Mini guide to Krakow, Poland
Poland’s medieval capital has miraculously endured wars and oppressive regimes, to become one of Europe’s cultural treasure troves. The city is a delight to explore on foot, from its medieval Old Town to the scores of cellar bars and restaurants.
What to see
Europe’s largest medieval square, Rynek Główny, is the centrepiece of the Old Town. Most of the buildings are in neoclassical style and dominating the square are the arcaded Cloth Hall and the Mariacka Basilica – a riot of colour inside.
The hilltop Wawel was the seat of Polish kings for over 500 years. You’ll need at least four hours to appreciate the fine interiors and precious objects in its Renaissance period castle and Gothic cathedral.
The 15th-century Collegium Maius is Poland’s oldest university building. The elegant arcaded courtyard is free to visit, while tours reveal fascinating artefacts such as the world’s oldest existing globe.
The World Heritage listed Wieliczka Salt Mine, nine miles from the city, has operated for 700 years. This eerie world of pits and tunnels hewn from solid salt contains a chapel decorated with salt chandeliers and altarpieces.
Where to eat and drink
The laid back café-bar at Singer Café is an atmospheric, antique-filled café, where patrons sip cappuccinos by day. At night, they turn up the music and the place hums until dawn. The name refers to the sewing machines once made there, rather than the entertainment on offer.
A number of restaurants in Kazimierz offer Jewish-inspired dishes such as czulent (bean casserole), knyshe dumplings and stuffed gooseneck – the best of the lot isDawno Temu na Kazimierzu.
Sample Polish dumplings, pork loins in green pepper sauce, and veggie options such as potato pancakes at Nostalgia, a refined version of the traditional Polish eatery. Its fireplace and timber beams make it cosy in winter, or sit outside when it’s warm.
Cherubino offers lovely Italian dishes, such as black pasta with pesto and shrimps, and chicken in a creamy truffle sauce. The interior is decorated with antique carriages on cobblestone floors.
We reckon Kraków’s finest restaurant is Wentzl, dating back to 1792. Perched above the main market square, its sublime dishes include crayfish soup with trout dumplings.
Where to sleep
The stylish Klezmer-Hois has been restored to its pre-war, Jewish character, and has 10 rooms, each decorated differently, although the cheaper rooms don’t have private bathrooms. There’s a good Jewish restaurant on site, plus an art gallery and live music every night.
The Hotel Pod Wawelem, at the foot of Wawel and overlooking the river, has just been renovated. The 48 rooms are generously proportioned and look either onto the river or the castle – you can see both from the rooftop café.
Get away from the crowds at the beautifully appointed Hotel Petrus, close to Park Skaly Twardowskiego and its lake, about 1½ miles southwest of the city. The 27 rooms are modern, and there’s a cosy lounge with a log fire, as well as a sauna, gym, restaurant and beer garden.
Kraków’s first boutique hotel, the Hotel Pugetów, stands next to the 19th-century neo-Renaissance palace of that name and offers seven rooms and suites with individual identities. Think embroidered bathrobes, black-marble baths and a fabulous silver-service cellar restaurant.
Setting new standards for accommodation in Poland, the 53-room Hotel Stary 15 is housed in an 18th-century aristocratic residence that really exudes charm.
Poland for foodies
There’s more to Polish cuisine than vodka and dumplings. In this excerpt from the brand-new Lonely Planet Poland travel guide, we give you the low-down on Poland’s most tempting street food, the best regional specialities, food you can forage for yourself, and some dishes you might not dare to try…
There are regional specialities across the country – freshwater fish dishes in the north, aromatic duck preparations in Wielkopolska, large dumplings called kluskiin Silesia that are often served with bacon (kluski śląskie ze słoniną) – but nowhere are specialities so well defined as in the Podhale region at the foot of the Tatras. Among some of the things to try here are kwaśnica (sauerkraut soup), placki po góralsku (potato pancakes with goulash) and the many types of oscypki (smoked sheep’s cheese) that come in oblong shapes with distinctive stamps on the rind.
When it comes to street food, there are some uniquely Polish snacks to sample on the go. While strolling the ulica, look for the following:
- Zapiekanki: the street snack of choice, ‘Polish pizza’ is an open-faced baguette topped with melted cheese, chopped mushrooms and ketchup, and best (or only) eaten after a heavy night on the town.
- Naleśniki: perfect anytime, these are pancakes stuffed with fruit or cottage cheese and topped with a strip of jam, powdered sugar and a dollop of sour cream.
- Obwarzanek: an irresistible cross between a pretzel and a bagel topped with poppy seeds, sesame or salt. Native to Kraków but occasionally found elsewhere.
- Oscypek: smoked highlander sheep’s cheese, usually found in mountain areas south of Kraków. Served grilled and served with żurawiny (cranberry jam).
- Lody: the Polish word for ice cream might be the only word you take home with you. OK, so ice cream isn’t native to Poland, but it’s cheap and a treat and Poles can’t get enough of the stuff.
Poles have always taken advantage of the wild foods that grow in fields and forests. A favourite pastime is gathering mushrooms and berries, which find their way into dishes in uniquely Polish ways.
The Polish summer yields raspberries, blackberries and blueberries and these national treasures are usually poured over pancakes or stuffed inside pierogi(dumplings). And cool damp early-autumn mornings are perfect for picking mushrooms, which are used in soups, as a stuffing for pastries and in sauces.
Beets are also a staple of Polish cooking and the cold winters bring a renewed appreciation for this oft-overlooked red root. Beetroot soup is a cherished part of the traditional Christmas Eve meal.
Dare to try
Poland has plenty of options for more adventurous palates:
- Smalec: fried pork fat topped with crackling and spread on large hunks of bread.
- Nóżki w galarecie: jellied calves’ trotters.
- Flaki: seasoned tripe cooked in bouillon with vegetables.
- Karp w galarecie: carp in gelatine.
- Czernina: ducks’-blood broth with vinegar.
Article Source: lonelyplanet.com