In this kingdom, it is still possible to wander alone, in silence, away from the crowds. And the views, covering, e.g., Gorce (link to description of 5 reasons to visit Gorce), the Wyspowy Beskids, Beskid Sądecki, or the vast Nowy Targ Valley and Tatra mountain ranges, will remain in our hearts for a long time!
A turban of mist... wrapping a bald head
‘Opposite the Tatra Mountains, between the Nowy Targ valley and the serpentine basin of the Raba River, the nest of the wild Gorce once climbed. It was separated from the romantic Pieniny Mountains by the swift Kamienice Creek and from the Spiš region by the lively Dunajec River. They stand alone over the hills. And the father of their lineage, the grief-stricken Turbacz, holds his head even higher. It is not known who baptised him and where he got his name from. Perhaps this is because he wraps his bald head in a turban of fog before the rain drops, or rather because he has always been seen in perpetual perturbation’ – this beautiful description of the Gorce region was penned by Władysław Orkan in his novel In Roztoki.
Franciszek Ksawery Smreczyński –for this was Orkan’s real name – was not only one of the best-known writers of the Young Poland period, but also a great bard of the Gorce and the entire Podhale region. He knew these mountains very well, and especially the rough and rugged life there, for it was here that he was born. ‘Dumac’, as he was also called, was born as Franciszek Ksawery Smaciarz (the family changed their name in 1898) in Poręba Wielka. Here he also had his solitary house, the never finished ‘Orkanówka’. It offered a beautiful view, but was not easily accessible, and it is still so even now.
Although he lived in various places in Poland and frequented Europe, he never really left his beloved mountains, his glade, his Gorce.
Łopuszna or Gorce mountains?
‘The Nowy Targ valley borders in the north with the southern slopes of the Beskid Mountains called Gorce,’ writes Wincenty Pol in his A Glance at the Northern Slopes of the Carpathians. He not only ventured into the mountains, but was also interested in life in the valleys, hence he became well acquainted with the local estates and villages. Tourists obviously had been to the Gorce before, as these mountains were more accessible than the Tatras – although ‘wild’ and not fully explored.
It should also be mentioned that the Gorce are mentioned by the incomparable Seweryn Goszczyński, although he does not call them by that name. ‘The Łopuszna Mountains are made up of numerous humps, less sharp or round or flat, between which there are valleys, gullies, ravines, less deep, some waterless, others fed by streams; it is them that separate hills or summits, each with its own name. Significant peaks in the Łopuszna Mountains include: Centyrz, Magóra, Wielka-góra, Turniska, Groń, Wyżnia, Ciaski, Kluczki and others, the names of which I ignore. Their summits of various heights are arranged in steps and form a kind of amphitheatre, the furthest and highest part of which is Kluczki’ he wrote in his Diary of a Journey to the Tatras.
Will we find today the uplifts that Goszczyński described wandering along the trails and paths of the Łopuszna Mountains?
Were the Gorce on fire centuries ago?
Where does their name come from? Advocates of one theory draw attention to the Polish word gorzeć (to burn). In turn, they derive their name from the way clearings were created in the Gorce Mountains – in order to create a sufficiently large place for sheep to graze, the forest was set on fire. And then the mountains were burning, with columns of smoke and fire hovering over them, visible from afar. Others lean towards the word Górce meaning ‘not very high mountains’.
They emerge from the darkness of history as ‘Gorcz’ as early as in 1254. The name was also used by Jan Długosz, historian, herald, diplomat, but also the author of the immense work Annals or Chronicles of the Famous Kingdom of Poland.
In the consciousness of tourists, Gorce appeared relatively recently, at the beginning of the 20th century. Exploring them was encouraged by the Tatra Society and later by the Polish Tatra Society. It was Kazimierz Sosnowski, representing the Nowy Sącz branch of the Polish Tatra Society ‘Beskid’, a hiking enthusiast and originator of many hiking trails, who made an invaluable contribution to their popularisation.
Without the Nowy Targ branch of the Polish Tatra Society, in turn, there would be no first shelter at Turbacz – on the Wisielakówka glade – the one that was consumed by flames in 1933. The merits of the Rabka branch of the Polish Tatra Society and Stanisław Dunin-Borkowski cannot be forgotten either. It is to him that we owe the delineation of nearly 200 km of trails and the construction of shelters at Luboń Wielki and Stare Wierchy.
