Eastern European Capitals
Review by Fiona Duncan, published 4th June 2003.
The emergence of countries such as Hungary, Latvia, Estonia, Slovenia and Poland from their Soviet straightjackets and their recent accession to the E.U. has increased awareness of their elegant, historic cities, especially since the recent introduction of daily budget flights from Easyjet and Ryanair. With beautiful architecture and a fascinating past they have much to offer, sharing a penchant for music, culture, and a youthful zest for life.
But what of their hotels? After over 15 years of recommending and writing about hotels in western Europe as series editor of the Charming Small Hotel Guides, it has been fascinating to turn my attention to the east. All these cities have had to build dozens of new hotels in the last decade – or refurbish old ones – to cope with the hugely increased demand, and considering the lack of experience and time, the overall standard is high. The standard of comfort, cleanliness and up-to-date facilities, that is; cosiness, character and individuality is much harder to find, though not impossible.
The hotels listed here are just a few of the many in each city that I visited and stayed in. To my mind, they are the pick – at all price levels – not just in terms of location, comfort and convenience, but in terms of character too.
Prices quoted are for a standard double room per night in high season, with breakfast for two, unless stated.
Dramatically divided by the Danube, and reconnected by a series of elegant bridges, Buda and Pest are distinctly different. Most hotels are located in Pest, the city proper, but as no first time visitor should miss Buda’s atmospheric Castle Hill district across the Chain Bridge, a hotel close to the great fast flowing river is ideal for sightseeing. It’s not imperative, however, as Budapest’s transport system is very efficient, though you’ll probably end up walking anyway: it’s the best way of catching the many art nouveau façades, hidden courtyards and enticing coffee houses along the way.
Since Hungary was released from the Communist yolk in 1990, Budapest has become saturated with top-end hotels, all furiously competing with one another for comfort, the latest technology and the most celebs to walk through their revolving doors. The first to open, in 1992, was the Kempinksi Corvinus (0036 1 429 3777; www.kempinski.com; from £239). Strikingly modern, shaped like a C and blissfully quiet, it is staffed by as smiling and helpful a team as you are likely to meet. Despite its lofty proportions and rather soulless air, the lobby is a popular meeting place while the 365 glossy, Italian-style rooms and suites are the largest in town, and are decorated with the hotel’s impressive collection of Hungarian art. There’s a new ‘infotainment’ system in every room, including a keyboard and internet access through the TV. The lavish breakfast buffet includes everything from pickled herrings to bio carrot juice (so why can’t the coffee be better?).
Right next door is Le Meridien (0036 1 429 5500; www.lemeridien.com; from £193), with an appealing and very gracious interior, employing warm and elegant furnishings in airy, glacial spaces. Its Bourbon restaurant, with sofas as well as dining chairs, sits under a sparkling stained glass dome and there is a soothing piano bar to one side. Like the Kempinksi, it has a swimming pool and health club.
Budapest’s latest luxury hotel, and therefore currently the most sought-after, is the Four Seasons Gresham Palace (0036 1 268 6000; www.fourseasons.com/budapest; from £169). It’s certainly worth a visit: one of the city’s most outstanding art nouveau buildings in an unparalled river setting opposite the famous Chain Bridge. Opened in summer 2004, its magnificent façade, ironwork and Zsolnay ceramics have been painstakingly restored, yet the lobby has all the atmosphere of an empty railway station and the mood is positively sepulchral. Still, the food in the Italian Pava restaurant and the Kávéház (don’t miss the millefeuille) is the best in town. Standard rooms are compact but handsome, with the same masculine air as the ground floor. In the spa you can have a Tokai body scrub, and swim in a raised pool that plays strange tricks with your eyes.Set to knock the Gresham off its perch when it opens in late 2005 is the New York Hotel, incorporating the landmark New York Café, currently being restored to its former neo-baroque glory by Boscolo Hotels.
