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The Beskidy Mountains, Poland

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The Beskidy Mountains, the largest part of the Polish Carpathians, are divided into the Eastern Beskidy and Western Beskidy. The latter are further divided into eight groups :the Beskid Maly (Small Beskid), the Beskid Żywiecki, the Beskid Wyspowy (Island Beskid), the Beskid Sądecki, and the Gorce ranges. Their gentle wooded slopes, criss-crossed by a dense network of ramblers' routes, with scenic villages and towns at their foot, are ideal for long but easy hikes.

The Beskid Mały (Small Beskid) is, as the name suggests, a low range stretching from Bielsko-Biała in the west to the valley of the Skawa River in the east. To the south it borders with the Beskid Żywiecki while the northern slopes descend towards the old towns of Kęty, Andrych├│w, and Wadowice (birthplace of Pope John Paul II). The ridges are separated by deep valleys and are usually wooded, although there are some clearings with interesting views. The summits do not exceed 950 m and are not difficult to climb.

The Beskid Żywiecki is Poland's second highest mountain group after the Tatras. Stretching between the upper Soła and Skawa Rivers, it is a great tourist attraction. The highest peak is Babia G├│ra (1725 m). Its dramatic landscapes are protected by the 3392-hectare Babia G├│ra National Park (established in 1955). It was one of the first national parks in the world to join the UNESCO network of World Biosphere Reserves (1977).

The Beskid Wyspowy (Island Beskid), between the central part of the Raba Valley in the west and the Dunajec Valley in the east, owes the name to its rather unusual appearance. It has few ridges but many isolated summits with steep slopes and flattened tops (the highest of them is Mogielica, 1171 m). The mountains look beautiful at any time of the year, although they are at their best in autumn, when they indeed resemble an archipelago of dark peaks towering above mist-enveloped valleys. The locals, who come from a variety of ethnic backgrounds, have preserved their intriguing customs and ancient traditions.

The Beskid Sądecki is a densely wooded range stretching from the Dunajec Valley in the west (which separates it from the Gorce and Beskid Wyspowy) to the Beskid Niski in the east. To the south it borders on the Pieniny and the Slovak border. The range is divided into two by the striking valley of the Poprad River, part of the Poprad Natural Landscape Park. Again, the mountains are not very high, with the highest peak, Radziejowa, just over 1,200 m. West of the Beskid Sądecki lie two historic towns: Nowy Sącz and Stary Sącz, both with many fine historic buildings and traditions going back to the Middle Ages. There are also a few well-known spa resorts with mineral springs, including Krynica, Żegiest├│w, Piwniczna, and Muszyna. The area was once populated by the Lemko or Russniak (Rusyn) People, and some of their charming churches, of wood or stone, have survived, one of the region's architectural highlights . More info on: poland.gov.pl

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