The undisputed winter capital of Poland, Zakopane sits at the foot of Poland's highest mountains, the Tatras in Western Malopolska, a region rich in historical and cultural heritage. Kracow, the former capital of the Polish Republic and Poland's second city lies 70 miles/112 km north of Zakopane. Unlike Warsaw the capital which was completely destroyed during WW2, Kracow, escaped the bombs, retaining its medieval air. This most Polish of all Poland's cities, which Pope John Paul II called "the synthesis of all that is Polish, the sum of Polish history", was awarded the title "European City of Culture" in the year 2000. In 1978, Old Kracow was the only urban architectural complex to be placed on the List of World Cultural Heritage Sites along with Poland's biggest tourist attraction, the spectacular underground cathedral-like Salt Mines at Wieliczka. The former Nazi death camp Auschwitz, where 4 million people died has also been declared a World Heritage Site. No region of Poland is so well represented on the prestigious World Cultural Heritage list nor can many regions of the world compare with it. Towns and heritage buildings are not the only attractions in Western Malopolska - Poland has a total of 23 national parks offering a variety of hiking trails through varied landscapes and the chance to spot rare wildlife. Poland is reputed to have Europe's largest population of storks living amongst its marshlands and its national parks are home to many rare varieties. The Bialowieza National Park, a primeval forest near to the eastern border with Belarus, is the last major refuge of the European bison and also inhabited by lynx, moose and wild forest ponies. Further south, the Bieszczady National Park, part of the Carpathian Mountain range is home to the brown bear and wildcat. Nearest to Zakopane is the Tatra National Park, filled with typically alpine flora and fauna. Zakopane is a year-round holiday destination; in summer there are water and mountain resorts each with their own climate and wildlife while in winter the skiing conditions are the best in Poland. Zakopane has hosted the FIS World Ski Championships three times; in 1929, 1939 and 1962. After the creation of the Internationale Ski Federation (FIS) in Chamonix in 1924 it was proposed (but not acted upon) that skiing should be included in the Winter Olympics and that an annual ski race meeting should be held called "rendez-vous races". At the 1929 Zakopane meeting these races were termed FIS races for the first time.
Originally a seventeenth century forestry settlement, Zakopane has been a centre for Polish intellectuals for the past century. This lovely town ( with a few ugly Communist era blocks and now Burger King and McDonalds ) is also Poland's best known ski centre. There are seven ski areas around Zakopane offering more than 50 lifts between them, but most are short drag lifts, either running parallel or not connecteed to one another. Many are also privately owned lifts requiring separate tickets. The nearest ski area (3km) is Kasprowy Wierch where there is high Alpine skiing in two treeless bowls. Other nearby areas are Gubalowka and Nosal. 14 of the lifts quoted locally are drag lifts dotted around the town. Zakopane has hosted: three FIS World Ski Championships (1929, 1939,1962), three Winter Universiades (1956, 1993, 2001), Biathlon World Championship, several Ski Jump World Cups, and several Nordic Combined, Nordic and Alpine European Cups.