Poland - The Majestic Tatras and Historic Kraków - 20th to 27th September 2015

From the natural majesty of the Tatra Mountains to one of the most beautiful cities in Europe – this walking adventure in Poland promises to be breathtaking.

We begin our journey in the picturesque town of Zakopane at the foot of the Tatra Mountains - the highest range in the Carpathian Mountains. These form a natural border between Slovakia and Poland, and are home to the first European cross-border National Park, the Tatra National Park , renowned for its walking trails and climbing routes.

Separated from the rest of Poland for centuries by impenetrable forests, Zakopane developed its own unique folklore. It provides a real taste of the Góral culture – with its unique gastronomy, traditional folk music, characteristic wooden architecture, and colourful costumes still proudly worn today by friendly locals. There are also plenty of art galleries and museums. On a visit to The Tatra Museum, you can discover the rich local traditions that are still very much alive on the streets of Zakopane today. Or visit the Kulczycki Gallery to view the work of some of Poland’s more recent prominent artists.

In Kraków - one of the most beautiful cities in Europe and a UNESCO World Cultural and Heritage Site - we can enjoy its rich cultural heritage of Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque architecture. From the Wawel Cathedral - the coronation and burial site of the Polish Kings - and the Royal Castle on the banks of the Vistula river, to Kraków’s Grand Square, the Rynek Główny. This is the largest square in of all Europe’s medieval cities and the perfect place to pause and to soak up the amazing atmosphere of its cafes, artists and historical buildings including St. Mary's Basilica, the famous Renaissance Cloth Hall and the Gothic Town Hall Tower. Kraków is also home to the Jagiellonian University, one of the oldest in the world.

St. Mary's Basilica from Cloth Hall, Main Square, Kraków
  • Walking through the Kościeliska Valley
  • Stunning treks through the Tatra Mountains
  • Hiking to Morskie Oko – The Tatras’ most beautiful lake
  • Cable car journey to Kasprowy Wierch
  • Visiting Auschwitz–Birkenau or Wieliczka Salt Mine
  • Guided walking tour of historic Kraków
  • Sampling regional Polish cuisine

Our first destination, Zakopane, is the perfect base for a walking holiday in the Tatra National Park. Our walking adventure begins just outside the town in what is possibly the most beautiful valley in the Western Tatras – the Kościeliska Valley - once the home of treasure seekers and miners but now a haven for walkers. We’ll walk through lush meadows and rocky gorges and should we still have the energy, visit the serene Smreczyński Pond – where the mountain range reflects beautifully upon its mirror-like surface.

On our hike to Morskie Oko – “The Eye of the Sea” - there are more stunning vistas and waterfalls for us to enjoy as we make our way up to the largest and most beautiful of the Tatras’ lakes. Morskie Oko is a huge, crystal clear, glacial lake and one of the few in the Tatras to have a natural fish population. We’ll return from our walk in style by traditional horse and carriage before an evening in a Polish mountain restaurant dining on the specialities of the region while fiddlers play toe-tapping tunes.

‘The Sleeping Knight’ is possibly the most famous of the Polish Tatras, comprising of three peaks, Great Giewont, Long Giewont and Small Giewont. It dominates the whole of Zakopane and on our hike to the peak of Sarnia Skala, if the weather is kind, we’ll be rewarded with spectacular views of its awe-inspiring rock face as well as far-reaching views across Zakopane.

More panoramas await us on our journey by cable car to the top of Kasprowy Wierch, located in the centre of the mountain range on the border of the Western and High Tatras. Here we can take in the spectacular views before setting off along the mountain pass (Przełęcz pod Kopą Kondracką), hiking along the Polish–Slovak border and descending into the huge meadow of Kondratowa Valley before reaching the foot of Giewont.

After five days enjoying the Tatras we move onto Kraków. On our way we’ll visit Auschwitz-Birkenau or the Wieliczka Salt Mine. The choice is yours; we plan to let the group split in two as a visit to Auschwitz-Birkenau may not be for everybody.

The medieval city of Kraków with its Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque architecture is one of the academic, cultural and artistic centres of Poland. On our journey through the city with our guide we’ll visit Oskar Schindler’s factory, as immortalised in Steven Spielberg’s film Schindler’s List, before walking to Wawel Hill on the bank of the Vistula River - home of the Royal Castle and Wawel Cathedral. A visit to Kraków wouldn’t be complete without visiting the famous Grand Square to soak up the atmosphere over a coffee and enjoy its beautiful architecture from across the ages. We’ll return to the square in the evening to enjoy traditional Polish cuisine in this uniquely Polish setting.

