Sun, sea, sand and Sopot – the taste of the Polish Riviera | Polish holidays
ANDIt must have been the summer of 1994 when I saw people dancing in pairs, sort of like a 1950s rock ‘n’ roll jive actually, to Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit. I was 18 years old and initiated into the dark art of drinking pure vodka around a campfire on a moonlit beach.
Perhaps that’s why everything seemed so funny. Dance. vodka. Moon. To find out that our hangover started before we even passed out. Finding out that the only local hangover cure is offal stew. The whole experience was very childish. It scared me away from vodka for life – and always brought me back to the Polish coast.
My late father came from Poland and met my mother in London, whose parents came from Ireland. I was born and grew up in England and went to Poland for the first time with my parents in 1978 when I was two years old. But when I was old enough, I did it myself. In my youth, this country was the gateway to my “wild east”. This is the second Europe with less rules and more adventures; where I landed a job as a foreign correspondent, thanks in part to the Guardian the late Ian Traynor. It took me further east and experiences that as a little Tintin fan I could only dream of.
Now, as a 40-year-old visiting affluent and sometimes luxurious Poland (yes, really), it’s hard to imagine how harsh life was during our previous visits. Taking my mother to the seaside resort of Sopot (in northern Poland on the Baltic Sea) for a middle-aged, middle-class vacation, I’m not smoking that spirit. I’m taking him to dinner at a fancy restaurant.
With the entire Mediterranean Sea to choose from, the very idea of a Polish Riviera seems ridiculous. And yes, there is snow on the beach in January. But on September 17 last year, the mercury in Sopot reached 28 degrees Celsius in the shade. Because, like its inhabitants, the weather in Poland can be inexplicably hot, as well as utterly miserable. At least, like them, it’s rarely boring.
Poland usually has a cool period in late August followed by gold autumn (gold autumn). It’s something of a legendary Indian summer in the UK, and it’s not elusive at all this year. It is often heralded by a blood moon and is gorgeous, not least because of its endless forests of copper and gold leaves. There is also an amber light created by the sun which is lower in the sky; and most importantly, warmth.
Most foreigners who visit Sopot leave for personal reasons. A British man who misses his homeland with a Polish wife; an Irish computer scientist living in Krakow who misses the sea; A German with a heritage in the area, perhaps with nostalgia for the pre-war, German-speaking Sopot of Günter Grass, and the emperor before him. There is also a contingent of marauding Scandinavians who maintain the tradition of sailing across the Baltic Sea in search of cheap Polish alcohol and thrills. The rest, and there are many of them, are mainly Poles looking for values that cannot be found in Spain, Greece or, for that matter, Brighton.
Because when it comes to seaside cities, Sopot is sophisticated. First of all, a wooden pier, the longest in Europe. It’s a nice simple walkway out to the open sea, with moorings and cafes, as opposed to sweet souvenirs and scary fairground games. Much of the city’s architecture is over 100 years old and has been well restored. This is due to the origin of Sopot as a spa town that grew up around mineral springs. They create air around them that is so pure it seems sweet. Breathing it makes you feel like trying on a nice new pair of lungs.
This may also explain why this place looks so different from the treeless, windswept coasts of England. Healthy-looking sycamore, oak, chestnut and willow adorn not only the streets, but also the waterfront; some grow on the beach itself. This includes several miles of fine golden sand backed by a protected dune that has been colonized by long grasses and blooming wild roses. Behind it is a seaside path that connects tasteful wooden bars where Polish beer is now a rival to sophisticated cocktails.
The favorite has become the Aperol-prosecco spritz with which it is served pierogi (stuffed dumplings). During the day, these bars are bases for beach volleyball players, paddleboarders, and parents watching their toddlers build giant sandcastles. At night, some beach bars turn into impromptu music venues with live jazz and solo acoustic acts.
There are solid structures like Bay of Art, which has a rooftop bar with hot tubs and views during the warmer months. There is a legendary nightclub and art gallery nearby Sphinx. This is a Polish Haçienda, but without arms, which came up with the clever idea to celebrate its 25th birthday every day this year.
The main promenade of Sopot is Bohaterów Monte Cassino, named after the heroes of the Second World War of the battle with Germany in Italy, in which Polish and British forces fought side by side and won. Especially on weekends, Monte Cassino can be crowded by the so-called tracksuits and tinsmith – boys who go out in sportswear and girls who supposedly like boys with sports cars. For those who think they won’t fit in, it’s easy to run away.
A longer walk or a rental bike ride can take you along the beach path all the way to Gdańsk, for a feast of history if you feel like it. For centuries, the city was a great Polish seaport, attracting immigrants from Great Britain. Pinched by Crusaders for a while (Castle in Malbork, the largest in the world, is nearby), it was then the Prussian-German city of Gdańsk; then interwar city-state; then the flashpoint of the Second World War; and finally the birthplace of Solidarity (Solidarity), which helped end the Cold War. Today it has cleaned up very well and is full of life. It takes 15 minutes by train to get back to Sopot.
Fresh fish is plentiful. Flounder, a respectable cousin of the plaice, has a large turnover in the stalls. On Bulaj we also ate an excellent halibut (£11). The most cozy place to dine is Cyrano and Roxane (main courses from £8.50), run by Frenchman Marc Petit and his Polish wife. They combine local ingredients with products imported from Auvergne, such as livers for homemade foie gras pâté. If you want to go really fancy, there is L’Entre Villes (main courses from £10), which is reminiscent of entering the residence of a Polish oligarch in Kensington. We had starters, steak salad and partridge, all locally sourced and perfectly done, with impeccable service. The remorse of the guests made sure that there were potato pancakes the next day (from £1.50 for two) in the modest “milk bar”, Amber.
Everything changed suddenly when my Polish girlfriend called me and told me to go to hell. Confident that it was over, I politely – in English – asked if she would like to tell me why. Answer: Because it’s one of the best kitesurfing spots in Europe and that’s where I learned. You will both love this place even without playing sports. there is a shuttle.
It is a ferry from Sopot through the Bay of Puck to Poland Hel Peninsulawhich is a very long, very narrow sandbar, popular with lovers of fresh air, sea activities and banal puns.
The crossing took an hour and a half, and the surface of the water was as still as a mill pond. We were seated next to a friendly German father and daughter, the mirror of our holiday. She quickly determined that they had no pre-war roots in the area.
We ate sunflower seeds straight from their sunflower. The farther we went, the cleaner and sweeter the air became. This is probably what turned the foggy Tyskie cans on the ferry into the best beer in the world.
After arriving in Hel, we took a train for one stop to the village of Jurata, which is pronounced more or less like “you rater”. Its beach is on the north side of the peninsula and has powdery sand that is almost white, backed by a forest of pine trees with a carpet of squid and heather in purple bloom. The locals feed on juicy, pungent mushrooms and have a knack for distinguishing between delicious, hallucinogenic and deadly. Tourists are advised not to play mushroom roulette.
A 10-minute walk brought us to the south side of the peninsula, where there is a wonderfully simple wooden pier. It depicted a sunset that lit up the sea and illuminated the clouds with a pink glow. The air was sweeter than ever. The lone fisherman walked past the café, ignoring Moët’s offers Tiramisu. On the other side of the water, to the south, were the shipyards of Gdańsk, where the salt of the earth changed the world. In the west, kitesurfers were jumping into the sky. Nirvana in Hel.