From Hollywood A-listers to pop star hipsters, TFN goes on the trail of where the rich and famous stay when in Poland
As daft as it sounds, people really do ask me where I stay when I’m travelling around Poland.
Why, I’ve no idea, because the bottom line is, whilst it is does inflate my ego to be considered some kind of travel authority, the fact of the matter is, does anyone really care?
Of course not. What people actually want to know is where Justin Bieber stayed. Or Harry Styles. So without any further ado, allow me to reveal where it is that the planet’s most wanted have rested in Poland…
Kraków, it goes without saying, lies submerged under celebrity stories, and you could even argue that it was Steven Spielberg that helped kick-start the city’s modern day revival following the box office success of Schindler’s List.
Filming largely around the Kazimierz district, the director resided with his family on the second floor of the Ariel, then a creaky restaurant filled with wobbly antiques and dusty vintage carpets.
I’ve no idea if the framed note from Spielberg still remains on display in the dining room, but I am aware that the Ariel of today is deluged by tourists seeking to touch the spirit of Kazimierz.
More mainstream, I simply refuse to write about Kraków without mentioning Colleen Rooney. Way before she became known for her amateur sleuthing, the wife of Wayne stayed in the Radisson during England’s EURO 2012 campaign, and it was there that she found herself victim to a classic ‘lost in translation’ moment.
Ordering a margherita pizza from room service, she instead found herself taking delivery of a margarita cocktail.
And then, there’s my own brush with fame. Invited once to stay at Kanonicza 22 (yes, my job does have perks), I found myself inside a quite extraordinary suite that was all voluptuous drapes and 17th century polychromes.
Slumping on a wood-carved four-poster bed, a tumbler of whisky in my hand, I found myself flicking through the guestbook. My god, I nearly swallowed my tongue.
Expecting to find the usual waffle (you know: ‘Loved our stay, Tim & Debbie from Portsmouth’), I instead discovered the signatures of Jim Carrey, Benedict Cumberbatch and Hans Zimmer.
If you suffer the curse of being both rich AND famous, then it’s likely that your hotel in Sopot will be the Grand. Opened in 1927, its construction came at a time when the town was reinventing itself as ‘the Monte Carlo of the North’, and as such when it first debuted it did so under the name of Hotel Kasino.
Under crystal chandeliers, champagne sipping toffs would gamble their riches and jiggle their bods as jazz bands parped into their instruments.
Though conjuring Gatsby-style images, it wasn’t all good times and flapper dresses: having lost their fortunes in high-stakes games in the casino, several guests are said to have shot themselves outside, grisly events that the local press rejoiced in reporting.
When WWII broke out, both Hitler and Goering bedded down here, with the former reputedly signing a decree allowing the murder of the mentally ill during his stay. In a striking coincidence, 70-years later Vladimir Putin stayed in precisely the same room.
Looking like something from a Wes Anderson film, it’s not just villains that have lodged in this glorious sea-facing hotel though. Reportedly home to Poland’s first disco, in the post-war years the hotel’s popularity with the stars – both domestic and otherwise – saw it targeted by nosey secret agents looking to pick-up wild gossip.
Certainly, they would have found it, for guests included everyone from Fidel Castro (who would sneak out at night to enjoy the local nocturnal temptations) to Greta Garbo, Henry Kissinger, Marlena Dietrich, Charles de Gaulle and Omar Shariff.
Spectacularly revived by the Sofitel brand around 15-years or so ago, the Grand has continued to cement its reputation as a legend. With music festivals such as the Open’er providing an endless stream of ’slebs seeking a room, others to have crossed the threshold include Prince and Annie Lennox.
As for Gdańsk down the road, that’s come a long way since I found myself face-to-face with English comedian Harry Enfield in a rather generic hotel set inside a music school. Now flush with luxury hotels, the Hilton has proved a particular hit, attracting as it has J-Lo, Timberlake, Kravitz and D’Angelo.
Many years back, when I was an idiot, I was responsible for the brief shutdown of an entire hotel. Accidentally setting off the fire alarm in the Andel’s – a vast space age facility inside a former 19th century cotton factory – I found myself joined in the lobby by dozens of other panicked guests that had been hurriedly summoned to evacuate.
