Along the Biała River In the footsteps of the Lemkos, the secrets of the Petrified City (Skamieniałe Miasto) and the pearls of the Renaissance

A river meandering between buildings and farmland. On the right, rock formations and woodland. Arable fields on the left. In the background are buildings and hills covered with vegetation and trees.
Lacemakers, the mighty witch, mysterious night fliers, and hard-working bees can only be encountered if you take the trail along the Biała, one of the least-known rivers in Małopolska. This path takes us to less frequently visited places, which, of course, does not mean less interesting. This is how we get to the land of the Lemkos, discover the secrets of the Beskid Niski, and visit the wonderfully beautiful Ciężkowice Foothills. It is, therefore, time to discover what has hitherto been hidden in the tourist shadows.

The Biała or maybe the Bala? Where did it come from, where is its beginning?

The name Biała comes from the colour of the sedimentary rocks that form its riverbed in the river’s initial section. As there are many rivers with this name, the name of the river into which they flow or the town through which they flow is added to define them better. Hence, the Małopolska Biała is called the Biała Dunajcowa (because it flows into the Dunajec River) or the Biała Tarnowska (because it flows through the city).

For the first time, in the form of Bala, the river appeared in historical sources as early as 1229 and was recorded in its present form in 1564. Its sources are  on the slopes of Mt Lackowa in the Beskid Niski above the valley where the Lemko village of Bieliczna was located years ago.

Traces of the Lemkos and beautiful architecture

Its initial course leads us through areas once inhabited by the Lemkos , who were displaced from here after World War II. All that remains of some villages are shrines and wayside crosses.  A small number of residents inhabit others.

However, the beautiful, picturesque surroundings attract lovers of peace - some for a while, others for a little longer - to discover the traces of those who have aroused curiosity with their religious, linguistic and cultural differences for centuries. The former Lemko Orthodox churches, often rebuilt through the efforts of enthusiasts in love with the area, are sometimes the only buildings remaining from the former villages.

This is the case at the source of the Biała, in the former village of Bieliczna, now part of Izby with  the Greek Catholic Church of St Michael the Archangel. It was renovated at the end of the 20th century on the initiative of Father Mieczyslaw Czekaj, a parish priest in Banica. The remains of a cemetery can be seen around the church and several crosses can be found in the area.

It is worth remembering that in the years 1769-1772, the Bar Confederates set up a camp on the slopes of Mt Lackowa. It was where their commander, Kazimierz Pułaski, was stationed.

While in the area, you can leave the Białą valley for a few moments to visit nearby Banica. Here, among other things, is the former Orthodox Church of Sts Cosmas and Damian  with a beautiful Rococo iconostasis and tsarist-era gates.

A UNESCO World Heritage Site

At the beginning of the route, you will come across a smaller or larger former Lemko Orthodox church, sometimes right by the road, other times hidden among the trees on one of the surrounding hills in practically every village and side valley you pass. 

In Śnietnica, the Greek-Catholic Church of St Dmitri is a delight, while in Brunary Wyżne you should definitely see the former Church of St Michael the Archangel, which since 2013 has been on the UNESCO World Heritage List along with 15 other wooden Polish and Ukrainian Orthodox churches.

One of the variants of the car route In the Footsteps of the Lemkos runs through both villages , which leads through many villages located slightly to the east, with beautiful Orthodox churches and small cemeteries from the First World War. The proposal also includes a visit to the spa in Wysowa from where you can go on a hiking trip to  Kozie Żebro (in good weather, especially in winter, there is a chance to see the peaks of the Tatra Mountains above Mt Lackowa).

The journey along the Biała continues for many kilometres along Road  No. 981, first to Grybow and Stróża, and then to Zborowice. In Kąclowa, the Church of St Adalbert the Bishop, perched  on top of a hill,  attracts attention, referring to regional wooden architecture, as does the building modelled on old Polish castles at the entrance to Grybów. To Stara Baśń Castle which harkens back to the Tartar-Mongol invasions of the 13th century.

