in the middle of the woods this chapel is quite charming. There is a museum of the region’s architectural style in a villa called “Koliba” where you can get more details about the style.
Smoked cheese Oscypki is Zakopane’s must-have exclusive food. It is smoked Sheep’s cheese. Everywhere in the town, you can see small stalls selling this cheese though at first instance it does not look like cheese at all. Cheese is fashioned to look like a corn cob or a stack of thick noodles. Or bread rolls with patterns on them, but it is only when you go and talk to the vendors that you figure out that it is actually Oscypki cheese. This Cheese is a bit salty and I think most people would need some time to develop taste for it. If you are eating at a local restaurant, ask them to give you a small slice of it to taste. And order the big chunk only if you like it. A very ethnic restaurant that I ate at served the Oscypki cheese with marmalade and local wine.
Zakopane’s Indian connection is through Aamir Khan’s film ‘Fanaa’ which was based in Kashmir. The place played the role of Kashmir in the film. Yes, the scenes of Kashmir were shot here in the Tatra Mountains and not in Kashmir Valley. We were taken to the Belvedere resort where the film unit stayed. Literally, everyone there remembered the lead actors Aamir and Kajol staying there. The house that was Kajol’s house in the film is located on the slope of a hill. I am not sure if many people go there but it is for sure the most pointed house from the city at least to the tourists from the Indian subcontinent.
We walk in the popular Krupówki Street lined with various stores and carnival-like setups. Shops here sell all kinds of mementos from the city and the country. Interact with entertainers who dress up in costumes for you to click pictures with them. I stand and admire the models painting the walls of a shopping street. Or tourists taking a ride in the beautifully decorated horse-drawn carriages. We attempt spotting a tree with grapes-like bunches of fruits but in blood-red color. People here, string them together and wear them around their necks. I try and pick up some local fruits from the fruit stalls and enjoy the unadulterated taste of the land.
An unusual item you see here is the fresh animal skin that is being dried in the sun and sold at the shops. Restaurants and maybe, houses are decorated using animal skins and other leather items are made from these skins. The use of colorfully designed porcelain tiles around fireplaces is something that I found peculiar to this region.
We talk to the locals and hear the folktales of the local legendary hero Yanosik or Janosik. He is usually introduced as the Robinhood of the Tatra Mountains who robbed the rich to give to the poor.
Zakopane is a hill station that maintains a lot of original Goral culture in its lifestyle. At the same time, it offers world-class tourism with its Ski resorts. The best time to visit the place is in winter but that does not mean summers are any less charming here.
It is about three hour of journey from Krakow city to which it is well connected via buses, trains, and highways. Krakow, in turn, is well connected to major, European cities by Air, Train, and Road.
Recommend you to read the following Things to do in Krakow & Poland Tourist attractions.