On foot, it’s a 15 minute tram ride and then a 10 minute walk to Uhu Villa (0036 1 275 1002; www.uhuvilla.hu; from £108 including transfers) but there’s a real sense of peace at this polished turn-of-the-century residence overlooking the Buda valley. From the charming wooden sun room or from the terrace there are views of thickly wooded hills, and the buildings on their lower slopes are neatly screened by pine and fir trees. It’s a one-off in Budapest, owned and run by a gutsy Italian, Simona Bazzani, who bought it as a family home, then took in lodgers to help pay for its renovation. Four years ago, she and her husband moved out and Uhu grew into a fully-fledged hotel. “I knew it was time to leave,” she says, “when I found myself standing in a cupboard with the baby so it’s crying didn’t disturb the guests.”There are 12 sophisticated but cosy bedrooms and an intimate dining room presided over by an Italian chef. The place is pristine, constantly being polished and buffed. “It’s my fifth child,” says Simona “and much the most demanding. It’s a challenge, but I’m determined to succeed.” Hungarians, she says, are confused by such a personalised, hands-on enterprise, but English guests, well-used to individual hotels, love it. Uhu, by the way, refers to the hoot of an owl. The previous owner handed Simona the stuffed owl after which she had named the house, and made it a stipulation that the name should not be changed. You won’t see the owl. “It stays in a cupboard,” Simona says with a shudder. “I get it out when the lady comes to visit.”
Back in the very heart of town, the Astoria (0036 1 484 3200; www.danubiusgroup.com/astoria (from £96) is a fossilized throwback to pre-war Hungary, its original French Empire-style interiors intact right down to the heavy wooden bedrooms doors. Dowdy it may be, but it does have character, as well as a rich history, and if it’s nostalgia you are after, then this is the place to come. The musical evenings, in which operatic singers entertain tour groups, are to be avoided, as is the food.
At least The Astoria is not bland, and nor is Art’Otel (0036 1 487 9487; www.artotels.com; from £148) on the Buda bank of the Danube, although it would be if it were not for the work of American artist Donald Sultan. It’s on display in every room, and he’s also designed the carpets, plates and room numbers. As for the building, it’s an intriguing fusion of purpose-built modern block in front and pretty baroque houses behind. Bedrooms, apart from Sultan’s pictures, are uniform in grey and red. The management’s competitive corporate rates mean that the lobby and bar often feel more like a business centre than a hotel.
Panzió Molnár (0036 1 395 1873; www.hotel-molnar.hu; doubles £45) consists of a couple of adjacent modern villas in the hilly suburbs of Buda, and struck me as by far the best value in town. Although furnishings and decoration are plain, the 23 rooms are well equipped and spacious, there’s a fitness room, sauna, children’s play area and sunny front terrace, and a restaurant serving game specialities. The hotel’s eponymous owner lives close by. “Our guests come first,” volunteered the smiling receptionist “and we try to help them as much as possible.”
The Kulturinnov (0036 1 355 0122; from £37) is very different, offering no frills and not many smiles, but then it’s not really a hotel. It’s 14 rooms are on the first floor of a vast early 20th-century building, once the finance ministry, now belonging to the Hungarian Cultural Association which hosts art exhibitions and events (and will help to arrange sightseeing programmes). The location, next to Matthias Church in the heart of Buda’s Castle District, is superb and easily makes up for the drab 1980s décor and rather cell-like rooms, as does the grand entrance hall with its sweeping staircase. RestaurantsIt’s all too easy to eat badly in Budapest – vast portions of stodge – and advisable to stick rigidly to recommended restaurants. If you want to be serenaded by musicians in turn-of-the-century surroundings try traditional Karpatia (Ferenciek tere 7-8; tel 0036 1 317 3596) with above average Hungarian food. We ate well at Italian café/restaurant Cyrano, with a sleek clientele (Kristóf tér 7; 0036 1 266 4747), while Baraka (V. Magyar utca 12-14; 0036 1 483 1355) and Chez Daniel (VI Sziv utca 32; 0036 1 302 4039) are also recommended. For a celebration, go to Pava in the Gresham Palace, or Fausto’s (VII Dohány utca 5; 0036 1 269 6806).
