A Nature Lover’s Paradise in Poland

A Nature Lover’s Paradise in Poland

The Lesser Poland Voivodeship in Southern Poland offers a paradise for all nature lovers with several national parks marked with hiking trails for one to enjoy, ranging from easy for the least trained to the difficult for the more experienced hikers.

During my trip in Poland, with my boyfriend, I had the opportunity to visit three of the national parks. I had spent just a day in each of the national parks but one can easily dedicate more time by choosing longer trails.


Ojców National Park


This is known as one of the smallest of the Polish National Parks. We took a minibus from Krakow to Pieskowa Skala. From the stop at Pieskowa Skala, we took the road through the forest to arrive at the Pieskowa Castle from where we started the red hiking trail to Ojców.

The trail passed through lush forests where the only sound was that of the breeze passing through the trees and the sound of our steps as we walked with a steady pace.

img_1399  Coming from a small island with few countryside areas, I was amazed at the beauty and peace that nature can offer. It was an unforgettable moment to stop for a while and just listen to the birds and the leaves of the trees swaying with the breeze.
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The trail also offered some panoramic views of the Polish countryside.
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We hiked till Ojców village where we waited for the minibus to take us back to Krakow. Just before Ojców village there is a quaint chapel known as the Wooden Chapel on the Water. This was previously used as a spa.

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Tip: Make sure you check the timetable beforehand as transport is not frequent to these areas. Also prepare a packed lunch as most of the time you will not find places to buy food from.


Pieniny National Park


Another beautiful national park with several hiking trails but we decided to visit this park through river rafting. It is not the white water rafting one might imagine but it is a calm trip on a wooden raft driven by two men dressed in traditional costumes.

This trip offers some breathtaking views of the Pieniny Mountains on the border between Poland and Slovakia, with the most beautiful being those in the gorge of the Dunajec river.

It does not seem a popular attraction with foreigners. In fact, few of the rafters speak English and the tour was in Polish. However, a young rafter explained to us the main attractions we were seeing on the river banks.

We had arrived at the beginning of this rafting trip accompanied by a knowledgeable guide from Visit Cracow Tours who took care of all necessary details for us to have an unforgettable day. He picked us up from the end of the rafting trip and then took us to Niedzica Castle, once belonging to the Hungarians, which also offers some panoramic views.

Views from Niedzica Castle

 

Views of the Niedzica Castle


Tatra National Park



Probably the most famous with tourists, Polish and foreign alike, as it is easily reachable from the popular mountain village Zakopane. It offers beautiful panoramas of the Tatra Mountains.




We hiked two hours till Morskie Oko lake which offers a breathtaking view. This was undoubtedly the highlight of this hike, despite the weather not being at its best.

 

 

Ducks floating on Morskie Oko lake

Walking back we had the opportunity to see a couple of deer eating among the trees.

Tip: Ideally you head off early to avoid the crowds. This is easily done if  you spend an overnight stay in Zakopane to start off the day in the National Park. This option also allows you time to admire the wooden architecture in Zakopane as well as the view from Gubalowka mountain.

Xemxija Heritage Trail

Xemxija Heritage Trail

Very often we’re so keen to travel abroad that we tend to overlook the beauty of our own country. However, if you just try to search what you can do, you can easily create a list of stuff that will keep your weekends packed while making you feel like a tourist in your own country. That’s exactly what I did a couple of weeks ago when I stumbled upon the Xemxija Heritage Trail (you can easily google it and download the printable guide).

It’s a trail along Xemxija’s countryside, a northern seaside village in Malta. It starts off at the  place where a Roman road connected St. Paul’s Bay with Mellieha. It is also known as the Pilgrim’s route since, in the past, pilgrims used to trek all the way to Mellieha’s shrine of Our Lady.

Along the route one encounters several historical remains from different periods, such as apiaries where bees were kept to produce honey, caves which served as a shelter for sailors or burial places, remains of dwellings for farmers, punic tombs, a grain silo which was later used as a well, an old carob tree, a Maltese Girna and a pill-box used under the British reign. All this is carefully labelled with interesting information about the history of each site.

Carob Tree
Girna
Cart ruts – remain a mystery as to who made them and for what purpose

Walking along this trail makes you realise how intelligent the Romans where at a time when they had no commodities as we are used to today. I was marveled at the way they created the Roman baths with cold, hot and lukewarm water as well as the road with a canal on the side to prevent flooding. 

