This time we recommend heading southwest of Krakow. A trip to the gorgeously situated sanctuary in Kalwaria Zebrzydowska (including 42 way-side shrines) will please not only those in search of spiritual reflection. It’s also a good place to visit for enthusiasts of beautiful architecture and nature. And if, after visiting the sanctuary, we’re craving a slightly more popular form of entertainment, some of Małopolska’s most famous family attractions are located nearby.
At the beginning of the 17th century, Mikołaj Zebrzydowski, a wealthy nobleman, and his wife looked out a window of the castle in Lanckorona and are said to have seen three burning crosses on nearby Żar Mountain which ascended into the sky. The married couple regarded this as a sign. Zebrzydowski ordered a magnificent monastery to be built at the top of this mountain and for beautiful chapels to be arranged all around it. Several dozen years later, a painting of the Virgin Mary was put on display in Kalwaria Zebrzydowska which is still, today, considered to be miraculous. According to accounts written by medieval writers, the portrait of the Virgin Mary is said to have cried tears of blood.
Whatever our attitude is towards religious epiphanies, Kalwaria is an absolute must see. It’s not without reason that it's called the "Polish Jerusalem". Nor is it without reason that it has been on the UNESCO World Heritage List for nearly 20 years. A stroll on the monastery grounds which includes at least some of the 42 chapels (each of which is a tiny architectural masterpiece!) can be as much of a religious experience as an aesthetic one.
The sanctuary is located 40 km from Krakow. It takes about 50 minutes to reach it by car. Those without a vehicle can take one of the buses which leave regularly from Krakow’s main station.
20 km from Kalwaria (heading further west and passing Wadowice along the way) is Inwałd, a village which we can call (not without a hint of irony) "Małopolska's Las Vegas”. It has several attractions: a miniature park (paths lead between miniature versions of Saint Peter’s Basilica, the Eiffel Tower and the Great Wall of China), an amusement park (with a Ferris wheel, various carousels, slides, a wild river and a summertime ice rink), a medieval fortress, a minizoo with farm animals and Dinolandia Park with 50 figures of prehistoric reptiles, where it's possible to ride in a quad or gyroscope (a machine which resembles a flight simulator). Unfortunately, it's not the cheapest entertainment you'll find (entrance tickets to all of the attractions, valid for two days, start at 60 zł per person). Nor is it - one should know - the most challenging type of entertainment. For fans of opera and painting, Inwałd might seem like a temple to kitsch. But children will almost certainly be in raptures.
If we travel another 20 km (this time towards the south), we'll reach the picturesque mountain of Kocierz, on the peak of which is the boundary between two regions: Małopolska and Silesia. In the winter, it's possible to ski here - both downhill and cross-country. In the summer, thanks to beautiful views and a complex built on the hill, many attractions await us. First of all, there's an open-air water park with a variety of slides and swimming pools for children. Secondly, there are rope courses here (for both children and adults). There’s a route for adults, one kilometre long, stretching between trees that are two to three metres high and consisting of 20 stations which can be overcome with the help of an instructor. Over 200 metres of zip-lines above the water park await us at the end of it. And of course on Kocierz Mountain we can ride bikes, go for walks and enjoy the spa located here.