On the banks of the River Daugava, Riga is a delight to explore, full of architectural surprises, as well as heavenly coffee shops and all manner of restaurants serving good food at minimal prices. Hotel accommodation is similarly excellent value, and standards are generally high. As in Tallinn, capital of neighbouring Estonia, few hotels are older than ten years, and new ones are opening all the time. The best place to be is in the Old Town (Vecriga) where traffic is restricted and most of the sights are concentrated. Don’t, however, discount a hotel across t he canal; as far as Rigans are concerned it’s just as central, and close to the park and the city’s stunning array of art nouveau houses.
Despite competition, the serene and gracious Grand Palace (00371 704 4000; www.schlossle-hotels.com; from £165) remains the classiest and most comfortable in Riga. Though it only opened in 2000, it feels as though it’s been around for much longer. Perfectly situated in the Old Town close to Dome Square, it has a handsome, spacious bar at the front, where you can also have light meals, an intimate dining room and a pretty orangerie for breakfast, as well as an attractive health club in the basement. It’s the sister hotel of the Schlössle in Tallinn, with similar decoration in the bedrooms (apart from the addition of striking pictures). Yet although it’s a larger and grander hotel than the Schlössle, with more amenities, it’s a whopping £73 less for a standard room, reflecting the very reasonable prices you’ll find in Riga.
Most stylish of the city’s contemporary hotels is Bergs (00371 777 0900; www.hotelbergs.com; from £89) whose spacious state-of-the-art suites, complete with kitchenettes, represent superb value for money. It’s currently Riga’s most fashionable hotel, yet a more-than-adequate junior suite will set you back about the same as a moderately comfortable b&b back home, and here you’ll have everything from WiFi internet connection to restaurant, bar, fitness centre and off-street parking. In shades of chocolate and cream, the hotel’s harmonious, purposeful design incorporates ancestral portraits of the Berg family who returned to Latvia after independence to open the hotel (in 2003) and convert their adjoining 19th century Bergs Bazaar into a sophisticated shopping precinct (don’t miss the fabulous chocolate shop). The wooden house in which they originally lived is now a map shop.
Less glamorous, but also less expensive is brand new Viesturs (00371 735 6060; www.hotelviesturs.lv; doubles £49), in the heart of the Old Town. “The owner gave part of his heart to this hotel”, I was told, and it shows. It’s been lovingly restored, with exposed stone walls and handsome wooden doors leading to bedrooms that try hard not to be ordinary and bathrooms that have lovely contemporary basins, some decorated with flowers. The breakfast room has a homely feel with its open-plan kitchen where hot dishes are cooked to order (breakfast is plentiful and excellent). If you want to splash out, take the three-room suite at the top: for around £90 per night you’ll have your own sauna, whirlpool bath and, best of all, spacious rooftop terrace where you can even have a barbecue in summer.
