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Introducing Zakopane

Nestled in the foothills of the Tatras, Zakopane is Poland’s most fashionable mountain resort. It’s an excellent base for hiking in summer and skiing in winter, though in high season it can get positively overrun with visitors.

In addition to outdoor pursuits, Zakopane is known throughout Poland for the size and beauty of its wooden mountain villas, dating from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Some of these now house museums, while others have been converted into hotels or pensions, or remain in private hands. Some remain inexplicably abandoned, apparently awaiting suitors with deep enough pockets to restore them to their original splendour.

The father of this craze for all things wooden was the architect Stanisław Witkiewicz (1851–1915), and the first of several magnificent wooden villas that he built in the area, the Willa Koliba, now houses the Museum of Zakopane Style.

Witkiewicz’s creations in the early decades of the 20th century helped to establish Zakopane as a haven for painters, poets, writers and composers. Two of the town’s most famous former residents include Witkiewicz’s son, the writer and painter Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz, better known as Witkacy, and the composer Karol Szymanowski.

Zakopane grew at a faster pace in the interwar period, and shortly before the outbreak of WWII two of the town’s leading attractions – the cableway and funicular railway – were built. Development continued after the war but it’s still reasonably small. Overall, Zakopane feels more like an overgrown village than a town, its mainly villa-type houses set informally in their own gardens.