Along the Poprad Trail. From the Tatra ridges to the estates of St Kinga

In the foreground, the Muszyna Castle rebuilt from ruins among the forest. The castle towers over the bend in the Poprad  River and the city buildings. In the background are mountain hills covered with forest.
Numerous gardens, health resorts, castles, the amazing Łopata Polska, and souvenirs related to St Kinga are among the sights you can see while travelling along the Poprad River from the state border to its confluence with the Dunajec River. The route can be covered by car in less than two hours, but if you want to get to know the places mentioned above better, fully appreciate the charms and values of the area, taste the mineral waters, climb into medieval strongholds, and look into the neighbouring valleys, you need to set aside a whole day, maybe two or even more.

Most people associate the Poprad with the vicinity of Stary Sącz and Muszyna. Many of us think that this river begins its course just beyond the Polish-Slovak border. The sources of the Poprad are located on the southern slopes of the Tatra Mountains, roughly opposite Czarny Staw pod Rysami, which is on the Polish side. The river flows south for a long time and only near the town of Poprad changes its direction north to flow through Kieżmark, Podoliniec and Lubowla to the Polish Leluchów.

The Poprad runs through Slovakia for over 100 kilometres, and then it constitutes the Polish-Slovak border for about 30 kilometres. Only a little over 30 kilometres later, it flows through Poland to the Dunajec River, into which it flows near Stary Sącz. We invite you to travel by car (via Roads No. 971 and No. 87) or by bike (Carpathian Bicycle Trail leading to Myślenice) through the picturesque Poprad Valley through several health resorts, among the slopes of the Beskid Sądecki Mountains to places related to St Kinga.

Muszyna – City of Gardens

The first town that the Poprad encounters on the Polish side is the picturesquely situated Leluchów with the Greek Catholic Church of St Dymitr, currently a branch church of the Muszyna parish.

The next one is Muszyna, which is not without reason called the City of Gardens. The Biblical Gardens are located here (near the Church of St Joseph the Spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary, on the road towards Krynica Zdrój and the Sensory Gardens, the Ancient Garden and several others.

The Biblical Gardens is a complex of five gardens (including for children and those in love) with beautiful plant compositions, among which there are numerous installations, sculptures and quotations from the Bible that prompt reflection and contemplation. In turn, the Sensory Gardens and the Ancient Garden are located in a place surrounded on three sides by the river, the so-called ‘Zapopradzie’. There is also the Recreation and Sports Centre here and an observation tower, which, though small, offers a vast view and a spacious parking lot.

However, to see other attractions of Muszyna, it is worth moving a little away from the Poprad. This is the only way to eat something delicious in the ‘Szarotka’ café (at the Market Square), which has been serving coffee, tea, and treats since the mid-20th century. Walking along Zdrojowa and Piłsudskiego Streets we will reach the beautifully renovated Market Square with the Town Hall, with cellars open to the public. The city's glory days are recalled by the historic urban layout, including the complex of bourgeois buildings at Kościelna Street, which leads to the church of St Joseph, the Spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary.. It is worth taking a walk along Antoniego Kity Street, where there is a former granary, currently the Potter's House and a little further there is the Regional Museum of the State of Muszyna and the Starosta's House.

Looking around the area, it is impossible to miss the ruins of Muszyna Castle, rising on a hill called ‘Baszta’ or ‘Zamczysko’. At its foot you can relax in the Spa Park by Szczawnik Creek. For those seeking relaxation, there are two mineral water pump rooms, outdoor gyms, stone chess boards, and beaches on both sides of the creek.

Centuries ago, the Poprad, like many other rivers, was an important communication route, so several watchtowers were built along its course. In Muszyna, the first one was built already in the 11th century, and then it was rebuilt many times, including as the seat of the starostas of the Muszyna State, which was ruled by the bishops of Krakow.

An original idea for getting to know the health resort is to take part in the Muszyna Bicycle Game , during which you can hear about the secrets of the Prince of Poprad and taste mineral water straight from the spring.

Along the border, from spa to spa

From Muszyna, the Polish-Slovak border runs for about 30 kilometres along the Poprad. The towns you pass form a complex of health resorts with numerous mineral water sources. The most famous are Żegiestów-Zdrój, Łomnica-Zdrój and Piwniczna-Zdrój.

In Żegiestów, picturesquely situated on a high escarpment above the river, there are many intimate villas hidden among trees and the geological uniqueness of the so-called Łopata Polska, an area surrounded on almost all sides by a river winding among the rocks. In Łomnica, mineral springs flow in several places, and in one of them (near a small playground), water seeps from rock crevices, creating characteristic rust-coloured coatings. A small waterfall and an interesting sandstone boulder are also worth seeing.

Slightly away from the Poprad, numerous traces of history in the form of historic Orthodox churches, today Roman Catholic ones, can be found in the narrow valleys of its tributaries. In Andrzejówka, there is the Church of the Dormition of the Mother of God with 19th-century furnishings and an interesting instrument called Ewa's bell (a hanging metal bar with holes on which metal hammers were used to ring to sound alarms and during church services). In turn, in Wierchomla, there are preserved cottages of Lemkos, former inhabitants of the area, and the Orthodox Church of St Michael the Archangel.

