Tucked away on Poland's Baltic coast about two hours west of Gdańsk is the gorgeous town of Łeba. An easy day-trip for most visitors to the Tri-City, Łeba's natural marvels and beautiful atmosphere entice those wanting some refined peace and quiet. But how to make the most of your time when you get there? Sasha Vasilyuk investigates and unwinds...
The main reason to head to Łeba is to inhale the fresh sea air while wandering through the magical Słowiński National Park, a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. This park got its special status because it contains the only shifting sand dunes in Europe.
Słowiński is a big park, stretching over 32km, seeping into coastal pine forests and at times making its way into nearby villages. But you don’t need to walk the whole stretch to appreciate the magic of this surreal Polish desert. Rising and falling (sometimes as high as 40 metres from the ground), the dunes form an unlikely landscape right along the seashore. The easiest way to see the sands is to head to the park’s entrance, a few minutes’ drive from Łeba’s downtown, where you can either stroll along a path or get a helpful ride on a park-provided golf cart that will take you past Łebsko Lake which borders the park.
The name of the park comes from the Slovincians, the Slavic tribe whose descendants continued to occupy this part of Pomerania until as recently as the 1980s. In fact, you can see a preserved 19th-century Slovinic fishing village in Kluki on the other side of Łebsko Lake. Here, at the open-air Museum of Slovinic Countryside, take a stroll past fishermen’s houses with their outdoor bread ovens and drying fishing nets, or check out the meticulously-recreated interiors to see the daily life of these people.
If you come here in the winter, the beaches, the park and Łeba itself are almost deserted, but expect more crowds in the warmer months. While Łeba’s roots lie in commercial fishing, it has long transformed into a popular resort. In fact, in the 1920s, when Pomerania was part of Germany, Łeba attracted German bohemians, most notably the expressionist painter Max Pechstein.
In fact, he liked it so much that he settled in Łeba from 1921 to 1945. You can still see one of his paintings in the Church of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary (Kościół pw. Wniebowzięcia Najświętszej Maryi Panny), built in 1683.
From the church, wander past the town’s fishermen houses on Kościuszki Street, take a cruise on a wooden boat decorated with Viking paraphernalia, or eat freshly-fried catch of the day in one of a dozen restaurants surrounding Łeba’s marina.
But if you don’t mind a short drive in exchange for a truly memorable meal, head out of Łeba to Ewa Zaprasza, one of the highest rated restaurants in the entire country, which caters events for embassies and global corporations. Located in a cosy cottage in the little village of Sasino, this dining gem offers such delicacies as goose breast carpaccio, trout roasted in cream, and flaky pike-perch baked in leek sauce. Just make sure to leave room for their famous version of szarlotka.
If you’re staying in the area overnight, you won’t do better than Pałac Ciekocinko, a beautiful white manor house that sits on a sprawling 22 hectares of forests, meadows and lakes in Ciekocinko just over 20km from Łeba. Originally built in 1906, the palace was raised from ruins three years ago, when a Warsaw couple passionate about horses bought it along with its historic stables. Now, they host the annual Baltica Equestrian Tour, an international horse jumping show every May. But you don’t need to be a horse aficionado to appreciate a nightcap at Ciekocinko.
The best way to spend the evening here is to order a bottle of wine from the hotel’s selective cellars and sip it in the impressive library room to the sound of the crackling fireplace. In the morning, after a superb breakfast spread that includes homemade yogurts and pastries as well as entrees such as a honey lemon yogurt soufflé with roasted figs and thyme, take a quick tour of the stables, then drive about 8km to Stilo Beach, which is considered Poland’s most beautiful beach.
On your walk there through a band of pine forest, you will come across the historic red, white and black Stilo Lighthouse, which is open to visitors and certainly worth a climb. The exhibit inside will tell you about the history of the dozen lighthouses dotting Pomerania as well as ships, some centuries old, that sunk along the Baltic coast. From the top of the 34-metre lighthouse, you can actually see the mast of one of these ships peeking out of the water.
Your final reward in this stretch of Baltic Poland will be Stilo Beach itself. With its kilometres of perfect sand, clear water and salt-filled air, you’re guaranteed to return home satiated and refreshed.
Written by Sasha Vasilyuk, Dec 2017