Streets ahead of its competitors, and another notable bargain is Radi un Draugi (00371 782 0200; www.draugi.lv; from £46). Run by a charitable foundation, its name means Friends and Relatives because it opened in the mid-nineties as a hotel for visiting Latvian ex-patriots from all over the world. The charming manager is also the director of Latvia’s association of hoteliers and, appropriately, his is a model establishment. The 76 rooms are smart, spacious and well-equipped (satellite TV, fridge, tea and coffee and WiFi internet connection) and there’s a gentleman’s club-like sitting room and bar, as well as a café and basement restaurant.RestaurantsYou can eat anything in Riga from African to Ukranian, at amazingly modest prices. For a cosy lunchtime café with good food (mind your head) try Vecmeita Ar Kaki, (Maza Pils I; 00371 750 8564) or pop into the tiny Viennese-style coffee shop Kafijas veikals at No. 6. The sophisticated two-course lunch menu at Raibais Balodis in the restored Konventa seta (Kaleju 9; 00371 708 7580) will set you back just over £4. Nearby Melnie Muki (Jana seta I; 00371 721 5006) is a pleasant place for dinner, with a huge global menu that the chef somehow pulls off. In a converted warehouse near the river, chic Fabrikas (Balasta dambis 70; 00371 787 3804) has a good looking clientele and the same owner. For a Latvian experience, complete with waitresses in traditional costume, try one of the Lido chain of restaurants, especially the Lido Atputas Centrs (Krasta iela 76; 00371 750 4420), a ten-minute cab ride from the centre but kitsch and great fun. As for bars, the 26th floor Skyline Bar at the Revel hotel is a must for its view of the city, and Rigas Balzams for a convivial atmosphere and Latvia’s national drink, a black herbal liquor which is only palatable when mixed with hot blackcurrent juice.
Be warned: during the white nights of Tallin’s summer, it’s impossible to find a hotel room without having booked in advance. The number of beds has doubled in the last year but there are still not enough to meet the demand in high season. Before Estonia’s 1991 independence there were only a handful of communist-style hotels in operation so few are more than a decade old. Standards, so far, have remained reasonably high and the best hotels reflect both the character of Tallin’s superb medieval Old Town and the Estonian predeliction for clean Scandinavian lines and cutting edge technology. Previously low prices are swiftly increasing, especially in the luxury category. It’s still cheaper than at home to eat and drink in Tallinn but not a great deal cheaper to stay here. You’ll be hard pressed to find a badly kept room at any price range: Estonians pride themselves on tidiness and it’s reflected in their pristine hotels.
It’s between the Three Sisters and the Schlossle: the choice depends on you. I’m a Schlossle person myself, though I hope it’s not because I’m too old for the stark minimalism of the former, just that I prefer my hotels cosy rather than posey. Both are small, each with just over 20 rooms. Certainly the Three Sisters (00372 630 6300; www.threesistershotel.com; from £183) is the most talked about, having only recently opened. The theme, modern contrasting with old (in this case a historic 14th-century house) works best in the seductive and rather beautiful bedrooms and bathrooms (with either Victorian roll top or contemporary French oval baths). Less successful are the public rooms, especially the sitting room or so-called ‘library’. Too trendy for more than a smattering of armchairs, it also has only a handful of second-hand books (some with their remainder stickers still on them). One lovely thing: the 16th century wooden ceiling in the private dining room, painted with angels, that was uncovered during restoration.
The Schlössle (00372 699 7700; www.schlossle-hotels.com; from £238) on the other hand, is immediately welcoming. It’s hard to know where it gets its five-star rating from: it doesn’t even have a lift, and bedrooms are not large. But for warmth and character it can’t be faulted, as well as excellent service from a close-knit team. Rather than deluxe, it’s a sophisticated boutique hotel, fashioned from three medieval houses, with pretty flourishes, comfortable bedrooms and a romantic restaurant in the stone-vaulted cellars. The French food is good, though, like the accommodation, expensive. It may not be cheap to stay here, but it’s very restful, and the perfect complement to the charming streets that surround it. The guest list includes an eclectic mix of politicians and pop stars, and Prince Charles too.
Though I saw several contenders, nothing came near Uniquestay (00372 660 0700; www.uniquestay.com; from £68). Flock to Uniquestay, especially if you are young, or young at heart, because the (English) owners have got inexpensive, minimalist accommodation spot-on here. The unique selling point? Computers and free internet in every room; and arresting design that’s warm rather than cold, especially in the beautiful floor-lit corridors. There are two hotels, a few paces from one another, both on the edge of the Old Town. If you want pampering – and at these prices it’s possible – upgrade for an extra £20 to a Zen Room where you’ll get a whirlpool bath, a gravity-free massage chair, and a well-being programme to follow on your flat screen monitor. Then you’ll be ready to tackle Tallinn: ‘a cool fusion’ says Uniquestay’s brochure ‘of medieval charm and highly energetic drive’ which is spot-on too.