Time permitting; we may be able to include a musical interlude at Chopin's Salon where regular concerts feature the works of one of Poland's most famous composers.

Lake view of the Tatra Mountains

Day 1 - Sunday 20th September - UK to Krakow, transfer to Zakopane (D)

Fly from Gatwick (or Liverpool) to Kraków. On arrival we transfer by private coach to Zakopane. Check into the Hotel Belvedere, Zakopane. Free time.

Dinner in the hotel. Overnight Hotel Belvedere, Zakopane

Day 2 - Monday 21st September - Walking through the Kościeliska Valley (BLD)

The Kościeliska Valley is considered to be one of the most beautiful valleys in the Tatra Mountains. We will be heading along a trail through wooded glades and sheep pastures to make our way up to the mountain hut on the Ornak Clearing. The distance to the hut is 6km and from there we have a number of options. Either return down the same trail or walk to Wąwóz Kraków (Kraków Gorge) a wild rocky limestone canyon – an additional hour and a bit of a scramble with metal chains and ladders but stunningly scenic or, to the beautiful Smreczyński Pond. As this is our first day, 12km may just be about enough for most.

Distance: approx. 12km, Grade: Moderate.

In the evening there is a welcome reception followed by dinner in the Hotel. Overnight Hotel Belvedere, Zakopane

Day 3 - Tuesday 22nd September - Morskie Oko Trail (BLD)

Morskie Oko is the largest and most beautiful of the Tatra lakes. Surrounded by mountains - a huge crater known as “the eye of the sea”. Rather than take the main trail to the Lake (approx. 7km) we plan to take the much more scenic option through the Bialka Valley, passing the beautiful Wodogrzmoty Mickiewicza waterfalls, through the wooded Dolina Roztoki (The Roztoka Valley) and up towards the Dolina Pięciu Stawów (The Valley of Five Lakes, 1670m). This is a stunning route with spectacular waterfalls and crystal clear lakes along the way. There’s a bit of a climb, not too difficult but steep, to reach the Swistowka Pass, 150 metres higher. From there it’s downhill towards Morskie Oko with it’s breathtaking views. We arrive at the lake with time to linger and enjoy our picnic lunch. Returning to the hotel from Morskie Oko by horse and carriage.

Distance: approx. 17km, Grade: Moderate.

Dinner tonight is at Czarci Jar - The Devil's Gully – where we can enjoy regional specialities while fiddlers play toe-tapping tunes. Delightfully located next to a stream and small ravine, just 10 minutes' walk from the Belvedere. Overnight Hotel Belvedere, Zakopane

Mountain Hut, Tatra National Park

Day 4 - Wednesday 23rd September - Sleeping Knight Walk (BLD)

The profile of the Giewont Massif resembles a “Sleeping Knight”, which local legend says will awake when Poland is in dire need. Giewont dominates the whole of Zakopane and on top of the mountain stands a famous cross erected over 100 years ago dedicated to Jesus Christ, from the Highlanders of Zakopane.

We start today’s walk from the hotel, walking towards the picturesque Dolina Białego (The White Stream Valley), from where we enjoy a gentle climb to reach Czerwona Przełęcz (Red Mountain Pass), between Giewont and Sarnią Skałą (Deer Rock). After around two hours walking it is then just a few minutes to the top of Sarnią Skałą (1377m) with a few metres' scramble just before the top from where there are spectacular views of the awe-inspiring huge rock face of Giewont and the whole Zakopane Valley below. Descend into the Dolina Strążyska and from there it is around half an hour to get down to the valley and mountain hut for optional refreshments. At this point we have the option to walk to the nearby Siklawica Waterfalls at the foot of Giewont (15 minutes). Then about 45 minutes easy walking to the entrance of the valley and another 30 minutes along the edge of the forest and the Tatra National Park back to the hotel.

Distance: approx. 8km, Grade: Moderate.

Dinner in the hotel. Overnight Hotel Belvedere, Zakopane.

Day 5 - Thursday 24th September - Cable car and walk from Kasprowy Wierch (BLD)

Kasprowy Wierch is the only mountain in the Tatras accessible by cable car. Today we’ll take the cable car to the top (1987m), and hike east towards Przełęcz pod Kopą Kondracką (the Kopą Kondracką Pass) – about a 1.5 hour's walk along the ridge of the Polish-Slovak border with breathtaking views on both side. Descending from the pass we enter the huge meadow of Kondratowa Valley at the foot of Giewont, from where we’ll continue down to Kuźnice. Should the weather turn sour we have the option to take one of the more direct trails back down.

