At the very end of the village, hugging the slope of a densely forested mountain, tucked away in an old apple orchard, crouched a guest house run by Grażyna and Michał. Although the beautiful wooden cottage with a distinctive porch is clad in dark brown rather than blue boards and is rectangular rather than round, Tove Jansson could easily describe the further fate of the Moomin family in it. The silence is broken only by a bird symphony from tree level.
Lemkos are Greek Catholic or Orthodox highlanders who have lived for hundreds of years in valleys in the Polish and Slovak Carpathian Mountains. Perhaps the most famous Lemko was Andy Warhol, whose parents emigrated to the USA from the town of Medzilaborce on the Slovak side of the mountains.
Entire families were given one-two hours to pack up their belongings. They left boxes in the houses, growing grain and potatoes in the fields. The authorities’ goal was cynically simple – to create an ethnically homogeneous society that is easier to control. The once-populous valleys were deserted, the picturesque wooden churches were deteriorating and being dismantled for firewood.
Our hostess grew up amidst her family’s cultivated Lemko traditions, then moved to Kraków to study. But she always knew that the city was not the place for her. “Here in Ropki I know every stream, every meadow, I know where hazelnuts, blueberries, and strawberries grow. This gives me a great sense of security,” she says.
Michał, a native of Warsaw, used to come to the Low Beskids region with friends from a scout group. The roar of big cities was also out of his way. “You could say that we met here, in Ropki, on a country road, ” says Grażyna.
What makes the difference are those few acres of their own orchard, the line of gentle forested mountains on the horizon unobstructed by buildings, the starry night sky – and that special feeling in everyone that they have found their place on earth.
Swystowy Sad, like other agritourism farms in the region, is a mecca for people who love peace and quiet the most in the world.
The cozy guesthouse offers accommodation with full vegetarian meals. Children can wander around the garden at will and not stress their parents that they are about to jump out onto the road under the car – because they do not even have a way to do it. In the newly renovated part of the farm you can take yoga courses and camps. And also – unhurriedly explore the beautiful surroundings.
In the adjacent kitchen, Grażyna is preparing a meal. Her passion has become vegetarian cuisine, which she bases on the traditions of the region. Simple, fresh produce best captures the essence of this for centuries poor, but extremely beautiful land. Cheese from our own goats, delightful sunflower pastes, nutty pates and homemade jams, dark wholemeal bread in a basket.
“I guess it is simply about so-called “comfort food,” sentimental food that has pleasant connotations, such as dumplings with melted butter and cinnamon,” she adds. The hosts are happy to dine with guests, taking a keen interest in where they came from and in return telling a lot about themselves and the region. You can also hole up in a corner and read, you can assemble jigsaw puzzle for hours, or you can just do nothing.