In Grybów, it is a good idea to cross the  Biała River and visit the  Market Square and the Basilica of St Catherine of Alexandria, which houses 12 Rococo paintings depicting the 12 Apostles. Nearby is the old presbytery dating from 1699, which now houses the Parish Museum. Successive parish priests collected numerous artefacts from local churches, Orthodox churches and synagogues.

To meet bees and lacemaker

Road No. 981 road, running along the Biała, will lead us to Stróże. Here  is a unique museum - dedicated to bees and their work (a similar museum can be found in  nearby  Kamianna),  andthen to Wilczyska, with its Church of St Stanislaus the Bishop and Martyr, which belonged to the Protestants for some time in the 16th century. In the furnishings of the  church, the oldest is the Gothiccarved-stone baptismal font from 1486, which  Stanisław Wyspiański drew during his tour of the region.

In nearby Jeżów, it is worth finding the the mysterious fortified manor house hidden in a thicket of trees. One of the legends connected with it tells of two white ladies living there, while another tells of dungeons linking the manor house with a now-defunct castle built during the reign of Casimir the Great and with the castle in nearby Bobowa.

Bobowa is famous not only for its medieval urban layout but also for its unique folk handicraft - bobbin lace. The local lacemaker’s beautiful handicrafts, including tablecloths, doilies and clothing items, can be admired in the Gallery of Bobbin Lace. A fountain with a figure of a lacemaker in the Bobowa Market Square is dedicated to the makers of these unique products.

Bobowa - in the footsteps of Christian and Jewish culture

The charming town is also an excellent example of the coexistence of Christian and Jewish culture. Wandering along the Jewish Culture Trail you will find the synagogue, the Markus Landau House , which is a treasury of memorabilia of Bobowa Jews, and  the local Jewish cemetery.

Testaments of Polish history include  the Church of St Sophia, the All Saints Church (with a very valuable painting by Jacek Malczewski depicting the Crucifixion), and a small castle which belonged to the Długoszowski family, including the adjutant to Marshal Józef Piłsudski - Bolesław Wieniawa Długoszowski.

In nearby Siedliska there is a unique World War I cemetery (Link to the article on the World War I cemetery in Siedliska). Here we find, unusual in any other Galician war cemetery, wooden stelae in the form of semicircular chapels topped with small wrought-iron Latin and Lorraine crosses.

The local Church of St Nicholas the Bishop is also unique. It was built at the turn of the 15th century from stones collected from the surrounding meadows and fields.

Notes by Ignacy Jan Paderewski and Kąśna Dolna

From Zborowice, Road No. 977 runs along the Biała River. Soon after turning onto it, you will find yourself at the Petrified City Reserve. If you only have a few moments to spare, stop at the car park by the road and look between the nearest rocks with imagination-stirring names - Czarownica, Maczuga, Borsuk - and fanciful shapes. 

When we have a little more time, it's ... worth going a little faurther. Taking the road  off to the left you will reach the picturesque Kąśna Dolna (about 2 km) with Ignacy Jan Paderewski’s manor house , the only preserved residence of the great composer and Prime Minister of the Second Republic of Poland, who lived and worked here in the summer months from 1897 to 1903. Today, it houses a concert centre and museum dedicated to the great composer, where you can see, among other things, the Czech Petrof piano on which he played and composed.

Returning from Kąśna Dolna along the same peaceful road, you’ll become more familiar with the mysteries of the Skamieniałe Miasto (Petrified City) and the many attractions of Ciężkowice.

Petrified City, Spa Park, a treetop path

The Petrified City, the  Czarownic Gorge, the Night Aviators' Trail, the Spa Park, the Path in the Treetops, Paderewski's Bench... To find all these attractions, we have to park somewhere.