Distance: approx. 9km, Grade: Moderate.

Dinner at the Koneser Restaurant in the 5-Star Hotel Litwor. Overnight Hotel Belvedere, Zakopane.

Day 6 - Friday 25th September - Kraków - Auschwitz-Birkenau or the Wieliczka Salt Mine (BD)

Check out of the hotel and head for Kraków. The group will split today, as there is a choice of visiting either Auschwitz-Birkenau or the Wieliczka Salt Mine. Auschwitz–Birkenau is synonymous with death, cruelty and the Holocaust. It was here that the Nazis established their largest concentration camp. The camp has been preserved as a memorial, and is now a World Heritage site. The prison blocks that survive have been turned into a museum charting the history of the camp and of persecution in wartime Poland.

As this visit may not be for everyone, we are offering, as an alternative, a visit to the Wieliczka Salt Mine.

The historic Wieliczka Salt Mine is over 700 years old. It is a unique collection of magnificent chambers chiselled out of rock salt, amazing underground lakes, magnificent timber constructions and unique statues sculpted in salt. The tour of this UNESCO World Heritage Site takes in a mile and a half of underground galleries and ancient chambers, the most impressive of which is the Chapel of St Kinga, with alter pieces, chandeliers and sculptures all carved from rock salt. The Nazis tried to establish an aircraft factory in the mines and there is also an underground health resort specialising in treating respiratory diseases and allergies.

Check in and overnight Novotel Centrum, Kraków. Dinner in the hotel.

Wawel Cathedral, Kraków

Day 7 - Saturday 26th September - Tour of historic Kraków (BD)

We meet up with our guide and head off to explore Kraków, Starting with Oskar Schindler’s Factory – devoted to the wartime experiences of Kraków under Nazi occupation in World War II. We then head to Wawel Hill, a microcosm of Polish history and culture, where we take in the Royal Castle and Wawel Cathedral. Then following Grodzka Street (The Royal Route) we make our way into the medieval Old Town passing some of the towns most prominent landmarks to experience its famous Grand Square, the Rynek Główny. The perfect place to relax, enjoy a coffee, soak up the atmosphere and listen out for the hourly bugle call from the towers of St. Mary’s Basilica. This call dates back to the Middle Ages when it used to announce the opening and the closing of the city gates. We’ll have time to visit the church and see Veit Stoss’ three-storey high altarpiece – the largest gothic sculpture in the world.

The walking tour will take around four hours but we plan to make several stops for coffee and enjoy an optional lunch in a local restaurant.

Our final evening meal together will be at the Wesele Restaurant in the Grand Square, serving traditional Polish cuisine and international dishes with a Polish twist. Overnight Novotel Centrum, Kraków

Day 8 - Sunday 27th September - Kraków and return to UK (B)

We have breakfast at our hotel before taking the transfer to the airport for our flight back to UK.

B = breakfast, L = lunch, D = dinner

Hotel Belvedere, Zakopane

Hotel Belvedere, Zakopane

A traditional luxury 4* hotel located within easy walking distance of the centre of Zakopane in the quiet White Stream Valley. Tastefully decorated it offers a warm and friendly service. Rooms have all the facilities you would expect of a 4* hotel. There is also a stunning spa, aqua and thermal centre, perfect after a long day’s walk.

Novotel Kraków Centrum, Kraków

A modern 4* hotel situated in the city centre, opposite Wawel Hill and just a few minutes from the Old Town. Leisure facilities include a swimming pool, sauna and jacuzzi.

Hiking in the Tatra National Park

Please note that the following flight details are the latest known and are subject to confirmation. All times are local.

Flights can also be arranged from Belfast and London Southend

Outbound London Gatwick - Sunday 20th September 2015
Depart London Gatwick
Arrive Kraków
EZY8511 09:20
12:45
Outbound Liverpool - Sunday 20th September 2015
Depart Liverpool
Arrive Kraków
EZY7243 07:25
10:55
Inbound London Gatwick - Sunday 27th September 2015
Depart Kraków
Arrive London Gatwick
EZY8512 13:15
14:45
Inbound Liverpool - Sunday 27th September 2015
Depart Kraków
Arrive Liverpool
EZY7254 11:25
13:05

E&OE

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