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Zakopane In Your Pocket

Zakopane In Your Pocket
Occupying a valley between the fearsome Tatra mountains and the hillside settlement of Gubałówka the town of Zakopane owes its status to one man – Tytus Chalubinski. Visiting for the first time in 1873 our protagonist was knocked out by the mountain scenery, crisp air, strange jodhpur-wearing local chaps and picture book beauty. He returned to Warsaw full of the glories of the Zakopane, and couldn’t wait to let the cat out of the bag. Within years what had been an obscure sheep-rearing community had been transformed into Poland’s favourite mountain spa – the first wave of visitors were looking to cure their breathing ailments, and they were swiftly followed by artists and authors searching for inspiration of both a spiritual and liquid kind. Composers Szymankowski and Monuiszko and literary figures like Tetmajer and Witkacy all kept quarters here, as did a pre-revolutionary Lenin, adding to the avant-garde legend that was growing around the town. By the outbreak of WWII it had become one of Poland’s most high-profile destinations, and it’s a reputation that it still enjoys. The year round population of the resort stands at 28,000, but the three million visitors who arrive annually do a good job of making it feel there’s a couple of zeroes missing from the figure.

The best ski-runs in the country can be viewed from your hotel room, and as such this place often finds itself labelled ‘Poland’s winter capital’. But it’s much more than that; there’s no such thing as an off-season in Zakopane, and the warmer months see the streets sink under the weight of an endless torrent of human flotsam. Bearing the brunt of this tourist assault squad is Krupówki, the principal thoroughfare that cuts through town. At times you can almost feel the cobbles wobbling under their burden, and you can’t help but think if all the break-dancing teams, jugglers, puppet masters and bongo drum players were part of Chalubinski’s masterplan. Thankfully, peer behind the trashy discos and endless stalls selling inflatable aliens and you’ll discover a town that fully justifies the white knuckle bus journey to reach it. Stray off Krupówki and the casual tourist is rewarded with postcard wooden architecture, a handful of great museums and superb cooking that will leave you needing an airlift back to bed. It soon becomes clear why so many people choose Zakopane as their holiday destination – do the booze and dance moves by night, of course, but don’t forget to get adventurous. Take to the hills in the company of eagles, chamois and marmots, take to the year round ski slope, take to museums and take to the forgotten timber-clad streets. Within a flash you’ll be taking to Zakopane, and planning your next trip before you’ve even left.

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