You can also extend the walk by walking over to Mistra Bay, a secluded beach along the coast. If its too cold for a swim, sitting down on the beach listening to the waves splashing on the shore is just as nice to rest the weary feet before walking back to where you started off.

Overlooking Mistra Bay
Aleppo Pine trees grown in an unused quarry

The walk is not a long one and only takes a couple of hours, however, expect to take longer if you love taking pictures as it offers some great photo opportunities.

Selmun Tower


Photos: Chris Balzia

Riding the Children’s Railway

Riding the Children’s Railway

A popular attraction, mainly with locals, is the Children’s Railway, built in 1948 and now run by children under the supervision of adults. 
A girl selling tickets to ride the train
It runs through the forests found in the hills on the side of Buda. It provides a peaceful atmosphere away from the hustle and bustle of the city. The only sound is the rattling of the train along the track and the whistling of the birds sitting on the branches of the trees.
We started the trip at Szechenyi-hegy and stopped at Janos-hegy stop. We walked along a footpath towards Elizabeth Lookout Tower. 
Elizabeth Lookout Tower
Panting, we arrived at the top of the tower where a breathtaking view of the hills of Budapest greeted us. We looked around us breathing in the peace and quiet which is so rare to find in busy cities. It was as if the time was on hold and we could stay there forever…
But unfortunately we had to go back to the city so we decided to take the chairlift down to Zugliget from where we caught a bus to the centre of the city. Being afraid of heights I was not very keen on going up on the open chairlift with my feet dangling in the air. However, after a couple of minutes I soon started to enjoy the calmness of the ride, quite different from the noisy buses or trains, while spotting some beautiful houses scattered among the trees.
It’s a great trip if you are spending a couple of days in Budapest and want to get away from the touristy areas. In fact, it’s more popular with the locals, which may explain the reason why it was so difficult to communicate in English with the staff.

You can easily find the schedule of the Children’s Railway here and the opening hours of the Zugliget Chairlift here so you can easily plan ahead. It takes only a couple of hours to do this trip, but if you have more time you can even picnic near Elizabeth Lookout Tower.

Tasty Hungaricums

Tasty Hungaricums

Although Budapest is not the first country to crop into my mind when speaking about cuisine, during my stay I had the opportunity to indulge in some mouthwatering Hungarian specialities. Here are the 5 hungaricums which I tried and loved.

Goulash Soup

This is Hungary’s traditional soup made with beef, carrots, potatoes, the infamous hungarian paprika and some other herbs. At first I was not so sure about it but, being keen on trying traditional cuisine, I decided to take the risk…and I have to admit I did not regret it at all. The paprika really compliments the other ingredients to make it a hearty meal.
You can find it in many restaurants in Budapest, especially those serving Hungarian cuisine. I tried it at Hunagrikum Biztro where the waitress suggested that we add some spicy paprika pate to it to give it a spicy twist…yummy!

Lángos

Hungarians also have some delicious street food. One of them is the lángos, a fried dough with sour cream and cheese which you can then top up with any other ingredients you like. I topped mine with olives, tomatoes and salami and my boyfriend added some rucola instead of olives. This sinful pleasure is surely not a low-calorie meal but totally worth it!
You can find the lángos in many stalls around the city as well as in nearby villages such as Szentendre. I bought the one I tried from the food stalls in the Central Market Hall. Don’t let the long queue scare you off as everyone seems to rush for the lángos stand.

Flodni

This oh-so-heavenly-yummy-sweet is a popular Jewish pastry which is found in Budapest’s old Jewish District. It is a layered pastry with plum sauce, walnuts, apples and poppy seeds. You can find it in the confectionery shops in the old Jewish Quarter, such as Cafe Noe. This is a small cafeteria, more popular with the locals who describe this place as having one of the best Flodni in town. I only tried theirs so I can’t really compare. But, I can assure you it was divine!

Paprika

This spice is synonymous with Hungary and is included in most of their typical dishes. You can find it as a pâté, in pieces or a powder, to be eaten on its own or to be added to dishes. You can find it in meat dishes, in the goulash soup, as mentioned above, as well as in cottage cheese, cream cheese and even cut in pieces served with breakfast. Wherever you look at a traditional restaurant or even in the shops you fill find paprika which comes either as sweet or spicy.

