Our Dreams Come True. Part 8 – That’s a Wrap!

With our detailed research now finished, it was time for Lucjan, my sister and me to explore Szczawnica to better understand the local history, traditions and enjoy the scenic countryside.

Spa Resort and Outdoor Tourism Destination

Szczawnica, with its beautiful wooden Swiss-style architecture and old-world charm, is situated along the Grajcarek River banks and into the foothills. Natural spring waters, very popular due to their health properties, were discovered in the 17th century, slowly enabling the area to develop into a well-known resort and tourist destination by the mid-1800s.  There is a historic spa park around Dietla Square, named after Józef Dietl, the renowned physician responsible for helping establish and promote the healing waters.

Zdrój Magdalenka w Szczawnicy “Magdalena Spring”. Fontanna z Panną “Szczawnica Maiden Fountain”. Inhalatorium Uzdrowiska Szczawnica Sanatorium.

Our hotel complex – Szczawnica Park Resort and Spa –  was located right downtown along the main street.  The 4-star resort was a special and relaxing experience for us. During our evenings we enjoyed music from different Górale “Polish Highlander” ensembles dressed in traditional attire.  The folk music was a real treat!

Two Highlander ensembles.

Muzeum Pienińskie

Just down the road in Szlachtowa was a fantastic museum recommended by one of my very helpful genealogy contacts.  Lucjan had contacted the museum director, a well-known local historian, to see if she could meet with us, but unfortunately, she was unavailable.  We had hoped to ask her about the history of our surnames in the area.  However, I  did purchase two very detailed and interesting books about Szczawnica that she had authored –  which have proven useful.  Thank goodness for lots of photos and translation apps!

Museum exterior. The sphere with the cross atop it is the finial from the original Szczawnica Catholic Church.
Outline of the Polish and Slovak regions of the Pieniny Mountains. Old advert for the spa showing the chemical composition of the mineral waters along with the benefits.

Our favorite museum displays showed the traditional local Highlander clothing, woodworking crafts and occupations of the region.  We learned that the heart motif often embroidered on the clothing,  the large floral patterns found on scarves and skirts, as well as the large white shawls, were distinctive to Szczawnica.

Local traditional dress – Szczawnica or Highlander on the right side and Ruthenian on the left.

We also learned that during WWII, Szczawnica, as a border town with Slovakia, was flooded with the German Gestapo.  In fact, the building housing the current museum was actually the HQ for the German border guards at that time.  Despite the heavy military presence, one of the main escape and courier routes during WWII ran right through Szczawnica! The local highlanders worked with the partisans to help civilians and soldiers escape through the Pieniny to Slovakia, Hungary, and the west to join other Polish forces.

German troops in Szczawnica. A priest and two doctors who assisted in the resistance by hiding couriers and helping them escape. The priest was caught and sent to Auschwitz.

A Taste of the Great Outdoors

Lucjan, my sister and I took a leisurely drive through the Pieniński Park Narodowy “Pieniny National Park”,  and then to nearby Slovakia (where we likely have ancestors, too!).  The views were magnificent – we saw many families hiking along the scenic trails.  My sister and I thought how sad our great-grandparents must have been to leave such a beautiful place, but knew they wanted more opportunities for their family, which they hoped to find in the USA.

Park entrance. Slovak border. Countryside.

Our next outdoor adventure was a picturesque Dunajec River rafting tour.  There was a very informative historical display in a small tourist pavilion before reaching the dock.  The trip down the slowly winding river gorge in traditional wooden rafts lasted a little over 2 hours.  Our raftsman pointed out the many sites and told stories and jokes along the way.  Amazing to think our ancestors saw these spectacular views all the time.

Diorama of our rafting route, from Kąty, Sromowce Wyżne, far left, right after the reservoir, to Szczawnica at the upper far right, where the Grajcarek meets the Dunajec.
Display of the traditional raftsman’s outfit in the small tourist pavilion. Our raftsman.
View of the peaks in person and identified on a postcard.

Revisiting our Polish Cuisine Bucket List

The breakfast spread at our resort was amazing every day.  Besides international breakfast fare, we were able to sample many local specialties including sausages, mountain cheeses, local breads, jams and even honeycomb!

Breakfast spread at the resort.

