We venture overseas annually for a culinary vacation to Europe’s best kept secret – Poland! Particularly, Lesser Poland on a culinary vacation!
Lesser Poland (Malopolska), located in the southeast part of the country, is one of Poland’s most beautiful and delicious regions. In addition to its many unique historic and resort attractions, it is home to the regions magnificent capital city: Krakow, designated as a European City of Culture in 2000. The Old Town district of Krakow was built around Europe’s largest medieval market square, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
But Lesser Poland is also home to the highlanders, or gorale, as they are called in Polish. And, while were in the charming town of Zakopane and surrounding areas, we will spend lots of time immersed in highlander culture: cooking, singing and dancing in their homes and restaurants. The highlanders’ rich culinary and cultural traditions make this region one of the most exciting Polish destinations to explore in depth.
Day 1 & 2: Pierogi Festival in Krakow
We arrived in Krakow on an overnight flight and began our visit by checking in at The Grand Hotel, right on the main square. Many of us visited Auschwitz Museum or used the extra day and explored Krakow and the Pierogi Festival where we ate, drank, shopped the many outdoor vendors and listened to music.
Day 3: Churches in Krakow
We attended Mass in one of many Catholic churches in Krakow, and toured the Jewish district of Krakow which used to hold the biggest Jewish population in the world pre-1940. And the reason for our August 2017 visit? We attended the annual Pierogi Festival and even got to judge and pick the best tasting one. Our favorite? The banana/nutella filled pierogi.
After enjoying so many delicious treats, we drove north to Zakopane highlander country, where Pope John Paul lived. During our drive we stopped in Chocholowska to sample oscypek cheese and highlander tea made with raspberry vodka. Then, we checked into a small palace called Hotel Art & Spa for the next 4 days. The Polish people are so proud of their country; it is truly one of the most friendliest and hospitable people we have ever encountered.
Day 4: The Highlander Villages in the Podhale region
Today, we attended our first cooking class in one of the highlander villages in the Podhale region. We made beet soup, potato and blueberry pierogis, potato bread, stuffed cabbage rolls, homemade cheese, and plum cake – all made with fresh ingredients including sour cream and butter. We washed it down with homemade raspberry and cherry vodka. In the afternoon, we traveled back to Zakopane and tour this beautiful mountain town for the rest of the day including a stop at a cemetery known locally as the “Happy Cemetery,” with mainly artists that are buried there. Highlanders are carpenters and wood carvers, so we toured and saw many churches and buildings made of wood along the way as well. We rode a cable car up Gubalowka Hill to see the Sleeping Knight Mountain, and ended the day shopping and eating on our own at the Zakopane Festival.
Day 5: Rafting the Dunajec River Gorge
We traveled to Sromowce-Wyzne village to begin our trip on a wooden raft through the Dunajec River Gorge. The rafting trip is one of the best-known attractions of this region and what an absolutely gorgeous day for the relaxing ride ahead! After rafting and lunch, we traveled to Debno Podhalanskie village to visit timber churches where the interior includes unique paintings and precious Gothic sculptures from the 15th and 16th centuries. The churches are on the UNESCO List of World Heritages. At the end of the day, we took a stroll down Krupowki Street, a pedestrian only street with many shops, restaurants, and music vendors.
Day 6: Cooking in Poland
What an absolutely gorgeous and enjoyable day in another little highlander village of Podhale. Today we enjoyed a private cooking class and made crepes stuffed with chicken goulash and sweet cheese and apricot jam, sauerkraut soup, cabbage slaw and carrot slaw, potato dumpling stuffed with meat, sweet stick cookies and rose petal jam cookies. We cooked our meal, ate the meal and washed it down with homemade lemon vodka. We also stopped at a woodmakers cabin to see and buy his carved arts. The villages are so quaint and beautiful; many of their houses are 100’s of years old. To celebrate our day, we dined at Gazdowka u Zajaca restaurant, a highlander family owned restaurant, which offers regional specialties with folk entertainment. We had a ball dancing, and the owner was very gracious and entertaining.
Day 7: Saying goodbye to Zakopane
Breakfast is included in our stay at the hotels, with beautiful European continental breakfast each day. After breakfast, we said goodbye to Zakopane and visited Bacowka on the way to Krakow, a small mountain shepherd hut, where smoked sheep cheese “oscypek” is made in a traditional way by highlanders.
Once in Krakow, we took a guided tour of the city. Krakow is the 3rd largest city in Poland and escaped the devastation that obliterated other Polish cities during WWII. Our first stop was a 14th century Wawel Castle and Cathedral where Pope John Paul previously served Mass and served as Cardinal for 14 years. No pictures could be taken here but it is absolutely gorgeous. We visited the Old Town Market Square, the largest medieval town square in Europe, and even snuck pictures in St Mary’s Church, the oldest alter in Europe.
Day 8: A Final Chance to Cook in Poland
Our culinary vacation to Poland concluded our last full day in Poland with – a final cooking class! On the way to class, we stopped at the local farmers market and then learned to prepared a typical 3-course Polish meal with Chef Marek Widomski, a famous Polish chef in a of Poland. We prepared the city version of pierogis, beet soup, and stuffed cabbage rolls, made with the old country recipes but as a lighter and “outside of the box” version. We made tartar with ground sirloin and quail eggs, which were absolutely delicious, and washed it down with Buffalo vodka. Dessert was apple compote, sweet cream and raspberry sorbet with a homemade raspberry cordial.
After our class we toured the famous Wieliczka Salt Mile, an underground city with galleries, lakes, chapels and murals, all carved from salt.
Our culinary vacation to Poland concludes here, but this trip was beyond our expectations, the country and city sides were beautiful, weather perfect, and the local people could not have made us feel any more welcomed!
Ready to book your Travel Deliciously vacation? Details of our next Poland departure are HERE