I tried it several times in different ways but my favourite dish with paprika was the beef with lecsó (vegetables with paprika) and potatoes.
Some hungarian appetizers: (from left) bread with bacon topped with sour cream and paprika, spicy paprika pâté, and paprika pieces

Beef with Lecsó and potatoes

Pálinka

This is the Hungarian fruit brandy which comes in several flavours such as cherry, plum, golden apples and honey. What I liked about this drink is that although it is a strong drink you can really taste the fruit from which it is made.
Golden Apple and Cherry Pálinka
You can either try it in one of the Pálinka festivals held in May and October, at a Palinka tasting session or else you can just order a shot of Pálinka from one of the many typical ruin pubs of the old Jewish District.
There are other several other specialities, of course, which unfortunately I did not have enough time to try. Have you tried other Hungarian dishes? You can also share your Hungarian culinary experience below.
A day trip to Tossa de Mar

A day trip to Tossa de Mar

When I’m planning to visit a place I really like to look up any day trip ideas to nearby towns and villages. When I was surfing the net to see what is around Lloret de Mar I immediately got excited when I stumbled upon Tossa de Mar. Tossa de Mar is home to a unique attraction- the Old Town, or Vila Vella, which is the only walled city that survived along the Catalan coast. It is thought that the bastions of this Old Town go back to the 12thCentury.

Upon arrival to Tossa de Mar, together with my boyfriend, I made my way through the winding streets past a small white washed chapel to be greeted by the quaint Vila Vella


Within the walled city, we spent quite some time roaming the cobbled passageways, admiring the picturesque views while happily snapping away a couple of photos.



In this Old Town, there is also a lighthouse, ‘El Far de Tossa’, from where you will have a breathtaking view of the entire bay of Tossa and the coastline with the blue waters sparkling in the hot August sun. 



After some time walking around the alleyways in Old Town we went to unwind at the beach. It is a slightly crowded beach, although not as much as the one in Lloret de Mar. However, this pebbly beach still has its unique beauty as you will get a view of the Old Town majestically looking over the beach. 





After a day wandering around, our stomachs started to grumble so we went for a dinner in one of the many restaurants found in this small town. There are many too choose from who provide a three-course set menu at cheap prices with reasonably good food. The speciality is fish and seafood so make sure you try one of the many fish dishes on these menus which is sure to get your mouth watering. After that, satisfied with a good meal and with the sun beginning to set, we headed off to the bus station to return to Lloret de Mar. 

If you have more time to spend in Tossa de Mar there is also a Moorish Tower which provides some more marvelous views of the coastline and the Old Town. Other interesting places include the Roman Villa ruins and the Parish Church. For the shopping lovers, Tossa de Mar also houses several shops from high market fashion brands to the traditional ceramic sellers. 


A ceramic turtle



It is very easy to reach Tossa de Mar from Lloret de Mar by bus, operated by Sagales busses, which offers quite frequent service. You can also arrive there through a hiking trail from Lloret de Mar to Tossa de Mar which offers several breathtaking views along the coast. We decided to combine both so we hiked till Canyelles, a small town along the coast, from where we caught the bus to Tossa de Mar.   

Definitely worth a visit! 

All photos courtesy of Chris Balzia
What to do in Lloret de Mar

What to do in Lloret de Mar

As I wrote in my previous blog post, there are plenty of great hiking trails which can take up most of your time in Lloret de Mar but there are also plenty of other things to do there.
Here I compiled a list of things you should not miss during your next summer vacation in Lloret de Mar.
 
Visit the Santa Clotilde Gardens
This is without doubt one of my favourite attractions in Lloret de Mar. Declared as a national treasure of Catalonia, it boasts several trees and flowers with ponds, fountains and sculptures scattered along the peaceful green gardens.
While walking along the paths breathing fresh air one can also admire the  beauty of the crystal blue waters of the Mediterranean Sea at the horizon.
These Catalonian Noucentista gardens provide a romantic setting for couples who want to spend some time away from the centre of the town. Santa Clotilde Gardens can be easily reached by bus or on foot and are found between Fenals Beach and Sa Boadella beach.
 
Eat paella at La Parilla
 
Lloret de Mar is filled with the fast food chain restaurants but it’s no excuse to stop you from finding impeccable eateries. A little off the main road you’ll find La Parilla, a family-run  restaurant, serving mouthwatering Paella with succulent seafood, meat and poultry.
Friendly service, free tapas and genuine good food… what else could you need?
 
Party all night long
Nightlife is one of the characteristics of this town, popular with tourists during the summer months and all locals from the surrounding area during weekends. With several clubs next to each other there is a lot of competition and so each one tries to host the best night with several theme parties and renowned guest Djs.
One of my favourite places was Disco Tropics a club with buzzing nightlife all week, with various theme nights that will ensure you will have a fun night out. One party which must not be missed at this club is the infamous foam party. You can visit the website here to know what theme nights are planned. Also, make sure you watch out for any guest Djs as they get some really good ones. In fact, during my stay I managed to listen to Steve Aoki live.
 