The above-mentioned Piwniczna Zdrój is also worth getting to know better. You can start your tour by visiting the local Market Square, with the 17th-century well-cistern built in the centre of the square. Already in the first years of the 19th century, water was supplied to it through wooden pipes, and a water pump, leather buckets and barrels were placed nearby. All this was lost during the great fire of 1876. Only the statue of St, Florian, which toppled into the water, survived the fire.

Another point of sightseeing is the Church of  the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the religious and recreational square below it with a field altar, a gazebo and seven chapels whose themes refer to mountains important in the life of Jesus, including Mt Tabor (the site of the Transfiguration of the Lord) and Golgotha, where Christ died on the cross.

An interesting place worth visiting is the Art Pump Room, approximately 700 metres away, where you can not only sample the water from the local intakes, but also host concerts and exhibitions. A few dozen metres from it is Piwniczanka water borehole 7, which allows one to find out whether water drunk directly from the source tastes identical to that from a bottle. To get to the pump room, you must cross the footbridge next to the railway station to the other side of the Poprad River and turn left. The initial part of the hiking trail through Hala Pisana to the shelter on Hala Łabowska also leads here, which returns to Piwniczna next to the attractions of Łomnica Zdrój that are described above.

For those who prefer other forms of relaxation, Piwniczna offers walks in the spa park, skiing in Sucha Dolina and a rafting trip down the Poprad River to Rytro.

On the way to Stary Sącz

The next town in the Poprad Valley is Rytro, above which rise the ruins of a medieval watchtower. The glory days of the Castle in Rytro ended in 1657 when Transylvanian troops plundered it. Today, it is worth taking a slight detour from the main road to look at the river from its height and see what a beautiful view the old knights had while performing their duties.
The charm of the area can also be admired from the viewing platform in nearby Wola Krogulecka (access from Barcice), which is called a snail due to its spiral shape. It offers a panorama of the Radziejowa Range in the Beskid Sądecki, the Beskid Wyspowy and the Sądecka Valley. The benches and a fireplace encourage a more leisurely rest.
The 20th-century church located nearby in Barcice hides an extraordinary curiosity inside. There is a triptych wing from the 15th century, considered one of the most interesting works of the so-called Nowy Sącz school.
Just beyond Barcice, you absolutely must turn left to reach the centre of Stary Sącz located at the juncture of the Dunajec River and the Poprad River - Stary Sącz, one of the oldest and most beautiful towns in Poland, strongly associated with St Kinga.

In the footsteps of St Kinga

Parking your car on the Market Square is a big attraction because it is covered with pebbles. A walk among the characteristic buildings of Stary Sącz allows you to travel back to the turn of the 20th century when the buildings preserved to this day were built. Think about trade on the Maślany Market and feel the small-town atmosphere.
The walking route should include the Church of St Elizabeth of Hungary (on the left side of the street leading to the Market Square), the St Kinga Route, which leads, among others, to a chapel and spring related to this saint, and the Monastery of the Poor Clares, founded by the wife of Bolesław the Chaste. An additional interesting object is the field altar at which Pope John Paul II celebrated a service during his stay in Stary Sącz.

Heading to the courtyard of the Monastery and the Sanctuary of St Kinga, you must go through the Szeklerska Gate, one of two such gates in Małopolska – the other one is located in Tarnów. In the chapel dedicated to the saint there is a statue of the duchess, a coffin with her relics and a polychrome depicting scenes from her life.

On the way back to the Market Square, you can visit the Regional Museum. Consider taking a walk to the nearby Mt Miejska or reaching the place where the Poprad River flows into the Dunajec River. Two attractions await tourists at the forks of these rivers – the Stawy swimming area and the Bobrowisko Nature Enclave. The first is a great place to relax, not only on the sandy beach but also on kayaks or pedal boats or with a fishing rod on the shore. The other one is an oasis of tranquillity, offering the opportunity to observe animals in their natural habitat while walking along wooden paths between swamps and small lakes. Educational boards make it easier to learn about nature, and two gazebos invite you to relax.

For lovers of more rigorous experiences, we can recommend a trip to the already mentioned Mt Miejska and a walk around the Forest Pier, i.e., glass surfaces arranged on steel and wooden structures suspended above the treetops, with views of Stary Sącz and the place where the waters of  the Dunajec and the Poprad come together. In turn, lovers of bicycle trips may be interested in a shorter or longer trip along the Nowy Sącz loop.

Other ideas for discovering Małopolska

Reaching the mouth of the Poprad River and the Dunajec River does not have to mean the end of the expedition. We encourage you to continue travelling north, this time along the Dunajec Trail, visit Nowy Sącz and Tarnów, getting to know the charms of Lake Rożnowskie and Lake Czchowskie and charming small towns, as well as the attractions of Croatia, specifically the Croatian swimming pool in Jurków.

This is just one of the proposals for discovering the beauty of Małopolska, walking in the footsteps of history but with all the advantages of modern times. There are plenty of possibilities. On the website, we have prepared many suggestions for car routes, bicycle trails, hiking trails and thematic trails, e.g., the Wooden Architecture Route, the Małopolska Gourmet Trail, the Traditional Crafts Trail, so that everyone can choose the way that suits them best, follow what they like the best and what interests them the most.


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