There’s a village in south-eastern Poland that looks different than any other place in the country. International media show it as this unique, idyllic place where every house is painted with the most intricate designs. Every Instagrammer’s dream. Is it really like this?
I grew up and lived roughly 100km from Zalipie. First time I heard about it was 2 years ago when I was already happily living in Melbourne, on the other side of the world. It seemed like everyone heard about it and I, hailing from that area, have never been there. So during our latest visit to Poland, I made sure we add this elusive, beautiful place to our itinerary.
It all began in the late nineteenth century. Back then houses lacked chimneys so smoke from the hearths floated around, blackening the walls and ceilings. The village women would whitewash the walls to cover up the soot. Often they would make irregularly-shaped dots, which eventually turned into small flowers. Then, colours were added and more and more elaborate designs followed.
What started by some creative lady was copied by others and initiated a true art movement. People were adorning their modest abodes with beautiful flowers inside and outside and little did they know, that would bring international visitors to their small village over a century later.
Each year in late spring (the weekend following the Corpus Christi) an ongoing contest for the best-decorated house takes place in Zalipie and neighbouring villages. It’s been held for the first time in 1948 and then every year since 1976. It is called Malowana Chata (Painted Cottage) and helps to maintain the tradition.
Where to start?
Set your GPS to “Dom Malarek” and go from there. Dom Malarek (House of Painters) is a cultural centre of the village where local ladies meet to paint, showcase some of their art and where kids learn the technique. There’s a mockup old cottage with a well and some benches to sit on. It is also the place to get a rough photocopied map of the village and information about the houses and their history as well as a place to buy souvenirs. According to reviews on google, it is possible to do all that in English.
Where to go?
There’s no official route nor signs pointing to the painted houses. We wanted to wander around the village but as it started raining we had to take our car. And that turned out to be a better option as the houses are quite far apart and walking would take a lot of time.
You can do kind of a loop around the village (about 4.5km total) that will take you past most of the pretty houses. Starting from the House of Painters through the fire station and the church next to it to Zagroda Curyłowej Museum and back to the House of Painters.
The best known of the painters was Felicja Curyłowa (1904 – 1974). The farmhouse she used to live in was turned into a museum but unfortunately, when we visited in September 2017 it was closed for renovations and is set to reopen in 2019.
Keep your eyes peeled along the way as it’s not just houses that are colourful. The art is visible on barns, chicken coops, dog houses, beehives, tree trunks, gates, benches and household items displayed around the houses.
What is the best time to visit?
Any time of the year will be beautiful but most colourful (with flowers blooming and paintings redid or refreshed) will be late spring and summer – from the end of May until mid-September.
How to get to Zalipie?
A car is hands-down the best option. The drive from Kraków takes about 1h30 – 1 hour towards the East on A4 highway and then 30 minutes northbound on small local roads.
There is a train + local bus option as well (via Tarnów) but it’s complicated and time-consuming.
- not all houses in the village are painted – there aren’t really that many and they are somewhat scattered around the village, you’ll need to walk a lot or drive around to find them
- a lot of the paintings are done on modern houses, not those old wooden cottages that are shown on most photos
- with the main attraction – the museum – being closed for renovations now, there isn’t that much to see and do
- I recommend making Zalipie a stop on the way to Tarnów or Rzeszów instead of a destination on its own
- Important: remember these are actual houses people live in – be respectful of their privacy and only go in if invited. Also, keep in mind they may request a small payment for photos (we paid 5zł = $2 in one of the houses)