Hiking through five different countries of Old World Europe is one of the thrills of our Great Carpathian Traverse journey. One of the adventurers who joined us found another thrill—tracing his family heritage in this same region!
In December of 2016 I was leafing through the Wilderness Travel catalog and stopped when I saw the Great Carpathian Traverse. My grandparents and great uncles told us our family origins were in the Slovakian part of the Carpathians and much of this trip would be around the central portion of the old Austro-Hungarian Province of Galicia—the same province where my ancestors originated! This, for me, would be the trip of a lifetime and a search for my roots. So I joined the journey—and I am so happy that I did.
We began in Lviv, Ukraine, learning about the city’s role as the provincial capital of Galicia and as the center of commerce and industry through the Communist era. Gothic and Baroque churches and buildings dot the streets of this vibrant city and it’s a wonderful introduction to the region.
Heading out of Lviv, we made our way through the Ukrainian countryside. Beautiful green hills span as far as the eye can; it is easy to understand why countries have fought so long to control the wealth derived from these lands.
Here we are at the geographic center of Europe as defined by the Hapsburg cartographers. We also visited a museum dedicated to the Hutsuls, one of the Carpathian Mountain tribes who share customs and traditions throughout these mountains without regard to borders.
One of my favorite things was hiking across borders from one country to another. We crossed into Romania from Ukraine over the Tisza River.
On our first hike, we climbed the hills behind Sighetu Marmatiei, passing Hutsul farms where roads are simple wagon tracks and many settlements are off the grid.
From this viewpoint, we could view both the Mara and Cosau Valleys. Locals pick blueberries here and the paragliders carry their crafts to the next peak to begin another flight.
We couldn’t have asked for better weather during our journey and were often rewarded with great vistas at every turn.
In Hungary, we spent two days walking through vineyards, tasting wines, eating incredible meals, and exploring Eger, Hungary’s northern wine capital and home to a historic castle. We sampled Bikaver, known as “Bull’s Blood” because of its rich red color, and Leankya, a dry white wine.
Walking along green mountain trails from Hungary into Slovakia was a personal thrill. During my research, I learned that my great grandfather’s probate papers came from a church in Prislop, Slovakia—a mere 85 miles from where I journeyed with WT! Knowing that my ancestors came from this same area held profound significance for me. It was as if I was hiking the same hills my ancestors once hiked! When I return, I plan to stay in this area a little while longer.
After hiking a ridge walking through woods, we stepped out onto some rocks to see this dramatic view of Spiš Castle. It is probably the largest ruin of its type in Central Europe. This site and the city of Spišské Podhradie have been occupied as fortifications since Roman times.
We took a gondola up the mountain and hiked up another 500 feet before strolling five miles down to our next cogwheel, finishing with a walk to the hotel. A great adventure full of wild scenery and wildlife.
Zakopane, Poland, has been a ski and recreation area for a long time. The central district is full of history, quaint shops, hotels, and different types of entertainment. I wanted to buy all the gifts in the shops, but could only fit in a pack of coasters and two birthday blouses for my daughters.
These mountains are perfect for grazing. In the summer, herders keep their flocks in the high meadows before moving them to the lowland valleys for winters. These sheep are led into corals three times a day to be milked.
Krakow, Poland, is a beautiful town, and the perfect place to end our journey. Until our next adventure, thank you Wilderness Travel!
—Text by two-time WT adventurer Larry Costick; photos by Larry Costick, Alex Nagy, and Tom Polk; Great Carpathian Traverse.