Małopolska region is famous for its lush, green forests and vast mountain ranges. You will find here breath-taking views of the picturesque peaks, glades and valleys. You certainly won't regret choosing Gorce and Island Beskids as the destination of your trip. The first of them is a mountain range, the highest point of which is the famous Turbacz (1310 metres asl). In the central part of the range there is the Gorce National Park where such animals as wolf, lynx and many species of birds, including black stork, capercaillie and three-toed woodpecker, are living. In Gorce and the adjacent part of the island Beskids there are areas protected under the European Ecological Network Natura 2000: Special Protection Area for Birds “Gorce” and Special Protection Area for Habitats “Ostoja Gorczańska”.
When you are in the region, it is worth going for a walk in the Island Beskids, within which there are many popular peaks, such as Mogielica (1,170 metres asl), Ćwilin (1,072 metres asl), Luboń Wielki (1,022 metres asl) or Śnieżnica (1,006 metres asl). Slightly less popular among tourists, but equally beautiful are: Jasień, Modyń and Krzystonów. These peaks are separated from each other by river valleys and passes, which creates a kind of “archipelago” and explains by the way the genesis of the name “Island Beskids”.
The Ochotnica valley is one of the longest in Poland. It is surrounded on all sides by the Gorce ranges: from the north by Gorzec, from the south by Lubań, and at the entrance to the valley you can see the beautiful meandering Dunajec river separating Gorce from Beskid Sądecki. The whole valley is guarded by 4 lookout towers located on the highest peaks in the area: Koziarz (943 metres asl), Gorce (1,228 metres asl), Magurki (1,108 metres asl) and Lubań (1,211 metres asl), and between the towers, there are over 130 km of bicycle, cross-country and skitour routes marked out as part of the project “Enclave of active leisure in the heart of Gorce”.
Places you will never forget
It is worth going on a trip to Gorce and Island Beskids with a previously developed plan, even the most general one. We suggest starting the hike from the Gorce National Park, where you will find a number of nature paths surrounded by beautiful trees; spruces, beeches and firs – many of which are even 100 years old! Although the natural richness of the GNP must be seen with one's own eyes, we also recommend to take a look at the exhibitions of the Educational Centre of the Gorce National Park in Poręba Wielka.
Of course, nothing can replace visiting real peaks and glades, which is why we encourage you to get to Bukowina Waksmundzka and Turbacz – two Gorce peaks offering picturesque views of the Tatra Mountains, the Nowotarska Basin, Pieniny and Lake Czorsztyn. Mountain panoramas can also be admired from observation towers, which are numerous in the area. One of them is located about 3 km north of Rabka, on the Królewska Góra peak. It is a wooden building over 25 m high, from which there are beautiful views of the Gorce, Island Beskids, Babia Góra and the Tatra Mountains. On the peaks of Gorce, namely Lubań, Magurek and Koziarz there are 30-metre lookout towers, which architecturally refer to wooden Gothic churches from the region.
Gorce and Island Beskids are separated from other ranges by two rivers: Raba and Dunajec. However, these two are not the only picturesque rivers in the area – Kamienica Gorczańska and the Spad falls prove that very well. Mogielica Reserve is located on the top the highest peak in the Island Beskids – Mogielica and has a lookout tower. In addition, there are 3 other nature reserves in the area: Kostrza, Śnieżnica and Luboń Wielki. They are all located on the slopes of the mountains with the same names. Luboń Wielki (1,022 metres asl) is one of the most characteristic mountains of the Island Beskids. On its south-eastern slopes you can find the inanimate nature reserve “Luboń Wielki”. It was established in 1970 and covers an area of 12 ha. You can find there – the largest in Island Beskids and one of the most beautiful in the whole Carpathians – flysch landslide with stone runs. The area is covered with rock forms of original shapes. They form rock perches and humps, several meters high, called Dziurawe Turnie. Moving along the trail leading to Mogielica or Krzystonów it is impossible not to cross the Stumorgowa Glade, from which we will see not only the surrounding peaks of the Island Beskids, but also the range of Gorce, Beskid Sądecki, Pieniny, and even the Tatra Mountains and the peak of Babia Góra. What more could you want?
