Despite devilish predictions of its impending collapse, the travel industry in Poland has continued to impress with the diversity of its offering. But with the final curtain drawn on 2021, TFN’s Alex Webber takes a look at the year ahead and those must-see places that beg your attention.
A man’s house is his castle
I love castles, but I love staying there even more. With that in mind, there isn’t much that excited me more than the imminent opening of a hotel inside Zamek w Przegorzałach. Scheduled to welcome its first guests in the spring, we are promised a project of 37 rooms a stone’s throw from Krakow.
Imbued with historical curiosity, it was originally completed during the war at the behest of a prominent Nazi named Otto Wächter. Looking ominously from a wooded and steep outcrop, it was intended to serve as an SS sanatorium. Later, in peacetime, it was transformed to house an assortment of cultural and educational institutions.
Finally, however, its true potential is expected to be realized through the ZR Hotele Group, and their plans envision the creation of a state-of-the-art spa and resort, furnished in avant-garde style.
The bites that have so far been trickled down by the press & marketing department have already done a lot to make it one of the most anticipated launches of 2022. Me, I can’t wait.
City of the year!
I used to have a problem with Katowice, to the point that I really wouldn’t mind if the whole place had been wiped out by an accidental explosion – and I suspect the rest of the Poland would have joined me in celebrating.
Now, however, the worm has turned. In the same way that Łódź reversed his fortune, Katowice did the same only in a somewhat more modest way in terms of self-promotion.
My favorite city in 2021, I’ve been there nine times in total this year, with each visit serving to surpass the last.
Along the way, credits were earned for a city center made up of tottering Art Nouveau buildings; an endless array of wall art; an attractive cultural area supported by the fabulous Silesian Museum; and a vein of crazy post-war architecture that makes you wonder how much LSD was consumed in the 60s and 70s.
And then there’s the little thing about my best pub in Poland: on this front, let the trumpets sound for the Biała Małpa (aka The Monkey Bar), a cozy craft beer den set in a jagged-looking courtyard. .
But what really pushes Katowice into this extra yard are the opportunities it offers to explore even further: using it as a springboard from which to strike the red brick worker commune of Nikiszowiec, or to uncover glories little known in the old towns of Gliwice and Tarnowskie Góry.
Take the slow lane
Poland was already embracing the concept of “slow travel” long before covid, but there is no doubt that the arrival of the bat flu has accelerated the growth of this sector to the tenth power.
Personally, I’m counting down the days until I visit the Bookworm Cabin, a pint-sized retreat located in a forest outside of Warsaw. Highly publicized since its creation, nowhere else has taken on the times in the same way.
But while log cabins are growing in popularity, so are glamping sites. Overall, most of these seem to have been designed with a visit from Gwyneth Paltrow in mind, so for me, I’m more drawn to the raw, raw look of a place called Vegan House.
Nestled in the rugged bosom of the Kłodzko Valley, this glamp-site’s ecological mission is complemented by cozy bubble tents fitted with double beds, armchairs and wood-burning stoves.
For something more chic, I also appreciated the proliferation of folwarks (farm-barns) which are making themselves known. I discovered Folwark Wąsowo last year while staying next door in a spooky neo-Gothic palace that could have served as an asylum.
The neighboring folwark, however, could not have been more different with its modern style, in keeping with the rustic nature underlying this beautiful project.
Try the Tri-City
In recommending the Tri-City, I am aware that I am declaring the bleeding obvious. Nevertheless, the pace of his transformation was such that he would graze the criminal to exclude him from this count.
Now, when I first arrived in Poland on a one-way ticket at the turn of the millennium, I would have described the city as such: Gdańsk – extremely pretty but also quite boring for other than tourism; Sopot – a seedy seaside resort whose best days had passed; and Gdynia – the place no one has visited.
All three have undergone huge changes, with Sopot evolving into a smart and sophisticated city groomed for more than its annual influx of screaming summer drunks.
Gdańsk, meanwhile, has grown into a Class A destination whose beautiful Hanseatic architecture is now paired with a vibrant food and drink scene, stunning museums, and a vibrant vibe best expressed by the beautifully reconstructed Granary Island.
Once looking a bit more like a blackened brick pile from the remnants of war, today it’s a hive of activity that feels cultured, creative, rich and engaging.
And then, Gdynia. Having lost its luster for many years, the interwar Modernist architecture has recently been lovingly cleaned to reveal a city that is a pleasure to see.
It might be young in its outlook, but beyond its instagrammable coffee stops and bustling craft dens, it’s the quieter edges that make it truly unique.
In the sloping residential streets lined with chic 1930s villas, adventurers find craggy ravines hiding war bunkers, or charming sandy beaches with palm-sized wooden jetties jutting out into the sea. hilly blue ocean. Diverted by the occasional wild boar, it is in these moments of silence that we appreciate the greatness of Gdynia.
A tale of two cities
Much to local delight, Tarnów was named in November by CNN Travel as one of the 15 “most beautiful cities” in Europe. Decidedly, her charms are plentiful.
Descending to its breathtaking secessionist railway station, the city unfolds in a maze of charming ancient streets.
Although particularly rich in Jewish history, the highlight nonetheless comes with the Rynek, a perfectly formed square whose arcaded bourgeois houses overlook a Renaissance town hall crowned with a crank clock.
But while Tarnów has character in abundance, it still lacks basic touristy elements: you know, like a hotel you would happily sleep in.
Rzeszów, on the other hand, has things that will make you linger longer than a day trip – a generously sized old town; a giant phallic monument; a thriving food scene; and wacky attractions like the Museum of Bedtime Cartoons (really).
And in the form of the folk-contemporary Bristol Hotel, it has one of my favorite check-ins in all of Poland. Add to that a slow, relaxing vibe and a magnificent Rynek just as complex as those to be found in Krakow or Wrocław, and you have a city of some merit.
Separated by a 45 minute train journey time, switching between these two cities is my idea of an unforgettable weekend.
Once left empty and run down, over the past few years I have loved seeing Polish palaces reborn as highly personalized stays offering charming getaways. In that regard, it’s Piszkowice Palace that tops my bucket list for 2022, and everything I’ve seen underscores its appeal.
Dating from the Baroque period, its mansard roof overlooks the surrounding forests, while inside it offers a fresh and offbeat view of the joys of castle life.
Highlight, it is strongly endorsed by the owners of the Osowa Sień Palace: “Ah Pałac Piszkowice… what’s not to like? This private guesthouse exudes warmth, charm and whimsy, ”they tell me.
“Perched on top of an escarpment, it offers a breathtaking view of the Kłodzko valley; not to mention the masterfully pampered landscape architecture – on its own, it reveals the personality and vision of the current owners but in light of its elegant past.
“Once inside, the magic is revealed through the sofas and armchairs in gemstone tones that invite you to stay awhile and talk all night; Corner of the fire.”
To say I’m sold would be an understatement.
The ultimate howl
And yes, that brings me to my traditional annual Osowa Sień Palace assessment.
I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve recommended this 19th century gem, so I won’t say more about its Zen calm or the enchanting, easy-going majesty it effortlessly exudes. What I will say, however, is that as a dedicated and passionate dog daddy, there is no place in Poland that I prefer to visit with my best friend.
Offering packages specially designed for dog owners, on-arrival perks include a jar of organic dog biscuits, plush towels, and pretty bowls. With twelve acres of gardens outside and plenty of space to walk around inside, this is the perfect destination for a vacation break.
And as night falls, snuggle up in front of the fireplace under the keen, observant eye of the head of customer services: otherwise known as Mr. Doggo, this four-legged friendly guy ensures that you and your dog will immediately feel at home.