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Travel, Teach, Live in Europe and Middle East

Fabulous Hiking in the Karkanosze Mountains, Czech_Republic - - Writer:_Travel_Expert
By:Travel Expert

The Karkanosze Mountains have long been a buzzword amongst Poles and Czechs for everything from hiking through to skiing. Now Silesia, the Polish portion of the region, is rediscovering its old penchant for attracting visitors in their droves. Once enticing the likes of Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe to its plushly-developed mountainside locales, the Karkanosze spent a long stint under Communism starved of visitors. Now it is making up for lost time by setting itself up as a cheap alternative to the Alps for skiing and other outdoor sports, and giving its more prominent rival a run for its money.

Karkanosze Mountains History

Once severed from the rest of middle Europe by impenetrable forests, this extreme, south-western, isolated part of Poland was first settled by miners on the hunt for gold and silver in the foothills of the mountain range's high point, Sn?žka. By the 19th century, prosperity had already seen enterprising locals turn to the local tourism potential as a means of money-making. Besides Goethe, famed artists sough inspiration in the mountains just as many Romantics did in the Lake District, and wealthy Germans built ostentatiously lavish villas in key towns like Karpacz, which became known too as a famous spa resort. The famous Riesengebirgsverein (German Mountain Club) established at the end of the 19th century then developed hiking trails nearby. The seeds of the mountains' snow-sporting were sewn at the same time: sledging competitions became popular and Nordic skiing caught on when Nordic skis purchased by a German doctor in Szczecin ended up here: competitions were already in operation by the early 1900s.

The greatest elevation in Polish Silesia and indeed in the entire Czech Republic (at 1602 metres) sits spectacularly poised on the frontier between the two countries. Visitors can climb from Karpacz on the Polish side, or take the chairlift from Pec Pod Sn?žkou (on the Czech side) and hike the final kilometre only. Back 250,000 odd years ago, a glacier carved out the mountain in a shape distinctly unusual for this part of Europe, which adds an extra thrill to the ascent, and also gives the summit and the part of the Karkanosze National Park around it UNESCO protected status. The summit itself, due to the popularity of climbing it and the random constructions there over the years, doesn't always feel remote. For one thing, the Polish side has a Soviet-era sputnik-style cafe straddling it, whilst the Czech side even has a post office. The views, however, across Poland to the north and the Czech Republic to the south, are spectacular.

* Get to Karpacz by taking the train from Wroclow via Jelena Gora, then a bus from Jelena Gora from outside the station.

* Access Pec Pod Sn?žkou on bus via Hradec Kralove and Trutnov.

Remote Karkanosze Mountain Retreats

The Karkanosze are less about sights per se and more about immersion in this wild glacial terrain. The range is characterized by the (often glamorous) 19th century mountain huts dotted around the slopes, many of which still offer accommodation today.

Karpacz and Szklarska Por?ba are the key ski centres in the Karkanosze, with Sniezka 1602 and Szrenica respectively offering the best runs. Szklarska Por?ba hosts a major annual competition every March. One of Europe's main centres for Nordic skiing and dog-sledding is in nearby Jakuszyce. Ski-lovers will salivate over the 250km of trails.

With some of Europe's most mesmerizing hiking and skiing for a fraction of the price of the equivalent in the Alps, the Karkanosze Mountains are becoming one of the continent's fastest-expanding outdoor adventure destinations. A word of warning, though: development could jeopardize the natural beauty of the mountains. Go soon - whilst the prices are still low and the ambiance is still in tact.

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