If 2020 feels like the end of the world, I’m happy to end it inside Dwór Dawidy
I can’t think of many kind words with which to describe 2020, but despite the gathering sense of unmitigated catastrophe I can at least be thankful for the continued chance to travel the nation and peer deep inside its lesser-known glories.
And in that respect, I present to you Dwór Dawidy. Found 30km east of Elbląg, I first visited at the start of the year (a.k.a. The Good Old Days) at a time when Corona was still better-known as something you ordered in a Mexican restaurant.
Then, as now, I was simply looking for an escape, a refuge in which to nurture the mind and soul and do little much else than enjoy misty morning walks and midnight wine. Here I did both and enjoyed it immensely.
So just what is Dwór Dawidy?
A rambling old manor house, the plot is first believed to have been settled in the 16th century after which it passed into the hands of the magnificently named Achatius Borck. Later, after a stint under Polish ownership, it was for sale once again, this time to one of the most distinguished families in Prussia – the Dohna’s.
Owing to their investment, around about 1730 an architect by the name of Johann Caspar Hindersin completed a Dutch Baroque hunting lodge that stands to this day.
Having once hosted Kaiser Wilhelm II on one of his shooting jollies, it just about survived the Red Army’s apocalyptic advance only to later fall into disrepair after being commandeered by Communist Poland’s agricultural agency – by the mid-70s, a tree could be seen ripping through the steep mansard roof.
Were it not for copious anecdotal evidence to the contrary, I’d find this hard to imagine, for it is right up at the top that I find my quarters.
Staying in the Sztynort suite, my accommodation is a revelation: a bi-level apartment with a standalone bathtub, a crackling hearth and a steep, treacherous stairwell leading to a dark attic bedroom adorned with sturdy travel chests and heavy, clanking lanterns. I love it.
Not that I spend much time here.
My mornings are inhumanely early. Not wishing to miss dawn, each day I creak down the shuddering stairs – past hunting trophies, portraits and a snuffling rabbit named David – and seize the chance to explore the great outdoors.
And how great it is. Over a soggy carpet of caramel-coloured foliage, I squelch past decorative ponds and century-old oaks to revel in the silence offered by the fields and forests that extend far beyond. Only does the sudden appearance of a deer disrupt my ruminations: frozen in silence, we stare at each other for what seems like forever.
I won’t kid you, it’s a moving moment. Gazing deep into this magnificent animal’s eyes, I come to the realization that as much as I love my deer on a plate I prefer them like this, at home in the wild. From now on, I promise, I’ll forever be a vegan.
That pledge lasts twelve hours.
Though there is no restaurant on-site, there is something better: Pani Halina. Joined by Ewelina, these two housekeepers are happy to rustle-up a three-course evening menu that captures the very heart of Polish cooking: thick rustic soups; homemade cakes; and hefty main courses that arrive with a thwack. And yep, that occasionally means Bambi.
With all this in mind, it doesn’t take long for guests to fall into a happy routine. If mornings are all about foggy walks down murky ravines then afternoons are set aside for fireside snoozes in a large, warm hall decorated with broken-spined books and sepia photos.
As the only guest, I feast on the opportunity to creep into the Dwór’s four other bedrooms and discover high-ceilinged chambers evoking the spirit of the past. Sitting at a wobbly writing table, staring absently through tall, frosty windows, I picture myself as the Lord of the Manor, penning handwritten sonnets with an inkpot by my side.
Of course, this is but a flight of fancy for the real lord of the manor is Jan Kozlowski. Purchasing Dwór Dawidy in 2009, his five-year restoration has been nothing if not a spectacular labour of love. Well-spoken and charming to a tee, Kozlowski’s passion project has born gratifying results with the Dwór now often used for photo shoots that seek to channel that sense of the slow life.
Injecting it with his own personality, neither is it short of quirky bits and pieces. Having motorbiked across Africa numerous times (“I think of Morocco as a second home,” he says), the labyrinthine floorplan is festooned with trinkets from his travels.
Like-wise, refrigerated wine points are scattered like confetti through the manor’s tangled network of rooms, and these I exploit these to maximum effect on all but one night: if there’s one must, then let that be a side-trip to Pasłęk.
Ten clicks south, this beautiful Gothic town is one of those rarely-recognized nuggets of backwater Poland. Spotted with gateways and towers and medieval walls, it’s here that I spend a night in conversation with a one-eyed local in the only bar I find. Not realizing I have a rudimentary grasp of Polish, at one stage his friend turns to ask: “and where did you find this idiot?”
Taking that as my cue to leave, I return to the Dwór in the kind of elevated mood one associates with a full-throttle delve into regional beers. Throwing logs the size of my arm into the fireplace, the feeling of bliss is impossible to convey. If 2020 has the feel of The Year The World Ended, then I’m happy for it to have ended inside Dwór Dawidy.