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PodhaleGF (Gran Fondo)

PodhaleGF (Gran Fondo)

PodhaleGF (Gran Fondo)
Below is my favourite proposal for a road classic in the Podtatrze region. The tour joins in its track the current parts of the cycling routes VeloDunajec and Route Around the Tatras and the famous sections from the amateur cycling races held under the Tatras. This is a very personal suggestion, because countless other variations of such ‘gran fondo’ can be delineated here.

If you’ve heard of names such as the Tatra Road Race (TRR), Tour De Pologne (TdP) or the Nowy Targ Road Challenge and you’d like to experience them in a single loop, upload the gpx track to your equipment and choose a weather window that allows you to gaze at the mountains all day. I stress right away that you really have to like ascents and that this proposition is best attempted by at least intermediate cyclists. I’d also like to reassure those who have heard about the ‘killer climbs’ on the TdP or who tremble with excitement at the very sound of the TRR motto (‘hard as hell’). It’s important to remember that this mainly applies to the racing experience, where actually if you want to go as fast as you can, it gets quite extreme. If you ride these climbs at your own tourist pace, the ascents may not automatically flatten out, but they certainly get easier to take, no matter the style. Besides, with my proposal, you’ll follow the wall in Gliczarowo downhill :-). Just treat it simply as a good road workout on a virtually 100% asphalt route with great views of Spiš, Podhale and Orava.

Download GPX trace

Like with any good workout, we’ll start with a flat warm-up and finish with an easy cool-down. I propose a start and finish in Nowy Targ, which can be reached by train or car.  I recommend the car parks of the stores along ul. Szaflarska or the large and usually empty car park at Nowa Targowica (it’s also possible to park peacefully when markets take place here on Thursdays and Saturdays, verified hint!). If you choose the latter as your starting point, then right next to the market is the Dunajec embankment, along which the VeloDunajec. route runs on smooth asphalt. Clipped into pedals, bidons filled? Then let’s take off and head downstream towards Lake Czorsztyn. After all, I had promised a light warm-up at the start, and such a relaxed ride slightly downhill, with a view on the riverside nature, as well as the Gorce and Tatra Mountains, will last all the way to Lake Czorsztyn. If you set off early in the morning, I recommend having something warm/anti-wind, as you can feel some cold from the side of the river. But I’m assuming anyway that everyone has something like that with them, because the weather in Tatras is changeable, after all. Not as much as in the High Tatras, but when cycling, it’s always worth having such an additional layer with you.

PodhaleGF (Gran Fondo) VeloDunajec Waksmund

After about 15 km we reach Dębno and Lake Czorsztyn, riding all the time along the new cycling infrastructure built in recent years as part of VeloDunajec and the route around the reservoir. Despite a few grumbles (don’t be surprised by the narrow bridge over the Białka River, accessed by a strange two-way cycle lane), the rest is a good example of how seriously cycling tourism development is being taken in the Małopolska region. I guarantee that you won’t be the only cyclists on this route, so especially on warm weekends, don’t get too much into training here.

There are definitely more cherries on the cake here, as there’s still more to come, including a ride on the crown of the side dam in Frydman, smooth descents on the very shores of the lake, numerous bridges and the already famous ascent combined with ‘red’ descent from Falsztyn to the Kosarzyska Bay. This final cherry will also be the first test of whether you like ascents. If your smile just got any wider, then by all means, when you reach Niedzica and get a glimpse of the castle from the dam, keep going by following the gpx trail. If you decide that, actually, it’s not your style, then I recommend bypassing the lake as described here (Veloczorsztyn).

