Beskid Sadecki, in Malopolskie Province (or Voivodeship), is a remote mountain range with rolling hills covered with vast swathes of primeval forest. It stretches down south through Slovakian border which can be crossed while hiking. It's full of picturesque little towns and villages scattered along the streams in numerous valleys. It's also a home to many wild animals and plants, like foxes, wild boars, snakes (including vipers), lynxes, deer and even bears (although I have never heard about anyone encountering a bear).
The area is not as popular and touristy as Tatra mountains region lying at the foot of the town of Zakopane. If you wish to have a total break from civilization, choose the trails of Beskid Sadecki, you will have a chance to realize how little we, humans and our modern civilization mean when compared with the vastness greatness of the nature. No people, no cities, only endless space.
Walking the forest trails, trying some local, organic foods and discovering the traditions that are slowly being displaced by modern style of life give unforgettable experience and allow you to enter a different world, the world of the past when people lived in total harmony with the nature.
How to get to Beskid Sadecki
Almost all foreign visitors coming to the Lesser Poland (Malopolskie) region, arrive in the cultural capital of Poland - Krakow. Krakow is an amazing city to visit itself, so different than almost entirely destroyed during the second world war and then rebuilt in the Soviet style - Warsaw.
From Krakow main railway station, you can also easily get to Beskid Sadecki region by taking one of the frequently operating buses or a train to the town of Nowy Sacz, the center of Beskid Sadecki. The fare is only about 5 EUR/6.60 USD. The journey will take around 2.5 hours.
Nowy Sacz was founded at the end of the thirteenth century and the town's main square still offers the medieval charm. It's filled with many little restaurants and pubs. You can find here great local dishes at very affordable prices. In the middle of the square is the town hall, a magnificent building which was constructed at the end of the nineteenth century. It houses a great restaurant where I had the best trout in my life. Also, as a dessert, try local pierogis (dumplings) filled with forest fruit.
While in Nowy Sacz, visit also the Ethnographic Park - Galician Town (reconstructed based on a typical town during the times of Austrian partition of Poland) and the heritage site - skansen. An entire village is reconstructed there, including the cottages, original tools and furniture, school, church and a manor house. You will go back in time to the seventeenth century and see for yourself the way the life was in a small settlement where peasants had to work and produce their own food and landlords lived like kings.
Stary Sacz had been the center of the region long before it was ousted by its neighbor, Nowy Sacz. In fact, Stary Sacz is one of the oldest towns in Poland and the medieval, small-town atmosphere can be sensed here even more than in Nowy Sacz. "Stary" means old in Polish, while "nowy" means new.
The town dates back to the thirteenth century when the duchess of Poland - Kinga and her husband King Boleslaw V the Chaste received the town of Sacz and surrounding villages. The duchess commissioned the construction of the convent which became the symbol of Stary Sacz and is still functioning to this day.
Krynica, Piwniczna and other Spa towns
More to the south of the region, among the steep hills and mountainous streams, there are some small spa towns where you can indulge in delicious local cuisine and spa treatments. Krynica and Piwniczna are also famous for mineral water springs. During winter, there are numerous ski lifts for the fans of winter sports and skiing. All those towns can also be a great base for hiking, there are many trails around and quite a few mountain lodges and youth hostels in the mountains where you can stop for a meal or stay overnight. Accommodation is ridiculously cheap, as low as a few euros per night.
Hiking the trail to Labowska Hala
The trails are connected and you can start the hike from Nowy Sacz, Piwniczna or nearby villages. Labowska Hala is a mountain that lies between Nowy Sacz and Krynica and if you are heading to Krynica through the mountains, is a perfect place to have some rest.
The forested area is enormous in size and stretches for miles, crossing the Polish-Slovakian border, it's important to follow the trails, which are marked on trees, carefully, otherwise it's very easy to get lost.
I started the hike near the village of Zeleznikowa Mala, around 10 kilometers (6 miles) from Nowy Sacz. Towards the end of the village, the built-up area ended suddenly and I entered a thick, fir forest. The hills are steep but perfect for hiking. Signs of civilization disappear and there's only you and the nature. After an hour of walking, the fir trees give way to beech trees with beautiful, silver trunks. The patches of wooded areas of different types are interspersed with forest glades. In August, grass growing in a glade becomes gold and all the heather blossom creating an amazing show of colors.
Local customs and traditions
The clearings are literally all covered with blankets of wild blueberries (also known as bilberries or huckleberries). Many locals, in their free time come here to enjoy the nature and pick the berries that later will be used for baking and preserves. I also found raspberries, blackberries and wild strawberries that have many times more intense flavor than their grown by man counterparts.
Also, picking mushrooms is a family tradition. Whole families, on a sunny summer morning (the earlier the better - to leave competition behind) head to the woods in search of mushrooms. It's all done for recreational and social purposes, and can also be treated as a contest.
While picking mushrooms, one has to be very careful as the edible specimens are sometimes almost identical to the deadly poisonous ones. Even a small death cap can kill an adult. On the other hand, one of the boletus species (they have a characteristic sponge-like structure containing spores under their caps), after cutting or opening immediately turns blue and is edible and safe. I had a meal with penny bun mushrooms (the king of mushrooms) and it was delicious.
Abandoned cottages and graves
Hiking up the trail, I spotted some solitary cottages scattered here and there between the hills. They resembled the houses that I had seen in the heritage site and I wasn't even sure if they all have electricity. Life here, in such a remote place must be a completely different experience. Someday I would like to try it for a month or so. Local people may look at tourists as if they were aliens, sometimes they just stop their work and stare at you, but they are usually very friendly and helpful when asked for help.
Apart from the villager's cottages, I came across completely abandoned huts, left alone in the middle of nowhere. It made me wonder who might have lived there... In one of them I spotted eggshells and mugs on the table, as if someone had just had breakfast before leaving.
There are also mysterious graves along the trail here and there, no one knows who and in what circumstances was buried there. Probably, the victims of the second world war who had been forced to flee their homes and hide in the forest.
The whole scenery reminded me of one of those horror movies "cabin in the woods style". Not very nice to walk around there after dark. Quite scary, but you feel the adrenaline rise.
What to do when caught in a thunderstorm
Thunderstorms are different in the mountains. It is a horrible experience to be caught in one, and of course I was the lucky one. While walking down the trail, the sun was still shining, I heard a thunder from a distance but I thought I was safe as it was really far. In the mountains, a thunderstorm may come in minutes from any direction and although it was still sunny, I could see a lightning strike and hear thunders. After a couple of seconds later, hail started falling down and it all got more serious. Running down the hill, to seek shelter I came across a sign nailed to a tree which, as it turned out, read: "Here, a couple, aged 22 and 24 died from a lighting strike". It didn't make me feel better, the situation had gotten even worse and I heard trees falling from afar. Luckily, I came across one of the abandoned cottages and waited there until the storm was over.
So what should you do while caught in a thunderstorm?
- Seek shelter - it is important not to be in an open space but it's not always possible
- Don't hide under an isolated tree - that would attract a lighting
- Keep away from metal objects - Metal doesn't attract lightnings itself but it's a perfect conductor
- Move down - Lightnings strike the highest point, try to go down to a lower position, don't be in an upright position, sit or squat on the balls on your feet, minimizing the contact with the ground
After the thunderstorm, in less than half an hour the sun was shining again and I finally got to the mountain lodge in Labowska Hala. I also had a chance to see one of the most beautiful sunsets in my life. It was a day full of adventure and adrenaline but this is what I like.
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