 
Have a couple of cocktails 
 
Cocktails are a huge hit in this town with several lounges and bars preparing various delicious cocktails at reasonable prices. One of my favourite bar is Mar I Tu situated just on the Lloret Beach. It’s famous for its huge cocktails which are ideal for sharing with friends. They have a large selection but one special kind is the champagne sangria cocktail…exquisite champagne mixed with fruit juices and pieces of fruit.
 
Touch the Dona Marinera Statue’s feet
There is a belief that when you look in the direction where the Dona Marinera statue is gazing while touching its feet, all your wishes will come true.
The Sculpture of the Sailor’s wife is found along the coast which can be reached by climbing a couple of stone steps on the side of the main Lloret Beach.
From up here you will get the chance to enjoy a stunning panoramic view of the coast.
Along the steps which take you to this statue there are several love locks put there by couples who throw away the key in the waters below, a trend which has only started recently in Lloret de Mar.
 
Visit Water World Park
A short bus ride away from Lloret de Mar there is the exciting Water World Park, filled with loads of fun rides to choose from. For the highly adventurous there is ‘Speed Furious’ ride which is sure to give you a thrill as you freefall down the slide. You can easily spend a whole day here going on various rides, ending the day sunbathing on the lush green grass or unwinding in the jacuzzi.
 
Visit the Sant’ Roma Parish Church
Boasting a beautiful Catalan Gothic Style, this church goes back to the early 16thcentury.  It is adorned with colourful mosaics which you will fall in love with immediately. It is quite easy to reach as it is found in the centre of the town.
Swim, swim, swim!
Being a town along the Costa Brava coast, you cannot go to Lloret de Mar without swimming in one of its beautiful beaches. Choose the pristine beaches, such as Cala d’en Trons or Santa Cristina beach, which are less crowded for some relaxing time refreshing in the crystal blue waters and sunbathing in the Spanish sun to recharge after a long night out.
 
Lloret de Mar… not just a town for partying

Lloret de Mar… not just a town for partying

Winter days can be very gloomy, especially with school and exams, but planning a Summer vacation can immediately help you cheer up.

Lloret de Mar is an ideal summer destination with it’s well-kept beaches, it’s booming nightlife and an exciting water park. And that’s not all! It also boasts several hiking trails along outstanding routes, something which I did not imagine I would find here. That’s until I visited the official tourism website  which provides several hiking trails. Having a boyfriend who loves hiking I thought to fit in something he likes… which eventually I ended up enjoying just as much as him.

During our 5-day stay we did two coastal trails both starting from the main Lloret Beach:  one till Platja de Santa Cristina and the other one till Tossa de Mar. 

The views along both these walks were breathtaking with the calm blue sea gently lapping on the various sandy and rocky beaches along the way inviting us to have a dip and refresh in the cool waters. There were various beaches, some the touristy kind like Lloret Beach (which is undoubtedly the most crowded and not my personal favourite), others more popular with the locals like Platja de Santa Cristina and others with very few people like Cala Banys (recommended for snorkelling and diving) and Cala d’en Trons.


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Cala d’en Trons 

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Along the coast on the way to Tossa de Mar


At times, along the way you could also see some castles going back centuries ago, something which is very common along the Spanish coast, offering picturesque views. 


 
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Tower overlooking Sa Caleta cove

 
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St Joan’s Castle, home of a history museum of the medieval period in Lloret de Mar


The best part of the walks was getting up on a hill from where we got the chance to enjoy the amazing views of the coast lines and admire the beauty of the nature that Lloret De Mar has to offer.



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Overlooking Fenals Beach

I loved  the peacefulness that these walks offered, away from the hustle and bustle of the city and the crowds of tourists. So quiet that at times you could see and hear the seagulls that come hopping near the shore. 


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All the routes are very easy to follow with signs along the trail guiding you as to where you should pass and where you should not. However, one must be careful when reaching the sandy beaches as there will be no signs there, hence relying only on the map.  

So if you’re planning to spend your summer holidays in Lloret de Mar make sure to find some time to experience the natural beauty which this place has to offer. Although some of the hiking trails were amended, they still offer an unforgettable experience.  It will be worth it to give them a try! 

All photos courtesy of Chris Balzia