We generally ate a light meal each evening in the resort lounge while listening to the highlander folk music.  The Krasa Weizen beer brewed in nearby Nowy Sącz was very refreshing.  The well-known sour Żurek soup – with boiled egg and kiełbasa – seems to be an acquired taste, but at least I tried it!  The ice cream with chocolate and berries was always a welcome choice!

Local beer. Żurek. Ice cream.

Our go-to lunch spot was Restaurant Bohema at the quaint Willa Marta Hotel.  I had been looking forward to trying the local trout – Dunajecki pstrąg –  which was prepared perfectly.  The breaded boneless pork chop with roasted potatoes and sauerkraut was one of our favorites.  Piwo Zdrojowe Uzdrowisko Szczawnica, another local beer, was also enjoyable.  Rosół – classic Polish chicken soup – was alway an excellent choice for lunch especially if followed by the apple pie with ice cream – Szarlotka z lodami –  tasty, but not as good as Marta’s!

Restaurant Bohema. Trout. Breaded pork. Local beer. Chicken soup. Apple cake.

That’s a Wrap!

Armed with our new found knowledge and appreciation of traditional crafts and local designs, my sister and I  purchased some great and meaningful souvenirs.  Beautifully embroidered felt and linens, floral shawls, wood carvings, straw ornaments, amber jewelry, pottery, and bobbin lace to name a few.  Also, Polish cookies and candies for our mother and my sister’s children based on Lucjan’s favorites! My sister even bought a traditional outfit from Szczawnica including blouse, skirt, shawl, scarf, and beads.  Oh, and some wódka.  Of course, our last pączki for the road!

Selection of Polish candies, traditional outfit, and pączki.

What a wonderful tour! We wish that we had visited these ancestral homelands before our father passed away and before our 97-year-old mother was too frail to travel – they would have loved every minute! I can imagine our father happily conversing in Polish, slowly recalling the only language he spoke until learning English in the old country schoolhouse with other first-generation Americans.

This was our first visit to Poland but not our last!  My sister and I were extremely pleased with our amazing customized tour, from the early planning stages to the realization of our objectives.  Two weeks was a nice introduction to the Małopolskie and Podkarpackie provinces, giving us just enough time to research and visit where three of our family branches had lived for generations.  Not only did we learn and explore more than we could have hoped for, we also had so much fun!  None of this would have been remotely possible without the knowledge, expertise, and commitment of the PolishOrigins team and our fabulous guide Lucjan.  Their genuine interest and heartfelt enthusiasm to give us the very best experience possible, truly made our dreams come true!

Do widzenia!




    1. Thanks, Sue, I am glad you liked reading the series. I think you would really enjoy the experience of visiting our family homelands, too!

    1. Thanks, John, I was happy to share our adventures. Very cool that by searching our common surnames you saw on the blog that we also share DNA! I hope you and your wife are able to visit Poland again.

  1. Headed out on a day trip on our own to Zakopane tomorrow, and Czestochowa the following day. Zbigniew from PO picks us up on Sunday to explore my maternal villages and churches in Podkarpackie beginning Sunday. I’ll first meet a distant cousin and her family, and then it’s off to see the areas my babcia and dziadzia lived and worshipped for a few days. Can’t wait!

    1. Hi Bonnie, Your trip sounds wonderful! It is so exciting to meet distant family – I bet you will have such fun. I hope you will share your experiences on the PO blog as well. Best of luck to you!

  2. Thank you for sharing, Valerie. Fascinating information and great photos. I also have ancestors from Szczawnica that came to the U.S. in the late 1800s. Really appreciate the chance to learn about this beautiful part of the world they once called home. Thanks again.

    1. Thanks, Jeff – it was indeed wonderful discovering the beauty of Szczawnica first hand. How interesting that we both have ancestors from the same village! Any common surnames?

  3. Your blog was so interesting. We are planning trip to the same provinces this fall, I feel a little more confident now. I definitely will be contacting PolishOrigins

  4. Interesting article! My family origins are in Szlachtowa and a couple of my cousins who are deeply interested in tracing our lineage happened upon the same museum during their visit. I don’t think they learned anything new or found any clear evidence of our name on any paperwork, but I do know the spelling has changed somewhat since then as well.

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