It's one of the most beautiful and enjoyable trips that you can take in Poland. On the Polish side you get on the raft, which consists of five boats put together, at Katy. There are also some Slovakian rafts setting off from the other bank of the Dunajec. The Polish raftsmen are local people dressed in their national costume or at least wearing white shirts and the characteristic flat black hats with a band of seashells. They are mostly good-natured and jolly and, if you speak Polish, you can enjoy their stories and jokes. They are very skilful and know the river well so the trip is quite safe. On my first trip on the Dunajec, however, one of the two raftsmen dropped his pole into the water, which, luckily, was picked by the other man at the back and handed to him.
You cross the most interesting parts of the Pieniny National Park, on your right you see Slovakia, on your left the Polish Pieniny Mountains. The scenery is absolutely gorgeous: the sheer rock faces and the lush vegetation, the views change with every bend, simply unforgettable! The trip ends either at Kroscienko or Szczawnica, where you can take a bus to get back to your car.
I have never visited Czorsztyn Castle. When we were in the area, it was just a ruin and dangerous to explore. But reconstruction work has been going on since and it is now apparently worth visiting. Admission 4 zl, concessions 2 zl. The castle sits on top of a hill overlooking what looks like an enormous lake. Only ten years ago there would have been a valley there with a few villages, but then a dam was built on the Dunajec and the area was flooded, forming a reservoir. In spite of many protests from the villagers it had been the right decision. The very same year the dam was launched (1997), a terrible flood came, which would have devastated many more villages in the area, possibly with a loss of life. The reservoir also brought many more visitors to the area, thus helping the tourist industry develop. And not only the local people seem to have benefited from this investment but also the wetland birds. You can now see whole colonies of herring gulls, great crested grebes, barnacle geese, herons and many more species in the area. Common terns can even nest on a small purpose-built island.
We have recently re-visited the area so I'm going to write a separate page on the nearby village and castle of Niedzica sometime soon.
3 km form Niedzica is located small border crossing point (I don't suppose you need big one except you driving hundred tones truck:). So It's highly recommended to organize one day (or longer) Slovakia trip.
I was in Slovakia without any plan. So I will not describe here exact route because you will think I'm crazy first going 60 km inside the Slovakia then back almost to the borderline and after again drive to the central part of this country :)
Undouptedly on your travel list have to be the city of Poprad (60 km from Niedzica) with its nice and renovated old centre. There is almost nothing more pleasent than drink the local beer in the pub garden and observe the life circulating around.
From Poprad is only 15 km to the resorts of Slovakia Tatra region: Stary Smokovec and Tatranska Lomnica. From Slovakia side (different than in Poland) mountains grow out almost from the lowland level up to two thousends meters (the highest peak Gerlach is 2655 m.) so the view is much more spectacular. Slovakian Tatra is the excellent area for ski fans (winter) and hikers (spring/summer).
Next You can visit pictoresque city of Stara Lubovna (40 km from Smokovec) with its castle on the outskirt hill.
Finally, going back, You must stop in Cerveny Klastor (Red Monastery) lonely place situated just below the Pienniny most known top Trzy Korony and only 10 km from Niedzica. The monastery legend tells that here lived Brother Ciprian famous herbalist and botanist but also the pioneer of aviation. Traditional stories say that he flied from surrounding peaks using machines similair to the modern hang-glider.
This Polish specialite is usually connected with Tatra region. But the Pienniny oscypeks are also good or even better.
This cheese (this is not a cottage cheese) is made from mix of sheep and cow milk, formed in the shapes of small barrels (spindle-shaped) or something like a dumpling and smoked. So first advice: Oscypek sold in autumn/winter time are false products made only from cow milk. Only from May to October lasts the season for fresh sheep milk. And only from spring to the beginnings of autumn you can buy real oscypek.
