For the uninitiated but curious traveler to Europe, the Polish city of Krakow offers a fresh take on Old World charm. Poland's past is not easily forgotten in Krakow, the country's second city and former capital. Its unique, urban character has been honed through 1,000 years of East meeting West.
Even in small ways, the city remembers. Every hour on the hour, a reminder of the 1241 invasion by Tartar raiders rings out: A trumpeter plays the hejnal, a warning tune of impending attack, from the bell tower of St. Mary's Church. The song, however, abruptly ends mid-melody, never to finish -- a reminder, according to legend, of the Tartar arrow that pierced the medieval trumpeter's throat.
For all the focus on the past, Krakow has seen tremendous change since the fall of communism, steadily recovering from its grey, hungry days under the domination of the Soviet Union. New stores, hotels and services have come to town. But instead of detracting from Krakow's uniqueness, they have added to it by restoring the city to its former days of glory, adding polish not seen, in most cases, since before the devastating World War II invasion by Nazi Germany in 1939.
The city's once soot-covered, dilapidated buildings have been restored to their former beauty and elegance. The new, five-star Hotel Stary, opened in June by the Likus family, owners of nearby sister properties Pod Roza and Copernicus, is no exception.
Just off the market square, this boutique hotel embodies Krakow's municipal spirit. The spirit seems to follow you into the 42-room, 11-suite hotel; you can leave the market square but not its mystique and charm, or the weight of history. Being sophisticated and savvy while evoking the past is not an easy balance for any hotel to strike. Many err too far to one side or the other, leaving guests alienated by cold modernity or crushed by historical kitsch.
The difference at the Hotel Stary, Polish for "Old Hotel," is inherent in the building itself; this is no new structure made to look old, but the real thing. One can almost imagine a monk in the next room transcribing an ancient text on parchment and vellum. The hotel lacks in every conceivable way the sterility felt in so many other establishments. Although a luxurious property, the Hotel Stary does not embody a pristine luxury of rich chintz and soft pastels but a more determined, yet elegant, luxury of days gone by, blended with the confidence of the new, expanded European Union.
A few steps from the heart of the city's picturesque Old Town, on Szczepanska Street, the entrance to the Hotel Stary is an actual, wooden, castle-keep door. Guests are greeted with the scent of the pungent, black, leather armchairs dotting the lobby. Light grey marble covers the floor and some walls but is softened by fine brickwork and carved stone antiquities.
I discovered this jewel of a hotel only after bypassing it several times. I had admired the elegant lobby from the street and felt certain that such a place must be home to an enchanting bar, most likely, in true Krakow fashion, one deep in the cellar. (The city is home to legion bars and restaurants tucked away in an underground network of medieval cellars.) While my intuition proved correct, my expectations were far surpassed.
By Carrie Gress
Courtesy of travelweekly.com
Wednesday, May 23, 2007