If you haven't been to Gorce and the Island Beskids yet, you'll be pleasantly surprised after the first trip. Past centuries are the background of many Gorce and Beskid legends. One of the more interesting is the one that explains the origin of the formation of a huge boulder, known as the Devil's Stone, near Szczyrzyc. This famous monument of inanimate nature supposedly owes its existence to the devil himself. According to the legend, an evil demon, wanting to demolish the Cistercian abbey in Szczyrzyc, unexpectedly dropped a boulder not far from the target. Apparently, the devil was disturbed by the sound of the monastery bell. It is worth noting that on the eastern side of the Devil's Stone, there is a hermitage dedicated to Saint Benedict, today visited by pilgrims and travellers. In the vicinity of both these sites, you can admire the chapel of St Benedict as well.
On the east, the Island Beskids end with the Łososiński Range. It is a mountain ridge that stretches between Limanowa and Lake Rożnów. You can find here unusual landscapes with glacial glades and the most beautiful beech forests in the entire Island Beskids. The highest peak of the Łososiński Range is Jaworz (918 metres asl), on the slopes of which partisan units used to have their base during World War II.
The always vital tradition
For those who want to combine active leisure with a solid dose of knowledge, we recommend thematic routes – the Wooden Architecture Route and the Cistercian Trail. Both of these routes are primarily sacral in nature. The Cistercian Trail connects objects related to the Cistercian order. Many of them, including the Abbey of Cistercians in Szczyrzyc, dates back to the Middle Ages. Interestingly, the sanctuary founded in the 13th century is also the only continuously existing Cistercian monastery in Poland. When visiting the church, it is also worth taking a look at the monastery museum, in which we will see, among others a collection of coins, weapons, minerals, and even a unique collection of Szczyrzyc beer labels. The Papal Trails are also an interesting proposition – they were designed to commemorate the Holy Father John Paul II and his love for Polish mountains. The symbolic opening and dedication of the Papal Trails in the Polish mountains took part on 26 May 2003 in Rabka Zdrój. On that day, a monument of John Paul II the Tourist was unveiled in Park Zdrojowy. It opens the 200-km Papal Trail in the Island Beskids and Gorce. It is also worth mentioning the Wallachian Culture Trail – a cross-border trail dedicated to natural and cultural heritage associated with pastoral traditions in the Carpathian Mountains. The trail leads through beautiful landscapes, high mountain glades, and its creation was launched by Ochotnica, where Wallachian traditions are still very visible. You can go on a hike from Ochotnica Górna, through the Jamne stream, to the shepherd's hut Bacówka “u Bucka”, where you can buy traditional cheeses and take a closer look at the traditional sheep grazing, then go through Magurki and finish the hike in at Ustrzyk.
In Gorce and Island Beskids many folk traditions are still being cultivated, such as dziady śmiguśne in Dobra, which commemorate the 13th-century Tartar invasion. The inhabitants of Dobra gave shelter to prisoners who escaped from Tartar captivity after the invasion on the Cistercian monastery in Szczyrzyc. People, looking for shelter from the cold, were covering themselves with straw sheaves. To commemorate these events, on Easter Monday young boys make such costumes on their own. This tradition passes from generation to generation.
Culinary traditions are also cultivated in the region. Łącko boasts a cuisine rich in unique flavours. This is where the Festival of Blossoming Apple Trees and the Fruit Harvest Festival take place. This inconspicuous town in the south of the Małopolska region is famous for fruit-growing: according to historical sources, cultivation of fruits was already known here in the 12th century. Local fruit growers and farmers to this day proudly present Łącko apples, which are exceptionally browned and juicy. In addition, during the Fruit Harvest Festival, the Śliwowica Łącka liquor is presented to the world. This strong alcohol is not the only one known in the area - another one we should also mention is Żytko (or Żytniówka). Rye, spirit yeast, and clean, non-chlorinated water from local intakes are used to produce Żytko. When talking about alcohol, it is also worth mentioning the beer form Szczyrzyc, known already in the first half of the 17th century.
