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May 19 2015

Discovering Szczawnica

Discovering Szczawnica pin

I hadn’t heard of Szczawica until I used BlaBla Car (a car sharing website) from Wroclaw back to Krakow. The driver and her partner came from there.  They showed me some pics and told me I should go, so I did.

This has been the most difficult place for me to pronounce.  It’s something like Sh-ch-v-neat-sa, but the sh-ch are pronounced so quickly that a non-native, like me, can’t distinguish it as two sounds.  When I boarded a bus bound for Szczawinca, I had to point to the destination sign on the bus.  I must start writing the names down, so I can at least show the bus driver if I come across this problem again.

The bus journey was fantastic because it’s mainly countryside, and you pass through small towns and villages on the way.  Just before we arrived in Szczawnica, the last stop was in a town called Kroscienko.  At the time, I had no idea what it was called, but it looked like a very relaxing place to be.  There were some tents pitched on the riverbank with hills in the background. What a fabulous place to stay!

The bus continued on its journey across a bridge, and within a matter of minutes we arrived in Szczawica. There were a lot of holidaymakers; I couldn’t see the river; and there were people selling all sorts of things.  I got off the bus, and I just didn’t know what to do.  I was looking for some peace and quiet.  You know, a restful place surrounded by spectacular scenery, like the town we had stopped at a few minutes before.  My first impression of Szczawnica was that it is a bustling tourist town which reminded me of the town centre in Zakopane, and that wasn’t what I was looking for.  As it turned out, it wasn’t as busy as I had first thought, which this photo shows.
Szczawnica town centre
I decided to walk out of the town centre in the direction of Kroscienko, hoping to find a place I’d be happy to stay in.

As it’s a holiday destination, I saw tons accommodation. That didn’t look as if it would be a problem, but did I want to stay in Szczawnica?  I decided to give it chance to see what it was really like, so I followed a path that lead down to the river.
The river in Szczawnica
At last, I had found the river, and the view was just what I had been expecting.  OK, so that helped me to change my mind.

I managed to find a room at one of the guesthouses, and had some lovely neighbours from Warsaw.  They couldn’t speak English, so we had to rely on the teeny, weeny bit of Polish I know.  They very kindly asked if I wanted to go into the centre with them that evening. Well, I had nothing else to do, so why not?  They met up with two couples.  One was the daughter of one of the women.  Surprisingly enough, her and her partner live in Southampton, which is close to where I live in the UK.  I love chance meetings like that.  Anyway, I had a great evening, and what a great start to my weekend!  Staying in Szczawica was the right decision after all!  It is, in fact, a great place to base yourself because there are quite a few things you can do.  I didn’t have enough time to do everything because I only had one full day.  Nonetheless, I did get to explore a few things.

Hiking

Szczawnica is located close to the Pieniny National Park, at the foothills of the Pieniny Mountains, on the border with Slovakia.  The couple living in Southampton invited me to go hiking with them the following day.  We caught a bus from the town to Jaworki, a village in the Pieniny mountains, and that’s where we started our trek.  All in all, it took us about five hours, which included stopping a few times to enjoy the scenery and have some refreshments.  Thankfully, the weather was great.  It was cloudy at first, but that cleared to give us a wonderful blue sky.  There were so many (perhaps, fifty) shades of green all around us at times.  For the trail, follow the signs that have two white and one blue stripe (please see the bottom left photo).

Trail to Wysowa

The hike itself wasn’t difficult, but I’m a little out of shape, so I huffed and puffed a bit at times getting up some steep climbs.  There are permanent steel ladders (see top right photo) and bridges from time to time which makes part of the hike easier.  Our first main goal was to get to the peak of Wysowa, which is 1050m.  From there, you get a wonderful view of both Slovakia and Poland.

What I loved about the trail, apart from the wonderful scenery, was the fact that it’s the border between Slovakia and Poland.  That means that on the journey, we could be in Slovakia one minute and then in Poland the next.  In fact, there were times when I had a foot in both countries, and when I was at the top of Wysowa, my feet were in Poland and my head was in Slovakia.  You can tell because the small, red and white bollards along the trail have the letter P and S, depending on whether it’s Poland or Slovakia.

Wysowa

It was the local I was with who told me.  If it wasn’t for her, I would never have known.  That’s where local knowledge comes in very handy!

We hiked back down and continued our journey back to Szczawnica.  The landscape reminded me of the UK with beautiful, rolling hills and green pastures.  The difference was the snow-capped Tatra mountains in the distance.  We passed some shepherds with a flock of sheep, and it was milking time.  That’s the first time I’ve seen a sheep being milked.  They use that for the traditional cheese that is produced in southern Poland, Oscypek.  We even found a man who was in the process of making the cheese.  He was in a small wooden cabin, and it was very smokey.  It was interesting to see part of the manufacturing process as well as the cute lambs who were chilling out under a tree.

Pieniny Mountains

We continued on and eventually got to Palenica.  We stopped at a bar for a drink and met up with my neighbours, the friendly women.  After that, we took the chair lift down to the centre of Szczawnica.  You can walk down, but it was worth the ride for the view.

Chair lifts in Szczawnica

Riverside walk/cycle

Pieniny National Park, Szczawnica

You can walk or cycle along the riverside.  In recent years, Szczawnica has been redeveloped, so the cycle paths and walkways along the river are excellent.  It was getting late, but I went for a walk into the Pieniny National Park.  It was a nice, easy, level walk in wonderful, natural surroundings.  If I had continued on, it would have taken me into Slovakia and I could have gone as far as Sromowce Niżne, which is where I first discovered the Pieniny National Park.

Traditional rafting

You can also go rafting on a traditional raft on the Dunajec Gorge.  I didn’t have time to do that either, but it’s on my list of things to do before I return to the UK in July.

Location

There are regular buses from Krakow to Szczawnica and vice versa with a journey time of approximately two hours.

Have your say

Have you been to Szczawnica?  If so, what was your favourite thing to do and can you recommend some things for me to do on my next visit?  If you haven’t been there, would you add it to your list of places to visit in Poland?

About the author

Teresa Keane

Teresa has been to almost 60 countries. She started travelling independently at the age of 38 when she gave up her job, rented out her house, put her possessions in storage and spent a year travelling the world. It changed her life. She now creates, publishes, & promotes online travel content and is an experienced freelance trainer & EFL teacher.

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