Turbacz rules over these lands
The Gorce border the vast Nowy Targ Basin on the south. Geographers delimited them from the Sieniawska Pass, along the southern slopes of the Gorce to the Snozka Pass, and then along the Krośnica River to the Dunajec River in Krościenko.
To the east, their border is marked by the Dunajec River, separating them from Beskid Sądecki. At the confluence of the Kamienica Gorczańska with the Dunajec River, the border turns west and runs along the riverbed, first of the Kamienica and then of Głębiniec Creek, climbing to a pass on the southern side of Mount Magorzyca. It then leads along Czerwonka Creek to Przysłop Pass, through the Mszanka Valley. It is bordered to the north-west by the Rabka Basin and to the west by the Orava-Podhale Beskid: the boundary being the Raba River and the Sieniawska Pass.
In the world of the Gorce National Park
For years, much of this land has been cared for by the Gorce National Park. Not only does it have more than 7,000 hectares under its care, but under its protection are green bindweed, mountain bindweed, Carpathian corn borer, alpine panicle and the two-flowered violet.
Wolves, lynxes and occasionally a bear can also be met on the Gorce paths. If we are lucky, we may see or hear grouse, Ural owl, black stork, spotted salamander and even golden eagles. We will walk among magnificent beeches, sycamores, firs and spruces, but also through beautiful glades and mountain pastures. It is therefore no surprise that the Gorce National Park was included in the Natura 2000 network.
If you are going to the Gorce Mountains, you can set up a base, for example, in Niedźwiedź, Kamienica, Mszana Dolna, Nowy Targ, Ochotnica Dolna or Ochotnica Górna, as well as in many other places and even in high mountain hamlets and shelters.
Trails and paths made available for tourism in the Gorce National Park
► Educational trails
⇒ Gorcowy Potok Valley
⇒ Kamienica Valley
⇒ Jaszcze Creek Valley
⇒ Turbacz Creek Valley
⇒ At Turbaczyk
⇒ Wodzicki Manor Park and Mount Chabówka
⇒ Around the Poręba Valley
⇒ From Łopuszna to Jankówka
⇒ From Turbacz to Jaworzyna Kamienicka
⇒ Along the partisan trail to Turbacz
► Hiking trails
⇒ green: Koninki – Tobołów Glade – Suhora – Obidowiec – Stre Wierchy
⇒ blue: Koninki – Hucisko – Średnie Glade – Turbacz
-⇒ green: Niedźwiedź – Orkanówka – Łąki Glade – Turbaczyk – Czoło Turbacza – Turbacz
⇒ black: Lubomierz – Jastrzębie Glade – Kudłoń – Kopa – Konina
⇒ yellow: Lubomierz – Jaworzynka Glade – Kudłoń – Borek Pass – Hala Turbacz – Turbacz
⇒ blue: Trusiówka Glade – Kamienica valley – Borek Pass
⇒ green: Kamienica Valley – Stawieniec – Kudłoń
⇒ blue: Lubomierz Rzeki – Gorc Kamienicki – node of trails on Hale Gorcowskie
⇒ green: node of trails on Hale Gorcowskie – Gabrowska Glade
⇒ black: Łopuszna – Wysznia Glade – Jankówki – Zielenica
⇒ red: Rabka-Zdrój – Turbacz – Zielenica – park border
⇒ yellow: Ochotnica Górna Jamne – Przysłop Dolny
⇒ yellow: Poręba Górna – Stare Wierchy
⇒ green: Poręba Górna – Jasionów – Rdzawka
⇒ green: Poręba Wielka – Olszówka
► Walking trails
⇒ Konina Potasznia – Borek Pass – Rzeki
⇒ Koninki Hucisko – Pasieka Wilderness – Konina Potasznia
⇒ Koninki Hucisko – Olszowy Potok Valley – Tobołów – Poręba Górna
⇒ Hucisko – Turbacz Creek Valley – Olszowy Potok Valley
⇒ Rzeki – Jaworzyna Kamieniecka Glade – Zbójnicka Jama
⇒ Łopuszna – Żubrowisko
⇒ Ochotnica Górna Ustrzyk – Sucha – Kiczora
⇒ Paved road – Kopa Glade
► Cycling trails
⇒ Konina Potasznia – Pasieka – Hucisko – Koninki
⇒ Konina Potasznia – paved road – Borek Pass – Trusiówka Glade – Lubomierz Rzeki
⇒ Borek Pass – Hala Turbacz – PTTK Shelter at Turbacz
⇒ Koninki – Hucisko Glade – Olszowy Potok Valley – Czarne Błota – Tobołczyk – Poręba Górna
⇒ Koninki – Hucisko Glade – Olszowy Potok Valley – Tobołów – dirt road – Młynarska Glade (access to the red trail)
⇒ Koninki – Hucisko Glade – Turbacz Creek Valley – Aniołka – Szałasisko Glade – Olszowy Potok Valley