The most convenient option is to leave your car at one of the two car parks in the park itself if we want to visit the Petrified City and explore the attractions of the Spa Park (including the arboretum, alpinarium, graduation tower, and sensory garden). To reach them, you need to exit Road No. 977 and headtoward the centre of Ciężkowice after driving onto the Market Square on the hill (let's postpone sightseeing for later) and head straight on to Kościuszki Street, following the arrows leading to the park. Once we are at the bottom, the signposts notify us that a sharp right turn awaits us. Once we're parked and ready to leave the car, straight ahead is a powerhouse of activities and an unforgettable time full of fun.

One of Ciężkowice's newest attractions, providing many pleasant experiences, is the treetop walk. The trail, located slightly to the east, takes us to a height of 17 to 22 m above the valley floor. From it, you can look at the closer and slightly more distant areas and, thanks to information panels, learn interesting facts about the vegetation and the animal world as well as try to solve a few puzzles prepared for visitors.

Ciężkowice - with the spacious Market  Square and Paderewski's bench

An attraction in itself is the Ciężkowice Market Square, which has retained its medieval layout to this day. Characteristic 19th-century wooden houses with arcades supported by four posts surround the Market Square. Also noteworthy is the brick Town Hall from that era and the nearby brick neo-Gothic Church of St Andrew, also known as the Sanctuary of Merciful Jesus

While in Ciężkowice, a good idea is to sit on the bench of Master Ignacy Jan Paderewski, which you will find without any difficulty on the Ciężkowice Market  Square.

Before returning to Road No. 977, it is worth visiting the following, beginning with the Krystyna and Włodzimierz Tomek Nature Museum.Visitors will find, among other things, a model of a bat cave, an interactive meadow, multimedia stations showing animal life and also... a replica of a bathyscape, thanks to which  they can see all the way to the bottom of the Biała River.

Through Tuchów to Polish Tuscany

Just after Ciężkowice we cross over to the other bank of the Biała and follow the wide valley to Gromnik. Deviating for a moment onto Road No. 980 (in the direction of Zakliczyn), we will  get to the nearby wooden Church of St Martin the Bishop from the turn of the 15th and 16th centuries  with Baroque furnishings, see the Pope's oak tree, and walk the Way of the Cross by the new church. The stations that make  it up are built of huge boulders, with a pebble from a place associated with the life of Jesus placed on each station.

Further on, the Biała quietly rolls its waters northwards to Tuchów, and Road No. 977 faithfully accompanies it. Having reached this village, let's abandon the main route and head towards the centre to Tuchów's Market Square via Mickiewicza Street. It was laid out as early as 1341. Its focal point is the classicist Town Hall from 1874, next to which is a statue of St Florian erected in the 18th century by Benedictine Abbot Florian Amanda Janowski. For centuries, a fair has been held in the Market Square every Tuesday made possible by a privilege granted by King Casimir the Great.

Slightly south of the Market Square (at Chopina Street), the House of Culture houses the  Municipal Museum, where collections have been gathered in order to exhibit artefacts and information about the history of the area and the families who ruled it as well as craftspeople's tools and ordinary people’s everyday utensils. Exhibits relating to Tuchów's oldest history, including a replica of the town's foundationcharter granted by Casimir the Great in 1340 and a copy of John of Nysa’s 1468Tuchow Triptych are located in the basement of thethe building of the ‘Sokół’ Gymnastic Society, which is part of the museum.

In the Church of St James the Elder Apostle attention is drawn to the main altar with its eight spiral columns and sculptures of saints.

Continuing north, you will soon rejoin Road No. 977 and after a while find yourself at the foot of a hill called Lipie, on which the Sanctuary of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary and St Stanislaus the Bishop and Martyrstands. It issaid that centuries ago there was a pagan stave temple here that was demolished at the turn of the 10th century. A wooden church was erected on its site, and consecrated by Bishop Stanislaw Szczepanowski according to Benedictine tradition.

