Wish you were here? With staycations becoming the new ‘new thing’ TFN takes a look at what Poland has to offer holidaymakers - and it’s a lot!
A new report suggests that as many as 47% of Poles will holiday in Poland this year.
Issued on Tuesday by ARC Rynek i Opinia, the findings of the survey based on a sample of 1,029 people, seem to confirm that last year’s “stay-cation” phenomenon will continue to strengthen with a third of respondents openly citing the pandemic as their primary concern when choosing where to holiday.
With the travel and hospitality sector among the hardest of those hit by Covid, the news has been cautiously welcomed by Poland’s beleaguered tourist segment as it looks to revive itself following the shutdown.
But where are Poles headed, and more importantly, where should you?
A couple of years ago the mere thought of visiting Kraków at the height of summer would have filled many people with terror – deluged to the point of the being overwhelmed with Brit lads plunging themselves into fountains or draping themselves around monuments, it had become a victim of its own success.
So three cheers for the bloke that ordered the bat soup in Wuhan – thanks to him, visitor numbers are expected to remain comparatively modest, meaning that you now find a city triumphantly reclaimed by the locals. Better, it also means the city’s micro-galaxy of top-quality hotels are cheaper than ever.
Having enjoyed the sight of an Old Town relatively free from roaming bands of pesky backpackers, head to Kazimierz to see how the historic Jewish Quarter has reconciled its arty heritage with the pressures of gentrification to present itself as an area of hip coffee bars, scratched tenements, lively bars and historic sites.
After, walk across the gently swaying Bernatek footbridge to explore TFN’s favourite corner, Podgórze, an upcoming area complete with a church that looks more like a Neo-Gothic space project and a bounty of cultural gems such as the MOCAK gallery and the Schindler Museum.
And on the off-chance that the city again vanishes under a locust-like plague of bungling tourists, remember also the wealth of hidden corners that offer curious pleasures such as abandoned film sets and tributes to Elvis.
Plunge Silesian Depths:
A few years ago suggesting a holiday in Silesia would have been considered good grounds for divorce – or, even, culpable homicide. Well, the rules have been rewritten and today this area has emerged as a maverick destination for the more alternative-minded traveller.
Using Katowice as your base, thrill first in a city in the firm grip of a renaissance: tour the cosmic commie architecture for which the city is famed for, go for culture overload by visiting the Silesian Museum, hunt down the city’s quirky murals, or simply enjoy a drink in one of the many busy bars found in a city center in which art nouveau tenements rub shoulders with PRL relics – and, yeah, why not confound your Insta followers by sending a selfie from Katowice’s beach…
Beyond, view Katowice as a stepping stone: Gliwice – home to a museum charting the town’s starring role in kicking-off WWII – surprises all with its charismatic old town, and so too do other unknowns such as Tarnowskie Góry. Deep south, then any Silesian odyssey should take into account Bielsko-Biała, an under-visited city whose principal temptation is the chance to saunter through streets that bring to mind tinges of Vienna.
After being body-slammed so emphatically by Covid, it’s hard to think of any “winners” when it comes to Poland’s tourist sector. However, with so many foreign travels curtailed by you-know-what, interest in heritage holidays has soared: destination breaks to revamped castles, palaces, mansions and suchlike.
Embracing the concepts of “slow tourism”, and quite often firmly committed to the better things in life, they have redefined the very idea of chillout – you visit to catch-up on reading, nose around unmapped local villages, snooze in front of fires and write that screenplay that’ll launch you to fame.
The choice runs into the zillions now, but from TFN’s recent experiences endorsements go to the Zen-like mood of the Disney-towered Pałac Osowa Sień (local attractions: a statue of a bull; a relief of Jesus riding a motorbike; and the grave of a white witch!) and the creaky charms of the Dwór Dawidy manor house (a stone’s throw: ravines echoing to the grunts and shuffles of wild animals, the medieval town of Pasłęk and the bizarrely reconstructed Old Town of Elbląg).
On the castle front, then the pocket-sized Korzkiew outside Kraków has everything you demand from a castle: a portcullis, flickering fireplaces and a resident ghost.
Call Of The Wild:
Touting an almost mystical mood, the Białowieża natural reserve is particularly glorious in summer when the sun slashes through the forest’s green ceiling to cast a myriad of patterns on the tangled undergrowth.
