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Scenery from the Abazur Mountains in Zakopane, Poland

Hailed as the country's winter capital, Zakopane is the centre of hiking and skiing in Poland. Nestled in the valley between Tatra Mountains, which form the border with Slovakia in the south, and Gubalowka Hill in the north, this idyllic resort town attracts visitors (a staggering 2 million every year) for its natural beauty, well marked hiking trails in summer, winter sports, charming cafes, and a number of quaint shops and restaurants.

Its superb location, the foothills of the Tatra Mountains, gives it immediate access to the beautiful alpine range of ski slopes, and a trip to Zakopane in winters is almost a rite of passage for the Poles. This premier mountain town is exceedingly well known for its ski-jumps and cross country trails and was also in the running to host the 2006 Winter Olympic Games.

In spite of the constant stream of tourists, and the associated horrendously long queues for the ski lift, the loud bars, and kitschy stalls, the town has managed to retain its provincial charm and has a near fairy-tale like atmosphere. In addition to the sporting activities, Zakopane is also the gateway to the Tatra National Park. Characterized by its alpine peaks and thick forests, the park is home to Poland's highest peak, post glacial depressions, and the abode for various flora and fauna like brown bears, falcons and marmots.

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