Among them, unfortunately, was my former boss, who had been enjoying a rooftop swim when the alarm sounded. “Did you have anything to do with this,” he fumed accusingly as he stood with a towel wrapped around his dripping lobster-coloured torso.
With my eyes blazing defiance, I lied. “Absolutely not,” I said feigning outrage.
I was, it transpires, rather fortunate. On an unluckier day, I could have been facing the wrath of any number of famous people that have made this their stay of choice when visiting Łódź: former British PM David Cameron, Depeche Mode, Slash, the Happy Mondays, Sting, The Cure and the Biebs himself.
In fact, Shakira was so taken by this hotel that she – and footballer Gerard Pique – chose to extend their stay.
Opened in 1892, and regarded as the city’s most famous hotel, at first glance the Monopol deceives with its flamboyant, Neo Baroque exterior. Inside, however, it follows a more chic style: less is more.
Elegant and refined, it’s no surprise to learn that guests have included Brian May, Pierce Brosnan, David Gilmour and Pedro Almodovar.
However, here’s another hotel stained by the memory of Hitler. According to some sources, the portico over the entrance was built in 1937 specifically to enable the Fuhrer to address the public.
Staying in room No. 113 – because, apparently, it was closest to the reception – Hitler was enamoured by the hotel, but so too were others. Regarded as one of the greatest singers of his generation, Jan Kiepura put Hitler’s balcony to more positive use when he sang from it.
Others, too, would find themselves forever enshrined in the hotel’s legend. Visiting Wrocław for a congress in 1948, Pablo Picasso made an unforgettable impression after sketching a dove on a dining room napkin, downing vodka and then prancing around half-naked during a celebratory dinner.
Horrified by the sight, it’s said that some women haughtily complained that “some Czech man was undressing in the restaurant.”
When thinking of Warsaw and its famous guests, three hotels automatically spring to mind: the Marriott, with its long line of American presidential visitors (plus Jacko!), and of course the Bristol.
A grand dame if ever there was, it’s hard to imagine anywhere with a more venerable guestbook: JFK, Bill Gates, Ray Charles, Martin Scorsese and about sixteen zillion other household names have all stayed here, and so too Paul McCartney – in 2013, the former Beatle thrilled fans that had gathered outside by jokingly flexing his biceps at them from one of the windows.
But let us forget both the Marriott and the Bristol for a moment, and instead focus on the Europejski. Now proudly rebadged under the patronage of Raffles, this hotel has been associated with celebrity ever since it premiered in 1857.
Having headhunted the chef of Spain’s Queen Isabel, a man by the name of Józef Wysakowski, the restaurant became known as one of the finest in the Russian Empire, and it wasn’t long until the hotel’s dances were attracting figures such as the avant garde painter Witkacy, and Helena Modrzejewska, a.k.a. Poland’s most beautiful woman.
It’s strangest hour, though, was yet to come. Regarded as a cultural watershed, the Rolling Stones visited Poland in 1967, with their gigs sparking riots in and around the Palace of Culture after Keef and Mick took to gesticulating at the police and goading the crowd.
The Europejski was their base, and reports suggest the Stones later enjoyed a long night drinking vodka in a half-lit hotel bar whilst a couple of glum prostitutes sat at the other end in darkness.
This had all followed a bizarre press conference the like of which Poland had never seen before. Looking mildly bemused, the band – dressed splendidly in their fashionable Carnaby Street finery – found themselves besieged by excited reporters, many of whom were actually anything but professional journalists.
“I was just a student in those days,” says Tolek, one of the fans that had managed to fool the hotel’s security. “I said that I was a music journalist and they ushered me into the press conference.”
Reminiscing years later to me following an entirely incidental meeting in a seedy smoking room, Tolek’s tale remains one of the most incredible stories I’ve heard.
“Next thing I knew,” he told me, “I found myself standing right over the band and included in one of the most iconic music photographs ever taken in Poland!”
Somewhat fittingly, the Rolling Stones were among the hotel’s very first wave of guests when it reopened as the Raffles Europejski in 2018. Tolek, alas, was not.