Panorama of the Tatras Mountains in Zakopane, Poland

Giewont Mountain in Zakopane, Poland. (ThinkStock)

What to do in Zakopane

The highest range of the Polish Carpathian Mountains, the Tatry (Tatra Mountains, in English), rise majestically in southern Poland, stretching along the border with Slovakia for nearly 40 miles. Depending on your destination, this countryside of sylvan woods, mountain streams, and snowcapped peaks is within a day's drive from Prague. Well-known to Poles, this rugged landscape is off the beaten path for most tourists. That's all the more reason to spend time here, especially if your older gradeschoolers and teens need a break from city sites.

For summer hikes, base your family in Zakopane, a popular ski resort situated at the foot of Mount Giewont, known as the "Sleeping Knight." The roughly 12-mile route from Zakopane to Chocholow includes a ride on the Szymoszkowa Chairlift, and rates as moderately challenging. Walk through rolling hills dotted with white-washed cottages and hayfields. For much of the time, the glistening peaks of the Tatras frame your view. In Chocholow, a highland village, traditional log plank homes, with steep roofs and decorated gables, grace the streets. In summer, storks nest atop the chimneys.

In Zakopane, gain strength for more hikes with a dinner of hearty, country fare at Czarci Jar (The Devil's Gully). Try traditional dishes such as pirogues (dumplings), bigos (hunter's stew), guláš (goulash), and pečená kachna (roast duck), while fiddlers play toe-tapping tunes. Much to the chagrin of your embarrassed teens, you might find yourself dancing after a wisníowka (cherry vodka) or two.

Trails in Tatra National Park cut through thick woods and wind by streams. Allow about an hour and a half for the relatively easy walk around Morskie Oko (Sea Eye), among the prettiest of the park's many lakes. For a slightly more taxing outing, head to the Dolina Bialego (White Valley), where the trail twists past rushing streams and leads to clearings for scenic mountain views. Extreme hikers can test themselves on the Dolina Pieciu Stawow (the Valley of the Five Lakes) then continue onto the Orla Perc (Eagle's Path) to a ridge top for well-deserved, spectacular views.

Tip: It's best to go with a local guide who knows the trails. Your hotel concierge and the Zakopane tourist office can help arrange guided hikes.

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