What a beautiful place it is! I have been twice. The first time I went, there was still snow and ice in the Pieniny Mountains because of the weather. It wasn’t a wasted trip by any means because I treated it like a reconnaissance mission. I was able to suss the place out for my next visit. During that first trip, I was able to see other places on my way back from Sromowce Nizne such as Niedzica Castle.
Second time round was much better for a few reasons. Firstly, I knew the area, having been there before. The weather was great, and I was there on a weekday rather than a Sunday. That meant the buses were more reliable and frequent. As soon as I arrived, I headed off in search of accommodation. I went past a lot of places with vacant rooms to see if the guesthouse I had stayed at the first time had a vacancy. I mean, why change a good thing? The owner remembered me from the first time, and showed me to my room. It was getting late because I didn’t arrive until about 7pm. So, I dumped my stuff, and headed off out. I went straight to the pedestrian bridge, and within about 30 minutes of my arrival I was back in Slovakia. My goals for the trip were as follows: I wanted to go on a traditional wooden raft, having first been told about it during a BlaBla Car ride. I also wanted to walk from Szczawnica to Červený Kláštor, and visit the monastery.
Having crossed the bridge, I went in search of the monastery. I was sure, although not certain, that the town across from Sromowce Nizne was Červený Kláštor. But was it? I turned right once I got off the bridge, just as I had done the first time I was there. Turning right seems to be the default direction for me for some reason. I walked further than I had done the first time, but I didn’t see any sign of or for the monastery. However, a sign confirmed that I was in the town of Červený Kláštor. At least that was something! I got a little way-laid by a snail. You know, the kind that you eat. Well, not me because I’m veggie. I’ve been trying to improve my photography skills recently, especially macro photography, so I spent a while with the snail until I got a photo I was happy with. It was late by that point, and I really needed some food. As I had eaten on the Slovakian side the first time, I decided to head back across the bridge and eat at a restaurant close to my guesthouse. Before doing that, I walked a short way past the bridge to see if I could find a sign for the monastery. I did. I should have turned left when I walked across the bridge. That’ll teach me!
The following morning, as I headed across the bridge again, I was on a mission to see the monastery and go rafting. On the way to the monastery, I saw a small shed, which had signs for rafting. I went over to find out more. They couldn’t speak English, only Slovakian or German. I can’t speak German, so we somehow managed to converse in Polish/Slovakian. I bought my ticket to go rafting a couple of hours later. That gave me time to find the monastery, and take a look around.
Červený Kláštor Monastery
The monastery, built in the 14th century, was interesting. I did my best to dodge the tour group because there were so many people and none of the rooms are particularly big. Part of the monastery is now a museum which has information about the surrounding area. There are also some archaeological remains, and you can see how the monks lived. The grounds, with the Pieniny mountains in the background, are spectacular. The church, which is fairly plain compared to some of the churches I have been to, felt peaceful. The music and being on my tod helped, I think.
If there were a prize for the friendliest toilet attendant, the woman in charge of the toilets in the monastery’s grounds would surely win. She couldn’t speak English, so I spoke to her in Polish. She was delighted and complimented me on my ability to communicate with her in a language she could understand.
Traditional Wooden Rafting
After that, it was time to do a bit of rafting. I waited patiently for about 30 minutes until it was my turn. This was great because I got to see how they put the rafts together. I had no idea that each raft was pieced together each time with a few small wooden canoes.
I joined about 10 other people on the raft and off we went. We were given a load of information in Slovakian and German. Unfortunately, I was only able to understand bits and pieces. Rather than listening, I just made the most of the fabulous scenery. I was surprised at how busy it was on the Dunajec River Gorge. There were tons of traditional wooden rafts on the river from both the Polish and Slovakian side, which were all full or almost full. In addition, there were people kayaking and others were on whitewater rafts. Most of the time, we were drifting down the river, but there were patches when the water was quite rough. After about 90 minutes on the water, we reached Koniec Splavu, which is only a 20-minute walk to Szczawnica.
When I was back on dry land, I wondered, ‘How do I get back?’ I seemed to have three options: I could hire a bike, but I wasn’t sure if it was possible to go just one way. I could take a bus, which would have been a 20 minute journey back to Červený Kláštor. The final option was the one I ended up taking. I decided to walk because it was a gorgeous day and only a 9-kilometre journey. This would give me the chance to practise my photography skills as I went as well as get some exercise. With all my frequent photo stops, it took me about two hours to get back.
Pieniny National Park
You can access the Pieniny National Park from both towns. If you go from Sromowce Nizne, you can hike up to Trzy Korony (Three Crowns), an independent portion of the Pieniny Mountains. I tried to do that on my first trip, but was stopped by the snow and ice that still lay on the ground as well as the incessant rain.
The Pedestrian Bridge
When I first went to Sromowce Nizne, it was the first time I had been able to go backwards and forwards from one country to the next. I stayed in Poland and eat in Slovakia. The pedestrian bridge over the Dunajec River makes that possible. I love the structure of the cable-stayed bridge which links the two countries, especially with a view of the Trzy Korony in the background.
Food and accommodation
There are many more places to eat and have a drink in Červený Kláštor than in Sromowce Nizne. The best thing to do this to walk around and see what takes your fancy. There is plenty of accommodation in both towns. You can either book in advance, which is probably a good idea in the high season, or do what I did and take your chances when you get there.
You can either drive or take a bus. I got there by bus both times from Krakow. If you do that, you need to get one of the frequent buses to Nowy Targ from the bus station in Krakow, which is behind the train station. From there, get a bus to Sromowce Nizne. If, like me, your pronunciation of Polish words leaves a lot to be desired, write down the name of the town and show it to the bus driver. The bus to Nowy Targ is a coach, but the bus to Sromowce Nizne is a minibus. There are few places to put your luggage, so just be warned. The journey will take a couple of hours, probably slightly longer. It depends on how long you have to wait at Nowy Targ for the next bus. The landscape on the way is beautiful.
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Have you been to the Dunajec River Gorge?