On a tandem bike to Krakow and the Beskydy Mountains, 2021

The authors have already laid an MTB bike route through the Carpathians and described it in the cycling guidebook “Cycling the Great Carpathians”. Now they have cycled to Krakow and the Polish part of the Carpathians – the Beskids.

Summer vacation for us always means to start cycling from home (near Vienna): on our MTB tandem bike with luggage trailer. This is how we have already cycled the entire Carpathian arc to the Romanian-Serbian border (on our self-researched and recorded bike route “Cycling the Great Carpathians” and went through Serbia, Croatia and Hungary back home. In the summer of ’21, a cycling trip to Krakow in Poland was on the agenda, because “at some point in your life you should have been to Krakow,” everyone said, until we decided: This year we’re going to Krakow, there and back. In Poland, we have identified a second destination: the Beskydy National Park.

Alongside the Morava River – Moravian Towns and their Picturesque Main Squares 

On the first Saturday of August we started for the Czech Republic. Via Breclav, where we spent the first night, we cycled on quiet gravel and asphalt roads through endless wide farmlands and forests – always along the Morava River – and visited the most beautiful small towns of Moravia: Straznice, Kromeriz, Hranice na Morave and Olomouc. Their town centers and main squares are picturesquely beautiful, as are those of Novy Jicin and Frydek-Mistek. We always booked hotels and guesthouses online a few days in advance, ate delicious home-made food and, of course, drank local beers.

“Backdrop” of cultural and historical beauty.

Our bike route to Poland leads us over wide forest and farmland and near the Czech Karvina we finally cross, on dilapidated road, the border to Poland. Bell ringing “welcomes us”. No, it is rather ringing for a funeral in the border village of Kaczyce Dolne, where we find ourselves facing a mourning community in front of the church. On narrow forest roads and little used asphalt roads we cycle over hilly country to the suburbs (villa districts) of Krakow: The magnificent backdrop of historic buildings already announces itself on the long promenade, which takes us across the Vistula and into the old town. As in all places on our trip, we take up quarters near the center and explore the city on our tandem. We stay here for three glorious days, eating hearty Polish pirogi pastries, attending a classical concert at St. Peter and Paul Church, participating in an equal rights demonstration, and we discuss the taste of Czech and Polish beers: Elisabeth has the last word, as always.

From Krakow, overwhelmed by the cultural experience of this city, we cycle to the southeast of Poland, to Novy Sacz in the so-called “Forest Carpathians”, also called Beskids. It is August 15, Mary’s Conception, and we become part of a large Marian procession on the way. But like everywhere else on our trip, we immediately “belong”, the people are helpful with information and simply warm hosts. The southern Poland is also the region of the old, worth seeing-beautiful wooden churches, which we visit in amazement. Some of them date back to the 14th century and are UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Great effort is in store for us on the following day’s stage: from Novy Sacz we continue 100 km and hilly 1,600 meters of altitude into Slovakia, to the picturesque town of Bardejov: the main square is one of the most beautiful we have ever seen and the Slovakian beer is the “best in the world”, especially after this “tour de force”.

To the Beskydy National Park

The next day we “ride” to our second big destination: the Beskydy National Park. It stretches over 1,000 square kilometers south into Slovakia and east into Ukraine. It is also part of our “Carpathian Cycle Route”, which we researched and recorded in our cycling travel guide “Cycling the Great Carpathians”. On our day stage into the Beskid National Park it becomes really adventurous for us. In the pouring rain (we are well and waterproof equipped) we go to our night quarters in the middle of the forest. But unfortunately we booked wrong and have to go on: 14 kilometers to the hiking and winter sports resort Cisne. We do not yet suspect how beautiful the evening will be. Up the hill we reach the charming hut Bacowka Pod Honem, one of the most popular mountain huts in Poland, where we are warmly welcomed in the warm guest room with cool 60s music: Vegetable stew and goulash tasted heartily good in the crowded parlor, we spent the night in the bunk bed.

Back to Slovakia

We continue to Ustrzyki Gorne, in the middle of the Beskydy National Park with its deciduous and mixed forest, just on the Ukrainian border. After reaching the small town of Lesko, we start our return journey: It will be one of our most strenuous stages: 120 km and 1,700 meters of altitude back to Slovakia to Bardejov, where a town festival in historical costumes and with bird-of-prey flight demonstrations will welcome us. Our bike trip through Slovakia continues to be hilly.

From Slovenska Ves, it’s 40 km and 1,000 meters of ascent to the winter sports and spa town of Štrbské Pleso, on the shores of the romantic lake of the same name in the High Tatras. The lake is considered a “natural wonder” of Slovakia. Looking at the photo gallery around the sports center with a massive ski jump, we feel transported to the 70s: This is where the political caste of the CSSR once enjoyed their winter vacations (and allegedly also, decades before, Emperor Franz-Joseph I). The next day brings us a rapid descent in the valley of the Vah River and to Ružomberok, at the foot of the Low Tatras (to the southeast) and the Great Fatra Mountains (to the southwest). Our next day’s stage we cycle first along the Vah River to Martin and then south to Prievidza, known for the classicist “fairy tale” Bojnice Castle, high above the town, which attracts tourists in droves.

To Nitra, Bratislava and Vienna

Our route continues through a beautiful forest and field landscape with village structure to the town of Nitra with the magnificent bishop’s seat (built in three different centuries). Next to Bratislava, Nitra is the oldest city in the country. The last stage of our three-week cycling tour takes us on dirt roads to the suburbs of Bratislava and further through the city to the magnificent center. After a hearty lunch, we mount our tandem for one last ride: off we go once again, through the “Danube Floodplains National Park” to Vienna.