Guest Author - Barbara Swiech
Folk tradition, customs and culture of Polish ethnic groups change constantly with the changes of Polish reality and style of life. Although some of customs were successfully incorporated in everyday routine, one can still determine regions of Poland were tradition still plays a big role and can be spotted at the first sight. One of these places are the mountains where inhabitants (called in Polish Gorale) are still perceived through their culture. As there are numerous spa or ski resorts nearby the mountains, still one of the most popular tourist sites (among those where the visitors even expect to encounter the folk culture) is Zakopane. The highlanders living there have culture and folk costumes that are recognised all around the country and even outside.
The city of Zakopane is situated at the foot of Tatras (about 2 hours away from Krakow). You can easily reach it from Krakow or other main cities of Poland (by bus, train or car). The gorale (highlanders) living there belong to the ethnic group of gorale from Podhale – region that except for places like Zakopane consists also of Nowy Targ, Dunajec, Szczawnica and many more cities and sites. The costume of highlanders from Podhale region is very characteristic. The men wear white woolen pants and suit – embellished with embroideries - and hold in their hands a cane (called ‘ciupaga’), walking stick with the ending in shape of an axe. Their head is covered with a hat (embellished with small shells and a feather). Traditional female outfit consists of flowered woolen skirt and embroidered vest. Both, men and women, wear leather shoes called ‘kierpce’.
As in every folk tradition, it is cuisine that plays a big role, also Zakopane can boast of traditional dishes that you can try out during your trip there. The specialties that you can purchase all around the town are ‘oscypek’ or ‘bunc’ – traditional highlanders’ types of sheep cheese.
Gorale music is very typical too. The most characteristic is the melody and a way of singing (that is very recognisable). Very important instruments are also fiddles and cello. Very often the music is assisted by characteristic dances.
As a visitor to Zakopane you have a wide chance to take part in music and dance performances in numerous folk restaurants that organise such shows for their clients. At the same time you may taste traditional meals such as potato cake with goulash, roasted pork knuckle or smoked sheep cheese.
You may encounter indigenous inhabitants of Podhale region dressed in their traditional outfit on Sunday mass, in restaurants or in popular tourist sites. When making the trip to ‘Morskie Oko” lake (situated in the Tatras) you can use unique way of transport (instead of walking) horse-drawn carriage with goral as a driver. The highlanders operate also rafting on Gorge River Dunajec. When visiting Zakopane or its area in the winter, you are encouraged to take a sleigh ride with highlanders.
Zakopane is surely not just a tourist site but also a place where the folk culture is still alive and cherished. It is a very recommended spot for your visit to Poland.