A renowned spa town and a throbbing tourist spot in southern Poland, Szczawnica is unique for many reasons, but especially due to its picturesque location at the foot of the Pieniny Mountains, near the Dunajec River gorge. The low mountains with rocky hilltops, situated within the boundaries of the beautiful Pieniny National Park are overgrown with forests, where hikers can experience the abundant flora and fauna. For day trips outside of Szczawnica, the castles in Czorsztyn and Niedzica are well worth seeing.
Szczawnica is recognised as the most popular town in the region among hikers, canoeists, visitors to sanatoria and all those who prefer mountains to beaches for their vacation.
The one thing that one must do while in Szczawnica is to try a cup of the local waters from a small taproom in the heart of the town. A modest museum is to be found higher up the hill, housing an assemblage of Pieniny costumes. Though not large, the collection is worth seeing for the embroidered waistcoats typical for the region.
Offering fantastic views of the valley, the 722-metre-high Palenica Mountain can be reached by a chairlift. Once there, winter sports enthusiasts can enjoy a short downhill route and a small snowboard park to boot. It is at the chairlift terminal that the Dunajec Gorge foot- and cycle-path starts, going along the south bank of the river and then, after 3 km, entering into Slovakia (the border serves pedestrians and cyclists). Near to the Palenica Mountain, on the Szafranowka Mountain, the 700-metre-high alpine coaster is a hit with children and grown-ups alike. Szczawnica is also the place for a raft trip along the Dunajec River Gorge.
A unique microclimate and mineral water springs allow for the treatment of urinary, digestive and respiratory tract diseases as well as motor organ diseases.
The spa town of Szczawnica, with 7,600 inhabitants and the area of 8,789 hectares, is situated not far from the Polish-Slovak border, in one of the most scenic regions of the country. It lies on the border of the Pieniny and the Beskid Sadecki Mountains, in the valley of the Grajcarek at an altitude of 430-500 m above sea level.
Two thirds of the area is covered with forests. It is this abundance of forests that contributes to the climate being milder than in many other mountain spas in Poland. The day and night temperatures do not vary significantly, it seldom rains and the atmospheric pressure is medium. Winters tend to be sunny and snowy, while summers are mild.
The settlement was first mentioned in the beginning of the 15th century. Actually, there were two Szczawnicas at the time – an upper and a lower one.
A parish in Szczawnica was already in existence by the first half of the 15th century, but in 1529 it was incorporated into the Kroscienko parish. Despite that, a temple with a presbytery was shortly erected where the first church had been.
In 1770 Austria annexed the land of Czorsztyn Starostwo and liquidated its possessions there in the same year, selling off its property to individuals. A significant part of Szczawnica land went to the hands of peasants, whereas the remaining portion was acquired in 1820 by a townsman from Spisz, Jan Kutschera. It was Kutschera who established the spa, built the first spa buildings and laid out a park. Unfortunately, the health resort proved unprofitable and in 1828 Kutschera sold it to Jozefina Szalayowa from Kamienica, to whom he was in debt.
Jozefina and her husband Jozef Szalay managed Szczawnica for ten years, during which a boarding house called the Castle was erected and the park enlarged. Nevertheless, the greatest acknowledgement is due to their son, Jozef, whose efforts made the spa flourish as early as in 1839. He put up the mineral water treatment bathrooms, built villas and boarding houses and covered the newly discovered springs. He also extended and renovated the park and erected the Spa Chapel. In 1858 his drawings of Szczawnica and the Pieniny Mountains were published in “Album Szczawnicki”, and what is more, Szaley led the first guided rafting tours along the Dunajec Gorge. He was befriended by many remarkable figures of the era, who he invited to Szczawnica.
After Jozef Szalay passed away in 1876, the Spa Institute in Szczawnica was managed by the Academy of Skills in Cracow. Between the years 1880 and 1884, the Academy put up the Guest Manor and organised the park. However, owing to financial problems the Academy was compelled to sell Szczawnica in 1909 to Adam Stadnicki.
The thirties was the most thriving period for Szczawnica: in the years 1933-1936 the Inhalation House was erected, in 1935 electrification works commenced, in 1937 the first sewage system was established and in 1938 the Modrzewie guest-house was constructed.
During the Second World War, the spa was closed to Poles, but as soon as in summer of 1945 the first bathing season was organised. In 1948 Szczawnica spa town was officially taken over by the State Treasury, and it obtained town rights in 1962.