It’s a tram or a taxi ride from the centre to Poska Villa (00372 601 3601; from £38) but well worth the effort to stay in this charming little wooden house. In the leafy Kadriorg district near the Baroque palace of the same name that was built for Peter the Great, it stands in the grounds of a day centre for the elderly, and exists to help costs. The ladies who run it seem a touch fierce at first (little English is spoken, though enough to get by) but they soon warm and they keep the eight rooms in apple pie order, with local wooden furniture, floaty curtains and sparkling shower rooms. The three rooms in the attic are particularly charming. There’s a tiny breakfast room (the place could feel claustrophobic to some). Visiting academics and the like often take up residence for several weeks, and many guests return.
Even further from the centre, close to Pirita beach, but connected by regular buses, the Convent Guesthouse (00372 605 5000; www.piritaklooster.ee; £45) must be the most calming in Tallinn. It’s part of St Bridget’s Convent, a modern building occupied by Bridgettine nuns from all over the world that overlooks the towering 15th century ruins of the old one. The spacious rooms are simple and contemporary – and soothing. Breakfast includes cereal, cheese and ham, and on Fridays, according to Catholic tradition, you can have an egg. Everyone, whatever their religion, is welcome.
For home cooking and cosy, old fashioned surroundings you can’t beat Vanaema Juures (Rataskaevu 10; 00372 626 9080). For a scintillating interior, diners who look like supermodels and fusion food, try Ö (Mere pst 6e; 00372 661 6150). As for cafés, look out for Chocolatier in Master’s Courtyard off Vene, and Estonia’s oldest, Maiasmokk,at Pikk 16.
One of the most engaging small cities in Europe, with hardly a jarring note, Slovenia’s capital is a delight to explore on foot, its river lined with outdoor cafés in summer. There’s also a vast programme of cultural events, plus interesting restaurants and wonderful cakes, coffee and ice cream. Unfortunately there are, at present, only a handful of hotels to choose from in this little known gem and none that match the Baroque charm and character of the city. Those on offer are mainly modern, well equipped, extremely clean and perfectly comfortable, if bland. Location is important, especially on a brief visit, when it’s preferable to be as close to the city’s heart, Presernov Square, as possible.
Almost on Presernov Square, the Grand Hotel Union (00386 1 308 1270; www.gh-union.si; from £125) is a fine art nouveau building and Ljubljana’s oldest and most prestigious hotels. Few original features remain inside, however, and rooms are uniform, with gleaming wood furnishings, including desks, armchairs and minibars. Best are those on the first and second floors, with handsome mint green corridors punctuated by smart wooden doors, while those on floors seven, eight and nine have wonderful views of the castle. Be sure to specify the original ‘Executive’ wing rather than the ‘60s ‘Business’ wing.Characterful leisure-oriented hotels may not be Ljubljana’s strong suit, but cutting edge business ones are. On the edge of town, the Mons ‘design hotel’ is an innovative piece of architecture with a convention centre attached, while ten minutes by taxi or shuttle bus from the city centre, the Domina Grand Media (00386 1 588 2500; www.dominagrandmedialjubljana.com; from £125) claims to be the most technologically advanced hotel in the world. That means two things that could keep you occupied for the entire trip. One is the huge perk of being able to make free international telephone calls from the bedroom. The other is a wall-mounted plasma screen (huge in the more expensive rooms) plus remote control and keyboard with which you can send emails, surf the internet, read books, watch a wide selection of movies plus any television (or radio) station you wish, and much more. The bedrooms, mercifully, are elegant and cosy, rather than minimalist, with attractive fabrics in red, yellow or black, cosy armchairs and clever swivel desks.