The present Baroque church dates back to the 17th century, while the Monastery of the  Redemptorists, who look after the sanctuary, was built in the 19th century. Pilgrims come to Tuchów to pray in front of the miraculous image of Our Lady of Tuchów, which has officially had the status of 'miraculous' since the mid-17th century. It was then that Tomasz Oborski, Bishop of Kraków, appointed a commission to investigate the miracles taking place here and, after studying the results of its work, issued a relevant document.

While at the Sanctuary, it is also worth visiting the Redemptorist Missionary Museum with its mobile Christmas creche as well as the Sanctuary Museum dedicated to the cult of the Virgin Mary, and the Ethographic Museum.

Along the Biała River to reach the pearls of the Renaissance - in two ways

Further, you can travel along the course of the Biała River in two ways: along its banks through the Commune of Pleśna and along the outskirts of Tarnów to the river's estuary into the Dunajec River, or directly into the city by Road No. 977.

If you choose the first option, you need to return to the Tuchów Market Square and follow the signs to Łowczów and Pleśna. In Łowczówek we can find ’Relaks’ Sports and Recreation Centre with a variety of infrastructure for active recreation and relaxation after some invigorating exercise, and two World War I cemeteries. These are further testimonies to the battles fought during that period, the history of which can be explored on the First World War Eastern Front Trail of the.

The Commune of Pleśna delights with its landscapes and is an ideal place for an active holiday with an eco-friendly flair. It is not without reason that the area is called the Polish Tuscany, as you can see on a cycling tour from vineyard to vineyard in the Dunajec and Biała Valleys.

From Pleśna, the Biała flows calmly northwards towards Koszyce Wielkie and then heads towards the Dunajec River via the Tarnów suburbs. The first part of the route can be covered by local roads, and then it remains to travel through the streets of the industrial part of the city to the place where the Biała and Dunajec Rivers converge.

A second Kraków, or Renaissance Tarnów

For the second variant of our trip, i.e., travelling from Tuchów directly to Tarnów, we’ll  be using Road No. 977. It ends at the city bypass, from where signs direct us to the centre.

The most convenient point to start a walking tour of Tarnów is the car park near the railway station. Krakowska Street, with its tastefully restored Art Nouveau townhouses, will lead you to the Market Square.

During this unhurried hike, one must see Poland’s one and only space fountain depicting the Solar System, have a look at the Seklerska Gate of Józef Bem and Sandor Petöfi (in Poland, a similar structure can still be found only in Stary Sącz), visit the former inn, now the Ethnographic Museum with its exhibition on Roma history and culture.

The Old Town in Tarnów is called the ‘pearl of the Renaissance’, as it has one of the most beautiful - among Polish cities - Renaissance architectural layouts and many priceless monuments from this period. The monumental Basilica of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary houses the monument atop the tomb of Barbara nee Teczynska Tarnowska, which is regarded as the most beautiful Renaissance sculpture of a woman in all of Europe. At Wałowa Street we find The Poets' Bench on which Agnieszka Osiecka, Jan Brzechwa, and Zbigniew Herbert rest, andthe statue of King Władysław Łokietek (touching the King's shoe with your right hand supposedly brings good luck and makes dreams come true). 

If you want to see the estuary where the Biała River flows into the Dunajec River, you need to  turn left from the car park at the railway station and follow the streets through the Mościce  District and industrial areas to reach the place where the waters of the two rivers join together.


Discover Małopolska in your own way

Thus our journey along the course of the Biała River, following the traces of history, tradition, and natural peculiarities comes to an end. Equally fascinating are hikes along the other rivers of Malopolska: the Vistula,  the Dunajec, the Poprad, the Skawa, and last but by no means the least, the Raba River each of which allows you to discover many unusual places and experience the cultural and natural diversity of the region.

Małopolska can also be discovered in many other ways - on foot, by  car, by bicycle,  and along the Małopolska Gourmet Trail or the Traditional Crafts Trail. These are just a few suggestions, and there are many more possibilities. Based on the information on our portal, you can also map out your own paths and explore Malopolska at your own pace and in your own way. Discover Malopolska with us. You are always welcome!


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