The Wild East
The Bieszczady Mountains are not typically a tourist destination as places such as Krakow, Warsaw and Gdansk are usually the first places tourists go when visiting Poland for the first time and only the seasoned Polish tourist will have ventured into the area fondly known as the, ‘Wild East’.
Bieszczady (sometimes called the Bieszczadzkie Mountains) is the Polish name for a mountain range in the extreme south-east of Poland, extending into Ukraine and Slovakia. It forms the western part of what is known in Polish as the Eastern Beskids (Beskidy Wschodnie), and is more generally part of the Outer East Carpathians. The mountain range is situated between the Łupków Pass (640 m) and the Vyshkovskyi Pass (933 m).
In a narrower but very frequent sense, Bieszczady refers only to the Western Bieszczady or even only to the part of the range lying within Poland.
The highest peak of Bieszczady is Mt. Pikuy (1405 m) in Ukraine. The highest peak of the Polish part is Tarnica (1346 m).
A popular tourist attraction in the area is the Church of the Visitation in Lesko, the oldest Roman Catholic church in Bieszczady, founded by count Piotr Kmita in 1539.
This area was mentioned for the first time in 981, when Volodymyr the Great of Kievan Rus took the area over on the way into Poland. In 1018 it returned to Poland, 1031 back to Rus, in 1340 Casimir III of Poland recovered it.
Bieszczady was one of the strategically important Carpathian mountains bitterly contested in battles on the Eastern Front of World War I during the winter of 1914/1915.
In 1991, the UNESCO East Carpathian Biosphere Reserve was created that encapsulates a large part of the area and continues into Slovakia and Ukraine. It comprises the Bieszczady National Park (Poland), Poloniny National Park (Slovakia) + Uzhansky National Nature Park (Ukraine). Animals living in this reserve are, amongst others, black storks, brown bears, wolves and bison.
Why go to the Bieszczady Mountains?
The Bieszczady Mountains are pleasantly devoid of the trappings of mass tourism and offer visitors the opportunity to discover the, ‘Wild East’ without venturing into Ukraine or the Soviet Union.
The scenery in the region is wild and rugged and includes flora such as the Dacian Violet, Carpathian Beech and the Hungarian Violet, all species which cannot be seen further West. The wildlife in the area include bears, lynx, beavers, wolves, European bison and red mountain deer.
The area is a bird-watchers paradise and here you will find 9 species of Woodpecker (inc. Syrian, White-backed and Three-toed), Black Stork, Ural and Pygmy Owls, Collared and Red-breasted Flycatcher and both Lesser spotted and Golden Eagles.
How to get there
Sanok, known as the “Gateway to the Bieszczady”, is the most important town in the region. There are bus links with the majority of the cities in the south and east of Poland, including Krakow, Katowice, Warsaw, Gliwice, Przemysl, Krosno and Mielec.
From Sanok, one can easily visit the smaller towns of either Ustrzyki Gorne or Ustrzyki Dolne – both forming popular jumping-off points for trips into the mountains. The Bieszczady is surrounded by two major road systems, known as Mala and Duza Petla Bieszczadzka. The former runs from Ustrzyki to Lesko, the latter passes the Solinski Reservoir from the south and heads to Lesko.
Together they form the main transport artery for Bieszczady, with regular bus services connecting all the communities of the region. The region’s railway junction in Zagorz lies 6 km from the central Sanok. You can get to Zagorze via Sanok by fast train from Warsaw, Krakow, Lodz or Gliwice.