Two minutes’ walk from Presernov Square, the City Hotel Turist (00386 1 234 9130; www.hotelturist.si; from £90) makes an acceptable if functional base for a weekend, and it will improve when the ‘70s cafeteria-style dining and breakfast room is refurbished during this year. Bedrooms are unimaginative rectangles, with small bathrooms, but they have comfortable beds with cosy duvets, and the water in the small bathrooms is plentiful and piping hot. Breakfast in the ’80s cafeteria style dining room is a generous self-service buffet.
Ljubljana has a fabulous youth hostel, open to all ages. The Celica Hostel (00386 1 430 1890; www.souhoustel.com; doubles £28) is fashioned from a former military prison and, as well as dormitories, has 17 double and three triple cells-turned-bedrooms, a few with en-suite facilities. Each one is individually designed and themed, though they all retain their original bars on doors and windows. In a converted barracks five minutes walk from the river, this is a superb place for travellers: spotless, fresh, modern and buzzing with life.
Ljubljana’s eateries include inn-type gostilnas, serving hearty meat dishes, and excellent pizzerias, as well as cosy cafés for coffee and cake. Sokol (Ciril Metodov trg 18; 00386 1 439 6855) is an inexpensive Old Town gostilna, while Gostilna As (Copova 5; 00386 1 425 8822) is one the city’s best restaurants, along with the delightfully decorated Pri Vitezu (Breg 18; 00386 1426 6058). For pizzas try Ljubljanski Dvor (Dvorni trg 1;00386 1 251 6555) with around 100 varieties. Popular cafés are Zvezda (Wolfova 14) and Le Petit Café (Francoske Revolucije trg 4).
Poland’s historic city of myths and legends has at its heart the largest market square in Europe, focal point for inhabitants and visitors alike. There’s only one hotel on Market Square (Rynek Glówny) itself, but many in the beautiful surrounding streets of the ear-shaped old quarter, including several dating from the 19th century which have recently been renovated but retain an old-fashioned air. Amongst the crop of hotels to have opened in the past decade, only one or two stand out.
Kraków’s most luxurious hotels are the Sheraton and the Grand, both dull. Less expensive, but far preferable in my opinion, is the historic Wentzl (0048 12 430 2664; www.wentzl.pl; from £90). With just 12 rooms, plenty of stairs, no lift and no public areas, it’s a place that grows on you as you realise what a treat it is to be in the only hotel on Market Square, how comfortable the soberly decorated rooms are, how helpful the staff and how superior the first-floor restaurant. Established in the late 18th century, the Wentzl’s elegant dining rooms now display Ecole de Paris paintings belonging to the collection of former tennis star Wojtek Fibak. Breakfast here is a pleasure. The view from the ten front bedrooms is a constant delight, while the 15th-century building itself is adorned with a 1718 image of the Madonna and Child.
The much-vaunted Copernicus, opened five years ago (0048 12 424 3400; www.hotel.com.pl; from £123) is Kraków’s trendiest hotel, though its juxtaposition of old and modern feels a little uneasy to me and its heavily furnished rooms are gloomy. In a building once occupied by Copernicus himself, it stands in the old quarter’s loveliest street, Kanonicza. There’s a tiny swimming pool in the cellar.Amadeus (0048 12 429 6070; www.hotel-amadeus.pl; from £108), another small four star hotel close to Market Square, is a couple of years younger than Copernicus, but feels longer-established. It has a genteel, sophisticated air and bedrooms, in mild Empire style, are pretty and well-equipped, though some bathrooms only have showers (baths seem to be a rarity in Polish hotels). There’s a cosy coffee shop and a basement restaurant, plus the tiniest of fitness rooms (a fitness cupboard really) and a sauna for two. The two suites (£129), often occupied by visiting dignitaries, are huge, with circular Jacuzzis and two sitting rooms.