⇒ Stare Wierchy – Obidowiec – PTTK Shelter on Turbacz – Gabrowska Glade – Kiczora – Zielenica – Knurowska Pass
⇒ Knurowska Pass – Zielenica – Kiczora – Turbacz
⇒ Lubomierz Rzeki – Trusiówka Glade – Papieżówka – Jaworzyna Kamienicka Glade – Gabrowska Glade – PTTK Shelter on Turbacz
► Horse trails
⇒ Turbacz – Mraźnica Glade at the foot of Gorc
⇒ Gabrowska Glade – Jaworzyna Kamienicka – Trusiówka Glade
⇒ Konina Potasznia – Pasieka – Koninki Hucisko
⇒ Konina Potasznia – paved road – Borek Pass – Lubomierz Rzeki
⇒ Koninki Hucisko – Turbacz Creek Valley – Olszowy Potok Valley
⇒ Poręba Górna – Tobołów
⇒ Koninki Hucisko – Tobołów – dirt road (to the red trail) – Obidowiec – Turbacz
⇒ Gabrowska Glade – Zielenica – border of the park
Of course, you can also hike to Turbacz from many other places, e.g., from Nowy Targ (along the yellow and green trails) from Rabka-Zdrój (along the red trail), or from Łopuszna (along the blue trail). The Gorce Mountains are surrounded with hundreds of kilometres of picturesque hiking, cycling and horse-riding trails. We can also find here an unusual Hut Altar (link to description of the Hut Altar at Hala Turbacz), erected in memory of a field mass celebrated by Father Karol Wojtyła, but also Educational Centre of the Gorce National Park in Poręba Wielka.
Those who would wish to explore his kingdom by travelling from east to west – or the other way round – would have to cover at least 33 km, in a straight line of course. When trying to do so from south to north or north to south, we have to be prepared for a walk of more than 15 km.
Beskid islands emerging from the mists
There is only one queen – that is what tourists say about Mogielica, the highest peak of the Wyspowy Beskids. Which areas does it reign over from its 1,170 metres amsl? It is a vast area, encompassing areas between the Rabka Basin, the Gorce Mountains, the Sądecka Basin, the Wiśnicz Foothills and Beskid Makowski.
It includes dozens of massive ‘islands’ and hundreds of kilometres of marked trails, both for those who enjoy unhurried walks and for more experienced hikers. You can go there alone, or you can wander the smoothly-trodden paths with your family. We are sure to find wonderful views, fresh mountain air, a wealth of fantastic legends and extraordinary stories, as well as unique local cuisine specialities... It is the ideal land to escape, if only for a while, from the hustle and bustle of cities and the somewhat hectic pace of life.
How were the Island Beskids born? The story, passed down from tourist generation to generation, was that these islands were first seen by Kazimierz Ignacy Sosnowski, a professor at the Kraków Trade Academy, but also a much-deserved reputation as a pioneer of mountain tourism. It supposedly happened in the 1930s, when Sosnowski camped with students in the Michurowa Glade, near the summit of Ćwilin. It was then that he saw the lonely peaks emerge, one by one, from the rolling mists. They looked like islands emerging on the horizon in the vastness of the ocean.
However, it turned out to be somewhat different. Well, Dariusz Gacek, not only a researcher of this beautiful land but also a keen tourist and author of a guide to the ‘island’ area, established that the name Island Beskids was first mentioned by Professor Ludomir Ślepowron Sawicki, a geographer at Jagiellonian University. As early as 1910, in his work On the Geography of the Polish Carpathians, he wrote about ‘island’ mountains. The ‘Limanowa-Myślenice Island Beskids’ in Sosnowski’s work is thus predates the Sosnowski story by a dozen years.
A trip to the Island Beskids is a combination of wonderful views an unhurried walk and colourful stories and intriguing tales –those from hundreds of years ago and those from a few months ago. The picturesque hills are lined not only with classic hiking trails, but also with educational trails, such as the 21-kilometre-long trail of the 1st Podhale Rifle Regiment of the Home Army, named after Capt. Julian Krzewicki.