Walking the paths cut into the woods, you do so accompanied only by the tantalizing calls of nature that shriek out in the distance.
For a full mental reset, there is perhaps no better part of Poland, and expect any cleansing to be complete should you book one of the luxurious train carriage rooms at the Carska Hotel.
Housed in a train station that once took care of the Tsar’s luggage whenever he came this way for his hunting hols, it’s a place that leaves you feeling like you’ve walked onto the set of a Tolstoy adaption: you’ll leave with Tsars in your eyes!
Wrocław … And Beyond:
For its greatness, Wrocław was outed donkeys years ago – but just because it’s an obvious destination, it doesn’t mean it’s a bad one: it’s everyone’s favourite for a reason. Actually, make that several reasons.
Speaking for TFN, that means its lively undercurrent of youthful dynamism, a feeling that has settled over the city to infuse it with a sparky, ambitious energy that’s impossible to ignore.
But on top of that, find also a quite beautiful Old Town historic centre scissored with canals and sprinkled with soaring churches and grand institutions, a moronically fun trail of gnomes, some A-class museums and galleries and a nightlife scene that’s unrivalled in Poland. Frankly, there’s never a bad time to visit, which is why you’ll find us there in about 24-hours.
Yet if Wrocław is obvious, then liven up your itinerary with a jaunt to Wałbrzych – wonderfully decrepit, yet also showing signs of resuscitation, it’s the next best thing to time travel with its traces of German lettering, smeared buildings and forgotten mansions.
Close by, I can’t think of a crazier, more beautiful castle anywhere than that found in Książ – and if by day it captivates with its smorgasbord of architectural styles, return at dusk for creepy, lantern-lit ghost tours filled with unexpected frights (a.k.a. local theatrical students jumping out of the shadows).
Rich in myths and legends, not all are amusing and the area’s recent history serves as a reminder. Beautiful as they are, the surrounding Owl Mountains are riddled with dark mysteries and these become apparent when exploring some of the labyrinthine Nazi tunnels constructed underfoot.
Cool Down In Gdynia:
For years, tourism in the tri-city could be carved up as follows: summer meant Sopot, and all other times Gdańsk. Gdynia, like a third, surplus wheel, took care of the serious stuff.
Well, somewhere along the line the city became cool – and in no small part thanks to its Open’er Festival (on ice till next year, should you ask).
Also helping it copiously has been the nation’s rediscovered appreciation of aesthetics, and Gdynia’s modernist heritage has made it a prime draw for design-minded folk.
And then you think of its half-hidden beaches with little, wooden piers, its woodland walks and ominous Nazi military installations scattered liberally around.
Touting a lively café and bar scene, soak up the nightlife before retreating to the Quadrille, a luxury hotel that follows a Lewis Carroll theme.
Get Your Glamp Rags On!
Unless you’ve spent the last decade banged up on an armed robbery charge it’s highly likely you’ve heard of glamping: marrying those innocent, ‘life is beautiful’ joys of camping with the kind of creature comforts demanded by the modern, urban person, it’s essentially a chance for us fashionable city dwellers to revel in the natural world without going to the toilet in a bush.
In short, Gwyneth Paltrow does it.
Now Poles are loving it as well and that’s thanks to a raft of places that have opened themselves up for such experiences. In this, Glendoria were pioneers.
Describing themselves as “a funky village for urban people”, you stay in either a converted barn or canopied huts attired with woodburning stoves, before enjoying such pleasures as skinny-dipping with a chorus of frogs.
Truthfully mind, choices are now endless: outside Łódź, for instance, bed down at wBańce inside the kind of futuristic domed tents you expect NASA pilots to have in their back garden.
Down south, Kłodzko Valley, a more back-to-basics approach is embraced by Vegan House, a place with an eco-forward mission and tents planted in a wild, sloping meadow that stares onto the mountains ahead.
And why not treat yourself to some untrammeled Asian-inspired luxury at Kimura Glamping.
The work of Polish-Japanese artist Lia Kimura, you wouldn’t believe that this lavish tented paradise is set in whistling distance from downtown Warsaw.
Making your way past the hammocks, swings and hot-tubs, you’ll be running into some of the capital’s most beautiful people.