Among the dishes of the Beskid Wyspowy, the most famous is sauerkraut soup with mushrooms, which is still one of the main dishes served during Christmas Eve dinner. Noteworthy regional cuisine products also include: bread from Męcina, dried and smoked plum (called suska sechlońska), Małopolska honeydew honey, pancakes fried on metal plate on and kalach from Jodłowice.
The Gorce culinary traditions have their own publication - materials from the book “Former cuisine of Gorce highlanders” have been made available at www.gorczanskiesmaki.pl. You will find there mainly vegetarian dishes such as: pancakes fried on metal plate, Juha soup, plum soup, stuffed cabbage with groat and mushrooms and swedes from ashtray. When in Ochotnica Górna, look for shepherd's hut Bacówka u Bucka, where a wide range of cheeses are still produced using traditional shepherds' methods and where you will learn the differences between bundz, bryndza, gołka and oscypek.
There is no doubt that regular trips to Gorce and Island Beskids will improve not only well-being, physical condition, but also health. Especially that one of the important sites in the region are the Mineral Water Pump Room in Szczawa and the Rabka-Zdrój health resort located in the valley of Raba and Słonka. Rabka mineral waters deserve special attention, as they are of great importance in bathing, drinking and inhalation treatments. What's more, Rabka brine was used already in the Middle Ages. Several hundred years later, in the 19th century, tuberculosis, once one of the most dangerous diseases in the world, was treated in the town. It was then, in 1857, at the initiative of Józef Dietl, that a chemical test of Rabka waters was carried out. The result of the expertise confirmed their healing qualities, and Rabka was recognised as a health resort. The uniqueness of Rabka mineral waters was proved also in the interwar period. In this inconspicuous mountain town, children suffering from respiratory diseases, allergies and diabetes were successfully treated. In the 1920s, new sanatorium facilities were built in Rabka, and the surrounding landscape was taken under protection. In 2009, a brine graduation tower was also built here. Due to the huge successes that were achieved in the area of activities dedicated to the health of children and adolescents, in 1996 the city was honoured with the title of the “Town of Children of the World”, awarded jointly by the Chapter of the Order of the Smile, UNESCO and the voivode of the Nowy Sącz poviat. It is worth going to Rabka-Zdrój at any time of the year, but especially in summer and spring. It is then that a number of events take place here, including: Rabka Brine Festival, Rabka International Festival of Children's Literature, Children's and Youth Integrative Spartakiada, Carpathian Children's Festival of Regional Groups, Holiday Festival of Fairy Tales and the Salt Trail Cup cycling event.
Also worth visiting is the “Rabcio” Puppet Theatre, which dates back to 1949, when there was a need to support somehow children suffering from tuberculosis. Young patients staying in sanatoriums at the time had the opportunity to watch the first performance in the history of the theatre: “Rabcio Zdrowotek”.
The youngest will love Rabkoland – an amusement park known all over Poland offering over 30 attractions that children can use alone or with their parents. We will find there carousels, theatres for children and many other attractions. Enthusiasts of crazier entertainment will certainly be interested in the Limanowa International Mountain Race – Przełęcz pod Ostrą, which is actually a bolide competition.
If the region of Gorce and island Beskids still remains a mystery to you, come to this area in the summer. From the beginning of May to the end of September, the Forum of Communes of Island Beskids organises a festival called DISCOVER ISLAND BESKIDS. Its programme consists of, among others, climbing the peaks, having fun at Galician Railway Picnic in Dobra and joint cleaning of the Island Beskids. For fans of concerts, we recommend visiting the Free Republic of Ochotnica Festival, Ocho! Festival in Ochotnica Dolna, as well as the Dunajec Festival in Tylmanowa.
Gorce and Island Beskids are hospitable regions, rich in traditions, beautiful landscapes and a wide range of attractions for all types of tourists. It is impossible to describe them all, so we recommend visiting the region and experiencing them personally.