Mogielica with the Robber Table and picturesque paths
Was Mogielica the wife of Łopień? Where did the Robber Table come from? Who dug the Marshal’s Well on Zapowiednica? Were the trails on Kopa blazed by brigands, legionaries and partisans? Where was the ‘Wolf’ camp located and where was the Home Army’s airdrop site called ‘Jay 401’? Did Allied parachutes fall on the Stumorgowa Glade?
The answers to these questions can easily be found on the slopes of Mount Mogielica. For this peak was already well-known and recognisable in the distant past. Let us just mention that in 15th-century descriptions of royal estates it is spoken of as a mountain ‘visible from Kraków’. And it was there that suicides and robbers found their final resting place, as locals recall. Hence its name, coming from mogiła, i.e., the grave.
Mogielica has another intriguing name: Zapowiednica, which refers to the verb zapowiadać, i.e., to announce. Why is that? Well, it is because there are always menacing-looking, leaden sometimes almost black clouds gathering over it before a sudden break in the weather. The only way to dispel them is by the unusual sound of the bell, which is located in a small chapel on the Piechoty estate in Słopnice... The locals also the mountain with a less majestic, but more familiar name: Kopa. This name is obviously inspired by the slightly squat, hunchbacked appearance of the peak, as the Polish word kopa means stack.
Since time immemorial, robbers sought refuge on its slopes. Not only did they leave behind well-hidden loot, which they had previously shared on a large stone, today referred to as the Robber Table, but also a wealth of legends and stories. Where to look for these treasures? Some say they are hidden in the Marshal’s Well in the Poręba Glade. Others point to the Brzostek Glade near Przysłopek.
Mogielica, however, is above all a fantastic place to rest. This is because it is criss-crossed with hiking, cycling, horse riding and skiing trails. Let us add to this the magnificent views of the other ‘islands’: Gorce, Beskid Sądecki, Pieniny, Tatras or Babia Góra.
This is just one island, and we have at least dozens of them! Ćwilin, Krzystonów, Lubogoszcz, Luboń Wielki, Łopień, Modyń, Jasień, Jaworz, Szczebel, Śnieżnica (on which an elegant ski station and Bike Park Kasina were built in recent years), Cichoń, Kutrzyca, Lubomir, Ostra, Sałasz all hide some secrets and treasures...
Each island is different, each fascinating, and there are plenty of unusual stories and legends about them. For more than a dozen years now, participants in the ‘Discover the Beskid Wyspowy’ summer campaign are following their trail. The more ambitious tourist can try to earn the Crown of the Wyspowy Beskids – to get it, however, you need to climb as many as 40 peaks! You can also set off on the Main Wyspowy Beskids Trail ‘Beskid Islands’, but that means 320 km of hiking.
The Island Beskids is not only a lofty, sky-stabbing island, but also a passionate world of adventure in the valleys, the life’s work of all those who gave their heart to this region. We will find here, for example, the medieval Cistercian abbey and brewery in Szczyrzyc, a section of the famous Galician Transversal Railway, the Open-Air Railway Museum in Chabówka, the extraordinary Lubogoszcz Base, the health resort of Rabka-Zdrój and Rabkoland in Rabka-Zdrój the charming wooden church of Sts Simon and Jude in Dobra, the ski station in Kasina Wielka, Limanowa with Mount Miejska, Łącko with its blooming orchards, sorrels in Szczawa... And we could go on and on...
Gorce and Island Beskids: not only unusual flavours
Gorce and the Island Beskids are also a colourful mosaic of traditions and folklore. It was a land that welcomed several ethnographic groups such as the Podhalanie, the Pieniny highlanders, Łącko highlanders, the Zagórzanie, but also the Kliszczacy. It is a world as unusual, beautiful and colourful as the customs and costumes of all these groups.
The unique flavours should not be forgotten either. Who can resist cabbage soup with mushrooms, pancakes fried directly on the plate, swede from the ash-pan, stuffed cabbage rolls with buckwheat and mushrooms; who would refuse tasting the cottage cheese kołach from Jodłownica, męciński bread, or the dried and smoked plum called suska sechlońska or the blush-red, juicy Łącko apples? You will find here also oscypeks, gołkas, bundz, bryndza and żentyca. So, everyone will find something that suits them perfectly.
The Gorce and Island Beskids can be explored on foot, by bike, on horseback, on skis, but also from ‘on board’, e.g., a paraglider. You can traverse its paths alone or in a larger group, say with family or friends. You can follow the marked trail, but also deviate from it. Discover the Gorce and Island Beskids, for it is a delightful world!