|The 29-room Ryman Palace Hotel is a renovated royal hunting lodge.|
Poland’s largest seaport, Szczecin (pronounced “Shtet-teen”), is the hub of the country’s northwest region known as Pomerania—which Poland shares with Germany. Szczecin, only 90 miles from Berlin, has a scenic harbor-side embankment where three historic buildings—the Maritime Academy, History Museum of Western Pomerania and Government Building of West Pomerania—share commanding side-by-side positions above the water.
The rebuilt downtown has wide boulevards, green traffic islands and an original city plan designed in the 1880s by French architect George Haussmann, who had redesigned Paris for Napoleon III. A park downtown bears the statue of Pope John Paul II on the site where he celebrated mass for one million Poles on June 11, 1987.
Szczecin’s palace of the Pomeranian dukes was the center of the regional empire between the 13th and 17th centuries. It contains tombs of six dukes, an underground crypt converted to an active theater, and a museum housing the region’s historic royal artifacts. English audio guides are not yet available, but a 40-page English guide funded by the European Union is helpful.
Recommended is Porto Grande, the waterfront restaurant where Zdzislaw Pawlicki, the director of the regional tourist office of West Pomerania, hosted a dinner for our American group. The tasty game, pork and fresh fish were accompanied by a jazz singer performing popular American tunes.
Szczecin’s big 2013 event will be the Tall Ships Races, which is expected to bring 120 ships to race before over two million spectators during four days in August. The real attractions, however, lie 30 miles inland from the Baltic Sea in a rural countryside of forests, farms and lakes: a string of former palaces once inhabited by Polish kings and the dukes of Pomerania.
These majestic structures, rebuilt from World War II destruction and Cold War neglect, are now either historic museums or restored. Most are located along the tree-lined country route E28 stretching 215 miles from Szczecin to Gdansk, Poland.
Nearest to Gdansk is Malbork Castle, reportedly the largest in Europe, set on 52 acres in the town of the same name. The UNESCO World Heritage Site is a moated complex of three fortress buildings fronted by a drawbridge. Sections were originally built in stages between the 13th and 18th centuries. There is a chapel of the Polish kings and a monastery of the Knights Templar (a medieval order of Christian warrior monks), where original frescoes long hidden under plaster are being uncovered in an ongoing reclamation project.
More than half of the castle buildings were destroyed by the Russian army attacking German defense positions near the end of World War II, but rebuilding has been aggressive since the 1989 restoration of the Polish Republic. The castle, which offers a 90-minute audio guide in English, has an excellent cellar restaurant. There are many cobblestones and steps to navigate, so visitors will need good mobility to tour the castle.
The 50-room Hotel Podewils in Krag, west of Gdansk, is a 16th-century knight’s castle in a lakeside setting that welcomes guests between Easter weekend and the end of October. It is unique in being the largest overwater castle in Poland. It has a romantic brick wine cellar in which guest parties are popular, especially for wedding groups. Rates for the comfortable, traditional accommodations are about $80 to $100 per night, including a generous breakfast buffet. Reach out to Tomacz Wezeker ([email protected]), the hotel’s owner.
The more luxurious Amber Palace Hotel in Strzekecino, near the city of Koszalin, stands at a crossroads of the ancient amber trade route that ran from Gdansk to Rome. The 66-room property, originally built in the 17th century as a neo-Renaissance palace for knights who owned the nearby village of Trun, was damaged during World War II and fully restored by new owners in the 1990s. The Amber Palace has an indoor-outdoor pool, a spa, billiard room, glass-enclosed Winter Garden breakfast room and an 80-seat gourmet restaurant, where the apple cake was the best pastry we tasted in Poland. The Royal Apartment here, which includes a balcony facing the lake, costs less than $300 per night. For information, e-mail the hotel at [email protected].
Clients touring Polish Pomerania who want more modern lodgings will prefer the 29-room Ryman Palace Hotel, which opened in September following a complete renovation and expansion of what had been a royal hunting lodge originally built in 1751. The property, according to manager Agnieszka Piorkowska—who previously was manager at Accor Hotels in Poznan, Poland—is owned by a Swedish hotel company that pays commissions on agent bookings. The Ryman Palace features 10 new rooms and 19 older ones, a wine pub in the basement, a small indoor spa with an indoor pool and hot tub, and a fine-dining restaurant with a lakefront garden view. Rates range from about $100 per night for an older room and $130 for a new room. Agents can direct their queries to manager Piorkowska ([email protected]).