Amongst Kraków’s old-established hotels, the Francuski (0048 12 422 5122; www.orbis.pl; doubles £95) is the best known, with a colourful literary history. When it opened in 1910 it was considered one of the most luxurious hotels in Europe, boasting startling innovations such as a vacuum cleaner. Today, despite modernisation in 1991, it feels like a time warp. The dead hand of a corporate hotel chain is balanced by the many period features, and the reproduction furniture is in keeping with the maiden aunt air of the place. The suites (£118) feel like cosy private apartments. Locals call the hotel ‘Titanic’ for its stately yet strangely deserted air and indeed one half expects a ghostly passenger, veiled and swathed in fur, to descent the pillared staircase.
A window on Market Square is yours for less than £20 a night each if you climb the elegant staircase at Dom Polinii (0048 12 422 6341; doubles £38 excluding breakfast). This centre for ex-patriot Poles, housed in a pink town house on the corner of the square has three rooms with kitchenettes to let, with tall windows and high ceilings. Best is the huge shabby-grand apartment that sleeps up to four (£56).Together, young (English) Tom and (Polish) Hania and Mike run Accession B&B (0048 692 183369; www.accessionkrakow.com; doubles £35) which opened last June (at the time of Poland’s accession to the E.U.). With just four rooms (one, at £45, sleeps four and has a bathtub) it’s a first floor apartment in a handsome but down-at-heel building, and by the time you’ve climbed the scruffy stairs to the first floor, you’ll be ready to leave. Don’t: your hosts couldn’t be more friendly and helpful and the airy bedrooms and gleaming bathrooms with power showers are just right. Breakfast is a chatty, domestic affair and a computer with free internet access for guests is a great bonus.
Kraków is another Eastern European city where it’s impossible not to over-indulge, especially on coffee, hot chocolate and cakes. Market Square is the place to be and there are plenty of choices. Try Noworolski in the beautiful Cloth Hall (Rynek Glówny 1) for its 19th-century interior and cosy corners, or stylish Loza (Rynek Glówny 41) for something contemporary.As for restaurants, you can probably afford to splash out. The Renaissance interior of the first-floor Wentzl (0048 12 429 57120) makes a sophisticated setting and the Polish and international dishes (such as wild boar marinated in red wine) are excellent value, though the wine list is pricey. Superior Polish home cooking such as beetroot and zurek soups and hunter’s stew is served in a new country-style restaurant, with log fires, Nostalgia (ul. Karmelicka 10; 0048 12 425 4260). The folksy Chlopskie Jadlo restaurants are also good places to try hearty Polish fare (ul. Jana 3; ul. Agnieszki 1; ul Grodzka 9).
In the Jewish quarter, Kazimierz, Alef (Szeroka 17; 0048 12 424 3131) preserves its genuine pre-war ambience, and live music often accompanies diners. It’s said that the old town has more bars and cafés per square metre than anywhere else in Europe, so it’s not hard to find places to sample Poland’s many brands of Vodka, both clear and flavoured, and its excellent beers. Stalowe Magnolie (Steel Magnolias; sw. Jana15) and Paparazzi (ul. Mikolajska 9) are two of the trendiest.
For those who prefer not to travel independently, Cox & Kings (020 7873 5000; www.coxandkings.co.uk) offer short breaks at the Kempinski Corvinus Hotel in Budapest, the Grand Palace in Riga, the Schlossle in Tallinn, and the Wentzl in Krakow, as well as at other hotels. Prices include flights, hotels accommodation with breakfast and private transfers. Cox & Kings’ newTreasures of Eastern Europe brochure features short breaks, escorted group and tailor-made tours throughout Eastern Europe.Easyjet www.easyjet.com have daily flights to Budapest, Tallinn, Krakow and Ljubljana. Ryanair www.ryanair.com has daily flights Riga.
Further information can be obtained from the following websites and tourist offices.
BudapestHungary Tourist Board: 020 7823 1032; www.hungarywelcomesbritain.comRiga Latvia Tourist Board: www.latviatourism.lv. Also www.inyourpocket.com.TallinnEstonia Tourist Board: www.tourism.tallinn.ee.