A town in the Beskid Slaski Mountains of southern Poland, Szczyrk is one of the most popular skiing destinations in the country. With more than 60 km of well-kept ski routes serviced by 30 ski-lifts, it offers conditions for skiing which are comparable to the leading European resorts. Within the town borders lies Mt Skrzyczne (1257 m), the highest peak of the Silesian Beskidy range and which is considered to be second only to Kasprowy Wierch in the Tatra Mountains as a skier’s mountain.
Every year, from December to April, Szczyrk bustles with activity as skiers and snowboarders take advantage of the snow capped peaks. There are 28 slopes available with lift access, including eight with lighting and seven with snowmaking machines. Szczyrk, as an entirely tourism oriented town, has a variety of fine hotels, apartments and other places to stay.
Hiking is one of the ways to reach Mt Skrzyczne and Mt Klimczok (1119 m). The routes start from the town centre, and both walks are easy and have views of the surrounding mountain summits that are just breathtaking.
One can also get access to Mt Skrzyczne by either a funicular railway or a chairlift. Open all year long, the chairlift ranks among the major attractions of Szczyrk, as much use for tourists as for the skiers. During the almost 30-minute ride to the top you can admire the astonishing panorama of the Silesian Beskidy Mountains. Moreover, Mt Skrzyczne is very popular location for paragliding.
There are not many sights to speak of in the town itself, except for the 18th century wooden St Jacob’s church in the very centre of the town. Apart from the church, visitors can view several surviving pre-Second World War villas.
Szczyrk is nestled in the north-eastern part of the Beskid Slaski Mountains, 15 km to the south of Bielsko-Biala and 17 km from Zywiec. The town lies at an altitude of 460-600 m, in the valley of the Zylica River. From the north it is enclosed by Mt Klimczok and from the south by Mt Skrzyczne and Mt Malinow (1095 m). Covering an area of 39 km2, Szczyrk has a population of 5,500 inhabitants.
The climate here is transitional between the humid sea climate of western Europe and the dry climate of eastern Europe. Its principal features are its clean mountain air, high sunshine levels and good air humidity, making it beneficial for those recovering from respiratory system problems and heart disease.
The genesis of the name Szczyrk is shrouded in mystery, and it is not certain when the first settlers appeared in the Zylica Valley. What we do know, however, is that around the 15th century Szczyrk became an international settlement with the arrival of nomads from the Balkans, settling there alongside Polish deserters and convicts. Other early settlers originated from countries such as Germany, Austria, Hungary and Slovakia. The first population census was taken in 1630. Many of Szczyrk’s present inhabitants can confirm that their ancestors lived in the town or its environs as early as the 17th century.
The inhabitants of Szczyrk were a peaceful and pious people, occupying their time in the cultivation of the land, wood-cutting, animal-breeding, pasturing of sheep and hunting. The local peaks are named after different ways of fertilizing the land or after local people (for instance, Mt Klimczok was named after a brigand from the 17th century).
Owing to increases in the population, new farms had to be established higher and higher in the mountains. This led to the pasturing of sheep becoming even more popular, and the cloth of sheep wool was a product of high value. What is more, the town gained importance as a wood-producing area due to it being relatively close to the industry and population of Upper Silesia. From the 18th century the town supplied the metal industry with wood products and other commodities.
Tourism began to develop after First World War, with Szczyrk becoming well-known for its hospitals providing medical care to wounded Austrian troops. In the 1920s the rapidly growing town drew manufacturers from every part of Poland. Nearly 10 boarding-houses were built in Szczyrk in the period before the outbreak of World War II, and modernisation of the main transport artery began (it still has not been completed due to the difficult weather conditions in the Beskidy Mountains).
1924 saw the construction of the first shelter on the peak of Mt Skrzyczne. In 1928 Salmopol, which had been an independent town for upwards of 125 years, was incorporated into Szczyrk. As the majority of Salmopol’s citizens were evangelicals, after the incorporation Szczyrk became a model town where Catholics and Protestants lived together side by side peacefully, promoting unity within the Christian faith. Szczyrk received its municipal rights in 1973.