Ojców National Park attractions: Ojców and Pieskowa Skała
Ojców National Park attractions: Ojców and Pieskowa Skała
Kraków is a beautiful city, but if you want to be closer to nature, it is well worth it to go beyond its borders. One of the best places to visit in the region is Poland’s smallest national park – a picturesque area providing guests with tranquillity, plenty of greenery and breath-taking views.
Ojców National Park (ONP) – where it is and how it came to be
Situated only 16 kilometres from Kraków, the Ojców National Park is part of the Kraków-Częstochowa Upland area. The Park’s protected zone covers an area of 21.46 square kilometres.
Before the area gained the status of a national park, naturalists had spent many years making efforts to protect the Ojców region against the over-exploitation of its forests and caves.
The ONP was established in 1956, with its total area measuring 1,570.59 hectares at the time. In 1997, the Park’s boundaries were adjusted, with a further 6,777 hectares added to the protected area to form what is known as the buffer zone.
At the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries, Ojców was a trendy health resort. The reason for its popularity was the unique climate, due to which it was referred to as the “Polish Switzerland”. Unfortunately, the renowned resort did not survive the chaos of the January Uprising. The surrounding area saw the stationing of insurgent forces, as well as numerous battles. Although Ojców began to rebuild its status over time, it has never regained its former popularity. This is also because its reconstruction initiated in the interwar period was interrupted by the outbreak of World War II.
The story behind Ojców’s name is no less intriguing than its rich history. It derives from the name of a castle built by King Casimir the Great. He called his stronghold “Ojciec u skały” (“Father on the rock”) in honour of his father Władysław Łokietek, who once had to hide in the valley from his enemies. The locals eventually abbreviated the castle’s name to simply “Ojciec” (“Father”). With time, they also began to use the same name to refer to the village located at the foot of the castle.
Ojców National Park’s most interesting natural and historical landmarks
Despite being the smallest out of all Polish National Parks, the Ojców National Park offers surprisingly many attractions. Visitors can enjoy as many as five tourist trails extending through the ONP (blue, green, yellow, red, black), allowing them to admire such attractions as:
Ojców Castle – picturesque ruins of a 14th-century castle founded by Casimir the Great. From here, you can admire the wonderful panorama of the Prądnik Valley as well.
Chapel “on the water” in Ojców – over a century-old chapel that owes its fame to its unusual location – it sits directly above the Prądnik River on concrete supports. This one-of-a-kind architectural solution was chosen at a time when Tsar Nicholas II forbade the construction of religious buildings on his grounds. To circumvent his decree, the locals opted to build a church “on the water”.
Pieskowa Skała Castle – a 14th-century castle, located 6.5 kilometres from the centre of Ojców. The name Pieskowa Skała (Little Dog’s Rock) is associated with a legend about Princess Dorota, a daughter of Magnate Tęczyński, who was imprisoned in the castle tower. Luckily for her, she had a very loyal dog. Each day, her canine friend scaled the rock on which the tower was erected to bring her food, thus saving her from starvation and certain death.
Old milling settlement Boroniówka – a historic mill and water sawmill located in Grodzisk, 1.5 kilometres from the centre of Ojców. By now, Boroniówka has turned into somewhat of an open-air museum, in which visitors can take part in various workshops. Other attractions include greenhouses where you can buy fresh herbs, a cafe, as well as a garden where you can organise picnics.
The Boroniówka settlement is open to visitors between 1 May and 30 October on Saturdays and Sundays from 10.00 am to 5.00 pm.
The Ojców National Park Museum – a museum located in the heart of Ojców. The visit begins with the screening of two 3D films, which allow you to learn about the history of the Prądnik Valley starting from the Jurassic era to the present day. Afterwards, you can proceed to the subsequent rooms housing exhibitions about the park’s ecosystem, cave interiors, archaeological finds and local species of fauna and flora.
Caves in the ONP
While there are more than 700 caves and shelters (small caves) in the Ojców Park, only two of them are open to visitors.
King Łokietek’s cave – a 320-metre-long cave located along the black trail. It is named after King Władysław Łokietek, who stayed at the cave for about six weeks, hiding from the troops of the Czech king Wenceslaus II. Legend has it that once the king has entered the cave, the entrance was immediately blocked by spiderwebs, which allowed him to elude the chase. In memory of this event, a spiderweb-themed gate has been set up at the cave’s entrance.
Ciemna Cave – a cave with an area of 209 square metres, which is accessible from the green trail; one of Poland’s most valuable archaeological sites. The first human traces discovered in the cave are about 125,000 years old, which makes them one of the oldest such relics discovered in Poland.
Jonaszówka Rock – an excellent overlook spot, offering an excellent view of the Ojców castle and its surroundings. Located right behind the garden of the Ojców Trout Restaurant (Pstrąg Ojcowski), the site has an artificial reservoir, which makes it all the more charming. Please take care when climbing atop Jonaszówka as the surrounding rocks may prove very slippery.
Love Spring – a natural spring located just behind the Kraków Gate, a unique rock resembling an enormous gate. It owes its name to a legend invented by tour guides, according to which a certain couple who tasted the spring’s water lived happily ever after. Unfortunately, contemporary visitors may no longer enjoy the spring’s magical properties as the water is classified as unpotable.
Unusual rock formations
Limestone rocks are characteristic for the Kraków-Częstochowa Upland.
Their interesting shapes have long stimulated the imagination of the locals who gave them names corresponding to their appearance. The most famous ones include the already mentioned Kraków Gate, the extremely photogenic Gauntlet Rock (a vantage point situated along the route to the Ciemna Cave offers a good view of this rock and its surroundings), as well as Diotima’s Needle Rock named after Jadwiga Łuszczewska, a poet whose nom de plume was Diotima. Yet the most famous rock formation is the Club of Hercules, located next to the Pieskowa Skała Castle.
Ojców National Park – curiosities
- The symbol of the Ojców National Park is a bat. Many of these small flying mammals live in the region’s Jurassic caves. Out of 24 bat species found in Poland, as many as 17 have their habitats in the Ojców National Park.
- The total length of ONP’s hiking trails is 46.6 kilometres.
- Aside from a few places, you are free to cycle on most hiking trails.
- The Ojców National Park area is renowned for its excellent food products. The most popular ones include trout, dairy products from Skała, as well as garlic grown in the Słomniki commune, which is so popular that it has its own dedicated event – the Lesser Poland Garlic Festival. There are also several esteemed vineyards adjacent to the Park.
- The Skała commune has a one-of-a-kind regional dish, one virtually unknown elsewhere. Referred to as “łojok” (“łój” means “tallow” in Polish), the dish is essentially tallow-based noodles, usually made using beef or veal tallow. What makes it unique, however, is that the housewives from Skała can prepare it in such a way as to make the taste of fat imperceptible.
- The traditional architecture of the buildings in the ONP is so characteristic that it has received its own name – the Swiss-Ojców Style.
Other things to do in Krakow
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