The Beskids are a long series of mountains, with over a dozen constituent ranges, that form part of the Carpathian Mountains. With peaks seldom exceeding 2000 m, they lie for the most part in southern Poland, crossing Silesia, Małopolskie and Podkarpackie Provinces. They continue west to end in Moravia in the Czech Republic, and cross the border south into Slovakia, but are distinct from the Tatras range. To the east they continue through Ukraine, but that range is described elsewhere simply because Ukraine is not an EU country, which affects travel practicalities.
- Moravian-Silesian Beskids (Czech Moravskoslezské Beskydy) are the westernmost range, lying in Moravia in the Czech Republic. They have forested and protected areas, but have suffered pollution from cities such as Ostrava. They're mostly flysch - shales deposited during mountain uplift - and don't rise much over 1000 m; the highest Lysá hora (1323 m / 4341 ft) is notoriously rain-lashed.
- Silesian Beskids (Polish Beskid Śląski) are mostly in Polish Silesia, separated from the Moravian range by the Jablunkov Pass. Their peaks are similarly at about 1000 m and are within the Silesian Beskids Landscape Park. The main resort village is Wisła, near the source of the River Vistula. You might get in via Katowice.
- Orava Beskids span the border. To the north are the Żywiec Beskids (Polish Beskid Żywiecki) in Silesia, centred on the town of Żywiec which brews the well-known beer. Babia Góra (1725 m) is the highest peak, reached from Zawoja. To the south are the Slovak Beskids (Slovak Slovenské Beskydy), where Žilina is the main resort.
- The Small Beskids (Polish Beskid Mały) arise east of Bielsko-Biała. They're all under 1000 m.
- Middle / Maków Beskids (Polish Beskid Średni / Makowy) are in the south of Małopolskie Province, reached via Kraków. Pope John-Paul II grew up in these hills, where Kalwaria Zebrzydowska and Nowy Targ are among the small towns,
- Gorce Mountains in Małopolskie Province are accessed from Nowy Targ and contain Gorce National Park. They're divided by a gorge from the Pieniny range. The rock is flysch, limestone and dolomite, with many caves.
- Island Beskids (Polish Beskid Wyspowy) are named for their isolated, prominent peaks, all at around 1000 m. You might approach via Myslenice or Limanowa.
- Sącz Beskid (Polish Beskid Sądecki) are flysch mountains on the Slovak border reaching 1200 m. The main resort is Nowy Sącz.
- Low Beskids, the most easterly group, run to the border with Ukraine. In Poland they cross Podkarpackie Province: it's customary to distinguish their western part (Beskid Niski) from the higher Bieszczady Mountains, but these readily combine for a trip based in Gorlice, Krosno or Sanok. The Slovak side (Nizke Beskydy) can be reached from Bardejov.
Cities and towns
- 1 Ostrava is the main transport hub of North Moravia in the Czech Republic, but doesn't have many flights. It's mostly modern but has a small old quarter.
- 2 Zlin is one of several small resorts across Moravia.
- 3 Žilina is the main Slovak resort for the western Beskids.
- 4 Bielsko-Biała in Silesia is a base for exploring the western Beskids. They can also be reached via Katowice but that's a drab post-industrial place.
- 5 Wisła also in Silesia is near the source of the River Vistula.
- 6 Żywiec and Zawoja are bases for the area around Babia Góra.
- 7 Wadowice, birthplace of Pope John-Paul II, lies in the western hills of Małopolskie Province. Nearby are the monastery at Kalwaria Zebrzydowska and the renaissance castle of Sucha Beskidzka,
- 8 Kraków in Małopolskie Province is the main gateway to the central and western Beskids. It's a beautiful old city with many international flights and onward local transport.
- 9 Nowy Targ and nearby Rabka-Zdrój are close to the Gorce range.
- 10 Nowy Sącz, Limanowa and Krynica are small spa towns in the central Beskids.
- 11 Bardejov in northeast Slovakia is an attractive spa town with a well-preserved medieval centre, close to the Slovak Low Beskids.
- 12 Sanok in Podkarpackie Province is a picturesque base for the eastern Beskids.
Krakow (KRK IATA) has a good selection of flights and could be the route to any of the Beskids. As there is good transport along the Vistula valley, it may be more convenient to fly here than Tarnow or Rzeszow for the eastern ranges or Katowice or Ostrava for the western.
Public transport will get you to the main resort towns, eventually, but you need a car to properly explore. Towns often straggle along a valley with accommodation at some distance from the bus stop, and the trail heads and off-road bike routes are even further away. Fill the tank before leaving the valleys, as you'll probably do more mileage than you expected, much of it in low gear.
- Traditional wooden buildings: sometimes entire villages such as Chochołów on the Poland-Slovakia border, but more often dotted about amidst modern bungalows. Not surprisingly it's the churches ("tserkvas") that have been best preserved of this style, both Orthodox and Roman Catholic.
- Castles teeter on crags all over the region. Some are medieval, some are much later Austro-Hungarian mansions and hunting lodges prettified with Gothic turrets.
- Wildlife: you will be exceptionally lucky to see wolves, but keep your eyes open. There are thousands of bears but how lucky you'll be to encounter one depends on whether the bear is pleased to see you. These are European brown bears (Ursus arctos) so they're seldom aggressive or pesky, but they don't like being surprised or cornered.
- Hiking, rock-climbing, mountaineering, river-canoeing: opportunities all over the Beskids. Local rules vary on camping, hunting and other backwoods activities.
- Skiing and snowboarding: the peaks are all at around 2000 m, which is low by Alpine standards. When the snow comes it can be heavy, but the season and the pistes are short and the resorts are far from being "snow-sure". You're unlikely to travel any distance to ski here, but locals can take advantage of good conditions. The best skiing is in the Tatras, a higher separate range between Zakopane and Poprad.
It's hearty Central European fare: goulash, pork, venison, dumplings, and endless varieties of sausage. Vegetarians may struggle in some of the smaller places. The only cosmopolitan choice of food is in Krakow.
These are all beer-drinking areas. Slovakia grows lots of wine, Poland makes lots of vodka. And each area has its own local schnapps or slivovitz-type liqueur, better downed in one than allowed to linger on the palate - Na zdrowie, Prost!
Usual precautions against natural and human hazards, especially in wintry conditions.