PART 2 - South, Malopolska - Sanok to Pszczyna
Sanok is a convenient base for visiting the beautiful, wild Bieszczady and Magurski National Parks. Take the road to Lesko, where you may stop to see the 16thC. church and castle (now a hotel). The synagogue and Jewish cemetery have also survived. Continue on road #894 to Solina at the 82m high dam (269ft) and then along the lake with many beautiful views. Finally you reach Ustrzyki Górne in the heart of the Bieszczady at the most south-eastern tip of Poland. There are several surviving old wooden churches in some of the villages. Proceed westward along the mountain road to Komancza, where you have the opportunity to turn north, back to Sanok. Otherwise follow the mountain road to Tylawa in the Dukla Pass. For centuries this pass has been a main trade route between Hungary and Poland. Here you may take a side road into the Magurski National Park, or go via Dukla, Nowy Zmigród and Gorlice back to the main road #28 from Sanok to Nowy Sącz.
Unfortunately, on this trip the weather that day was so bad that we had to omit the beautiful mountain portion completely. In Lesko we turned back and took the main road #28 back through Sanok directly to Nowy Sącz.
In Nowy Sącz take road #969 to Stary Sącz. The Rynek of this small town is picturesque. Paved with cobble-stones and surrounded by low gabled old houses, it looks like it did 100 years ago. Only the parked cars and the plastic baskets at the market stalls destroy the illusion. The huge, walled convent of St. Clare was built in the 1200's. The altars and the vaulting of the church are more modern, from the 1600s!
Continue on #969 through Kroscienko, then take the marked side road through the Pieniny National Park to Niedzica. The castle stands on a rock, high above the dam on the Dunajec river. Originally built in the 14thC., it has been restored and houses the regional museum as well as hotel rooms. The ruins of Czorsztyn castle stand on a rock on the opposite side of the lake. We stayed at the "Kasztel" Pension and enjoyed a comfortable room and a wonderful home-cooked dinner at unbelievably low cost. Unfortunately, the fog and rain did not allow us to enjoy the views.
A major attraction in the summer is a ride on a raft through the Gorge of The Dunajec river. The ride starts at Kąty, a couple of kilometers downriver from the dam. It ends at Szczawnica Spa about 8km further downstream. The Dunajec originates in the Tatry mountains near Zakopane. After passing through the Gorge, near Stary Sącz it joins the Poprad flowing from the Slovakian Tatry and eventually enters the Vistula.
The next stop is the fascinating, old wooden Gothic church in Dębno Podhalanskie. Built in the 15thC., it is claimed to be the oldest surviving wooden church in Europe. The interior is richly decorated by local artists of the period.
There is another wooden church in the Spa town of Rabka. However it is of a later period and is now a museum, but definitely worth a visit. Once more on road #28, we were relieved to have a peaceful drive through lovely hill country after the hectic few miles on the main Cracow - Zakopane highway. Watch for the turnoff onto road #946 towards Żywiec, at Sucha Beskidzka.
Żywiec is home to Poland's best beer and also a charming historic town with an attractive main square surounded by old houses. The interior of the 16thC. Church of the Nativity is beautifully decorated. The elaborately painted choir stalls caught my attention. The Renaissance castle of the Komorowski family has an interesting courtyard.
We spent the night in the ski resort Szczyrk, [SHCHIRK] a few kilometers south of Bielsko-Biala, a town famous for its woolen textiles. The mountains were hidden in pouring rain and our consolation was an excellent dinner served very elegantly in front of a roaring fire. The head waiter of the "Senator" restaurant showed us the comfortable two bedroom suites of the small hotel. A hearty recommendation for both restaurant and hotel. We wished we hadn't previously booked in the cold, almost empty, large tourist hotel!
In the morning we took the by-pass around Bielsko-Biala to reach our next destination quickly. Three enormous super-markets created a Sunday morning traffic jam on the by-pass!
Pszczyna is another town with an attractive pedestrians only Main Square. The main reason for the visit was to see the large palace and park. The park is part of a forest that once joined a Ducal hunting preserve nearly 270sq.km. (104sq.miles) large. The palace was originally 15thC. Gothic, then enlarged and rebuilt by the Hochbergs in its present Neo-renaissance style in the late 19thC. It contains a nice collection of period furniture and pictures. The large Lutheran church has classic Renaissance lines.