THE BIESZCZADY MOUNTAINS – THE POLISH “WILD WEST”

The road winds steeply, ever-upwards, deeper and deeper into the Bieszczady Mountains in the south-eastern corner of Poland.

Below you can see the sea of green valleys and fast flowing rivers. I am on the hunt for little Przewalski horses and bisons which are under protection and live in small conservation centres.

Deep in the forest we creep through beech and pine trees to meet cute brown foals feeding and fooling around. Though fully domesticated they seem shy and unwilling to be touched. Undeterred we decide to do some more hiking and spot as many wild creatures as possible.

And this is a perfect place as the landscape is sparsely populated and densely forested full of sweeping vistas and home to brown bears, solitary lynx, European bisons and even a few packs of wolves.

This area used to be a melting pot of Ukrainian Bojki and Lemki ethnic groups, Poles and Jews living together. But the WWII and the ethnic cleansing actions after the war have irreversibly changed the face of this region. The indigenous inhabitants were forced to leave and the nature took the reign again.

It became the Polish “Wild West” where dreamers, sensation seekers and people with the past but no future started to arrive and create new communities in their own unique style.

The mountain range is not very high with the highest peak of Mt Tarnica only reaching 1346m but gentle peaks and their sweeping pastures known as “Poloniny” offer great, unbroken views of wilderness and mountain ranges straddling Polish, Ukrainian and Slovakian borders.

For those who like hiking, mountain biking or horse riding this area is a real contender. And it’s quickly becoming popular with tourists especially in summertime.

You can’t travel through Bieszczady without conquering its highest peak of Mt Tarnica.

Our starting point is a small resort of Ustrzyki Gorne and our trail leads first through the dense forest.

It’s a hot summer day and the woods provide a welcome shade especially that our trail becomes rapidly steep and rocky.

Only when we reach the edge of the forest and enter lovely green pastures full of wild blueberries and tall pink flowers we are offered some respite from climbing up the hill. The views of surrounding peaks are spectacular but the sun is still merciless.Fortunately, there is a light breeze and the visibility is perfect.

The Tarnica Peak with its huge metal cross shimmers in the distance. It’s a steep and rocky trail from now on but the mountain panorama is worth the effort.

At the top you can admire the highest peaks of Szeroki Wierch, Krzemien, Kopa Bukowska, Halicz, Polonina Carynska and Ukrainian Pikuj.


From Tarnica you can continue the red trail to the other summit of Halicz or like us follow the blue trail down to a small village of Wolosate (the length of our trail – 4 hours).

The whole area is full of hiking trails offering an easy access to beautiful mountain vistas.

One of the most popular is Polonina Wetlinska (1255m). Our start is at Wyzna where the trail is quite easy at the beginning but becomes steep once you reach the forest.

We climb up for twenty minutes until we reach wide pastures and reach the highest lying mountain hut known as “Chatka Puchatka” (Winnie the Poo Hut). It’s worthwhile to walk the whole ridge of the Polonina (around 1 hour) and admire mountain ranges.

Coming down is easy – you can either follow the yellow trail back to Wyzna Pass (1 hour) or the black trail to Gorna Wetlinka (50 minutes).

Once you get tired from all this walking there is a lovely resort of Solina nearby with a large lake and the biggest dam in Poland. It’s 664m long and 82m high and offers lovely views of the lake surrounded by dark green mountain peaks.

The dam itself is pretty spectacular and at the summit you have both the banks connected by the embankment with the lake on one side and the sheer drop of the cliff on the other.

It’s a great place to unwind, swim, kayak or just simply go shopping for souvenirs. There is no shortage of bars and restaurants either.

For us observing the sun go down behind the hills and listening to gentle waves lapping the sandy banks of Solina was the perfect finish to our mountain adventure.

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