Frozen (literally) in time, Sioło Budy is a magic little snapshot of off-grid existence
I guess there’s a slim chance you might be reading this on some sunny beach, sipping a cocktail from a halved husk of coconut; so if that’s the case, well done. You win. Me, on the other hand, I might as well be reporting from Ice Station Zebra.
With much of Poland currently enclosed inside a giant block of ice, the harsh weather conditions come as a brutal reminder of nature’s blind indifference to our personal comfort. And what a pain in the neck it all really is.
Now, growing up in Bristol, snow was something to be celebrated and marvelled at: a rare, joyous sight that arrived thrice a lifetime – and even then, what I gloried at in my youth would be described in Poland as a thin film of frost.
It was moving to Warsaw that I fully came to realize the meaning of winter and it didn’t take long for the novelty to wear off: in fact, pretty much the first time I got speared by a falling icicle the size of a Scud. White powder, I soon learned, was something to be feared and respected in equal measure.
But while this weather fills me with a creeping sense of doom, it does have its place: if not in the city, then in the mountains down south or in the dense, mysterious forests on the country’s eastern front. And with hotels reactivating any day now, it’s to the latter I’ll be heading to enjoy it to the full.
Where exactly? That’s yet to be determined, but a candidate of sorts can be found in the shape of Sioło Budy.
Established in 1998, it was towards the end of the millennium that some unidentified entity decided to construct a small little guesthouse in a backwater hamlet that called itself Budy. Despite its location in the depths of Białowieża, business ticked along nicely, so nicely in fact that it attracted the attention of the Niczyporuk clan.
More ambitious in their vision, it was this family that took the investment to a whole, new level: on their behest, a rustic restaurant was added and so too a tiny museum demonstrating “how we used to live”. The guesthouse, meanwhile, was supplemented by further lodgings found inside a smattering of brightly-painted cabins that typified the regional style. They christened it Sioło Budy.
Something of a “village within a village”, it’s to here that I head to enjoy the wilds of Poland in their rawest form.
Luxurious it ain’t. Best described as weathered around the edges, accommodation at Sioło Budy is honest in its rudimentary style: in-room design doesn’t step far beyond folksy embroidery and a lumpy bed. But what it lacks in flouncy frills and little indulgences it makes up for through its atmosphere alone.
Frozen (literally) in time, it’s a magic little snapshot of off-grid existence.
True, the Kardashians would struggle to adapt, but for me it’s a place in which to revel in the glorious simplicity of being somewhere pristine and pure. Broken only by the distant churn and clang of heating pipes, silence reigns supreme.
A retreat of heart-warming, old-fashioned amusements, it’s here you gather fireside to nip at shots of vodka while hunching over boardgames and books and other basic pleasures. Creaking around the musty interiors of the communal living space, the elements rattling vigorously against the windows, you feel utterly removed from the everyday reality of the big city grind.
But no matter how late you stay up, rising at daybreak feels almost mandatory: if the evening hours are all about mulled wine and reindeer slippers, then the few cracks of daylight are dedicated to outdoor pursuits that revolve around nature.
Globally recognized as the home of one of the biggest surviving primeval forests in the world, the woods of Białowieża are said to be 8,000 years old, and it’s inside their murky depths visitors have the chance of coming eyeball-to-eyeball with wolves, lynxes, deer and suchlike. Mostly though, it’s for bison that this area is best-known.
Though temporarily shot out of existence in 1919, Europe’s heaviest land mammal has been successfully reintroduced since, to the extent that the region is now home to the largest free-roaming herd on the planet. Finding them isn’t hard, though to enjoy the safari experience to its max then the rental of a horse-drawn sleigh is an absolute must.
Truly life-affirming, there’s something intrinsically exhilarating about wooshing down narrow snowy trails cut into the forest; ducking under the rogue branches that dangle overhead, this headlong plunge through tightly wooded tunnels of frozen foliage brings to mind fantastical scenes from The Lion, The Witch & The Wardrobe.
The difference, and it’s a biggie, is that this is no fairy tale. Białowieża is real – and this magical kingdom lies right on our doorstep.