My favorite recipe is fried small piece of this cheese (fat addition not necessary) sometimes served with cranberry sauce. Mniam!! (Polish yummy). There is nothing better during the summer eveninig than very cold beer and fried oscypek.
Rafting is the most known way of relax in Pieniny. But this is different activity than rafting done in mountainous river in Alps or Wild West. You are travelling in wooden raft controlled by Pieniny highlander in local costume. You don't have to wear a helmet and use some paddle. It's more like travelling in Venice gondola.
Rafts set out from Sromowce and finish in Szczawnica (18 km, 2:15, ticket: 39 zl) or Kroscienko (23 km, 2:45, ticket: 48 zl)
Pieniny National Park is also superb area for mountain hiking. The best route is from Kroscienko to the peak called Trzy Korony (Three Crowns) and next to Sromowce. View from Trzy Korony to the gorge with Dunajec river far below is really magnifcent.
In Pieniny you can also go for active fisihing (it's good area for fly fishing) or check your biking skills using bike routes.
Czorsztyn Lake is great area for sailing (especially for beginners), kayaking and simply swimming.
From the Niedzica (other side of Dunajec) Czorsztyn Castle looks like a big ruin. But when you are inside you are very suprised.
Interior is much better preserved. You can visit historical exhibition, wander from tower to walls, chambers and top level terrace with amazing view for Pieniny, lake and Niedzica castle.
Visiting: tuesday-sunday from 10 to 15; summer months (may-september) everyday from 10 to 18. Entrance fee is 4 zl (about 1 Euro).
Built in 14th century on the Dunajec riverside, this castle was the propriety of Hungarian magnates up tp Second World War. It has a stormy history. In XVIth century was the place of battles during Hungarian election. After it the castle was conquered by the robber-knights invading monasteries, villages and traders.
With this fortress is connected the legend about... South-Amercian Incas treasure. One of Niedzica owner Sebastian Berzeviczy during his overseas journey married Umina - daughter of Inca sovereign. They lived in the Niedzica castle in 18th century and left hidden somewhere here the map with the clear pathway to wonderful treasure.
Now you can visit very well-preserved castle with the exhibitions of traditional weapon, clothes, interior design. But the Niedzica fortress is above all superb point-of-view for Czorsztyn Lake and Pieniny National Park.
When You see all the Pieniny showplaces You can jump to the nearest well-known tourist destinations.
There is 40 km to Zakopane - the most known Polish winter resort and to Tatra Mountains magnificient area for mountain-hikers.
Going east you can visit Krynica (80 km): other excellent ski and health resort famous for its ski runs and mineral waters.
Only 30 km from Niedzica is located the village of Lacko - well known in Poland for its traditional vodka production. The alcohol from here is made using juicy plums. Perfect, but not for greenhorns :)
Niedzica and Czorsztyn Castles are excellent evidences of connection between military and economy. Niedzica castle called "Dunajec" was built in 14th century and was the propriety of Hungarian aristocratic famillies. What for did they construct such a fortress? It's simple. Because of the north-south trade track and Dunajec river passage. The castle had to guard Hungarian businesses and let them widespread towards the Polish kingdom.
Simultaneously Polish sovereign Kazmierz WIelki (Casimirus the Great) founded on the other side of river Czorsztyn castle. It had to look after Polish affairs.
This sort of situation lasted for dozens next years - both castles located vis-a-vis, observed themselves. They were rivals but at the same time partners - one couldn't exist without the other.
If you make the effort of climbing one or both of these mountains, you will get a fantastic view of the Dunajec, winding its way down in the green field-striped valley. The hike is not difficult at first but the final part, though short, is quite steep and accessible for the fit only. There are steps and barriers at places but queuing on them, as you often have to do, cannot count as pleasant. You must watch out for falling stones or pieces of rock as well and be very careful once you get to the viewing platform not to knock anything off yourself.
Admission to the viewing terrace on either of these mountains costs 4 zl, concessions - 2 zl.