To Lublin with Love! Following a flurry of foreign media excitement about Lublin, Webber’s World says ‘I told you so!’
I don’t want to say I told you so, but basically, I bloody well did. Ever since this column was born, I’ve been babbling about the virtues of Lublin, only now that senseless prattle has become a little less senseless following The Guardian’s visit to the city.
Peppered with words such as “stunning”, “vibrant” and “beautiful”, their travel piece – published last weekend – was quickly seized upon by the Polish media, and deservedly parroted practically ad verbum.
Talking up the city’s youthful dynamic, the article did a fine job of evoking Lublin’s energy.
This, however, was not the only publicity the city found itself receiving.
Jumping on the bandwagon, the Daily Star, too, rolled out an article, leading with a wild headline that declared: “Brits flock to cheap party town with £1.40 pints”.
If The Guardian nailed it in their assessment of the city, then the Daily Star delivered the most inaccurate summary I’ve ever had the misfortune to read – but then and again, what did I expect from a tabloid that opted to use a picture of Zamość to illustrate the glories of Lublin. I mean, hey, they’re only 90 kilometres apart, who the hell will notice?
Unsurprisingly, the Polish press kept a decidedly diplomatic silence on the Star’s blustering nonsense, but I refuse to do so.
You see, whilst the Star seems to hint at a city built on karaoke bars and kamikaze shots, the reality couldn’t be more different. In fact, it’s this thundering lack of boozy mayhem that makes it so attractive.
With international flight connections still very much in their infancy, a large part of Lublin’s lure is its proudly Polish spirit. Whereas you can’t walk ten yards in Kraków without seeing some pissed-up Brits taking a leak against a lamppost, Lublin has an almost genteel quaintness that becomes instantly apparent when exploring its hushed, shaded courtyards and winding, little streets.
Moreover, whilst the historic centre has benefited from wide scale renovation work, in other parts it’s retained a charmingly chipped authenticity – that’s especially true when dipping down one of the alleys that snake from Grodzka, the gently sloping street that acts as the Old Town’s principal artery.
Stepping over uneven cobbles, laundry lines fluttering overheard, you’re transported to a different century – for me, it’s down these Dickensian passageways that the spirit of the city truly lurks.
Of course, that’s not to say Lublin doesn’t know the meaning of fun. Having ticked off sights such as the elegant castle – a pristine white jewel of Moorish influence – it’s become mandatory for me to slip into Święty Spokój.
Positioned just down from Brama Krakowska, the epic medieval gateway that marks the start of Old Town, for me this is one of Poland’s top hangouts – at one end, find a vinyl store hiding amid groaning bookshelves filled with dusty tomes, and at the other, a retro-themed café retailing local craft beers and specialty coffee.
For people-watching, there’s no better perch than their outdoor terrace.
The real action though lies beyond the boundaries of Old Town. Walking down the picturesque boulevard of Krakowskie Przedmieście, the city takes on a new sense of life as you leave the tourists in your wake.
Lined with the kind of bars that the Star would recommend, these eventually give way to Pl. Litewski, a chic, open square boasting one of the best illuminated fountain shows that the country has to offer.
And then, there’s the small matter of a ‘virtual doorway’, a circular screen that beams real-time images between Vilnius and Lublin.
Further down, and just opposite the crisply clipped lawns of the 19th century Saski Gardens, sits the CSK culture centre, a remarkable project with striking rooftop walkways and echoing concrete halls filled with radical galleries and assorted arty spaces.
Having enjoyed these, visit the on-site Wielokran, a Scandi-style bar specialising in the maverick craft beers of Browar Zakladowy.
Where brewing is concerned, though, the dominant entity is Perla, and their flagship bar is a design-minded feast that could have been built with Insta in mind. Crackling with energy, head outdoors for al fresco film screenings conducted to an industrial backdrop of brewery buildings.
You’d be happy to stay here all night, and that’s actually possible should you choose to book one of the on-site apartments.
As smart as these are, for the best rest in town then look no further than the Alter, an Old Town tenement once owned by a 16th century goldsmith. Offering a cocktail of exquisite luxury and meticulously restored historic elements, it’s a hotel that truly merits each of its five stars.
If it has a fault, then it is so: soaking in its unrelenting opulence, it becomes hard to leave the door.
Not doing so is, it goes without saying, a mistake, for it is under clear summer skies that Lublin is at its finest – best appreciated without an itinerary, the biggest joy lies in simply meandering its streets with no plan in mind.
That said, there is one point that is truly essential, that being Majdanek. Missing the throngs of Auschwitz, this former concentration camp is a deeply contemplative experience, and all the better for the absence of multimedia gizmos and sightseeing herds.
Almost jarring for its proximity to the city centre, it casts a stark reminder of the city’s tragic history. That Lublin has managed to balance this darkness so sensitively alongside the need to look forward says much for this richly striking city.