PodhaleGF (Gran Fondo) Falsztyn

However, I assume that Niedzica is a place where everyone starts to ascend gently uphill towards Łapsze Niżne? Don’t be surprised that the trail is meandering here so much, I wanted to show you what’s probably the steepest cycle path in Poland that has been created as part of the Trail Around the Tatras (SWT). Even the cows that usually graze here look with respect at the cyclists’ effort on the uphill section. From now on we just follow the SWT signs admiring not only the tranquillity of the Spiš countryside, but also the great asphalt surfaces enjoyed by the cyclists as well as the local farmers (hence the cow poos included, just don’t grumble, that's the local peculiarity). having left Kacwin, we approach the only gravel section (update from May 2020: this very section was covered with asphalt surface), but it is worth slowing down for these 2 km and be sure to stop at the famous waterfall near the Polish-Slovakian border and speed up only on the road heading to Osturnia. If you haven’t yet heard of this picturesque village, take a close look at the passing houses and courtyards and you’ll see what it’s all about. In the centre, I recommend stopping off at an atmospheric pub and having a sip of kofola, as we have one of the tougher climbs of our GF ahead of us, namely the ascent of the Pass over Łapszanka. I guarantee that the sweat you will pour out before you reach the top will be rewarded by the views from the site of the famous chapel, as the Tatras are almost at your fingertips here. A couple of photos and some rest during the descent to Jurgów, where a short section along the Białka River and another ascent through Brzegi to Gliczarów Górny awaits us. This section is not one of my favourites, but the ‘Bukowina wall’ has to be passed, even if you go downhill. You can also always reverse the gpx and act as a more conservative cyclists, but in my opinion, the ascent to Łapszanka is definitely better in terms of views and not so exhausting at the same time. However, there’s no time to meditate, as the speeds that you reach when going downhill here also require concentration.

PodhaleGF (Gran Fondo) Łapsze Niżne

In Biały Dunajec we get onto VeloDunajec again for a while, cross the busy ‘Zakopianka’ road and head to the last difficult ascent of our GF: up to the famous Ząb. Here I’ve always had the dilemma of whether to go through Gubałówka or avoid it, but after two times in the high season, when it was impossible to even walk there, let alone cycle – I found a way out of that dilemma forever. I’m absolutely in favour of the quieter variant with a view of Babia Góra, following the Tatra Road Race route, and I’d recommend it to all of you. When you reach Dudkówka, be sure to take a look behind you. Giewont looks great from this perspective, and you’ll experience on the narrow roads specially paved for cyclists and local residents the opposite of what's going on during the season on the promenade at Gubałówka. You have to keep your hands on the brake handles on the descend through Zoki in order to enjoy a peaceful ride down through Ciche and have some fun with spotting the sights of authentic Podhale architecture. Afterwards, there will be only a slight uphill section to Chochołów and then we’ll give our legs some rest, because the next 30 kilometres will run along branches and the main route of the Trail Around the Tatras. Everything here is a non-stop slight downhill, without a single car in sight, so you can freely look behind you and to the sides, because the Tatras look different from every perspective. My favourite spot is the one overlooking the church in Chochołów.

If you’re short on ascents and your legs are still fresh, I recommend taking one of the routes to Krauszów (examples can be found at For the rest of you, I recommend simply taking a leisurely descend to Nowy Targ, where, after crossing the pedestrian/bicycle bridge to the airport, we follow the VeloDunajec signs, which will lead you back to the car park after about 2 kilometres of a flat ride along the river.

Some practical information:
It’s compulsory to wear a helmet in Slovakia, but on a route like this it’s absolutely obvious to have one anyway. Don’t take too much food and drink with you, as there are plenty of shops and bistros along the way (I usually eat lunch at the restaurant U Śliwy in Chochołów, which is just after 100 km). In the event of border closures, I recommend driving from Niedzica to Kacwin on the ordinary road and from there only following the Trail Around the Tatras to the centre of Łapsze Niżne, then going up from there to the Pass over Łapszanka.

At the moment, due to the renovation of the railway line, access by this means of transport is possible only to Chabówka and from there you can easily cycle to Nowy Targ (tan example is available here / gpx)

As I’ve written in the introduction: this is my proposal linking the new cycleways built as part of the ‘for everyone’ routes with the heavy road ascents used by organisers of bicycle races. If you’re looking for inspiration for other riding options, take a look at the websites of the races in question, download routes from previous years and arrange them as you wish. Here’s another very useful map including road surfaces in the Podtatrze region (thanks to the Route Around the Tatras)

Opracował: Jarek Tarański


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