For Poles, Pomerania’s long northern coastline, which runs along the Baltic Sea, is its major attraction. The summer months see scores of families plunging into the sea, romantic couples holding hands at sunset and stressedout city folk taking advantage of the smaller, coastal resorts and spas.
Sea and (Shifting) Sand
Of all of the region’s celebrated seaside resorts, special mention must go to Łeba. This is a truly gorgeous and relaxing old fishing settlement, which boasts beaches, dunes and blue sky about as far as the naked eye can see. Despite its popularity, it retains a lovely, small ‘village’ feel, and never seems to be thronging and heaving with tourists.
Besides the obvious draw of the beach and water, make some time to take a trek to the Słowiński National Park to see the ‘shifting dunes’ (wydmy ruchome), also called the ‘walking dunes’. Creating a genuine desert landscape smack on the sea, the dunes consist of sand that has been thrown up from the sea by winds, and they peak at 42 meters in height and ‘walk’ between two and six meters annually, burying all that may get in their path. They are the world’s only such phenomenon on this kind of massive scale, and are a bizarre yet stunning sight to take in. If you are in the Pomerania region, seize this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see a ‘walking desert’.
If walking sand isn’t as attractive to you as the stationary stuff that can be stretched out upon, then rest assured: not all the beach towns have shifting sands. The fabulously-named Hel (yes, it is actually pronounced ‘Hell’) Peninsula is also very popular with Poles and tourists alike; with excellent rail connections to nearby Gdynia, it’s an easy place to reach for a day trip. Beaches stretch all along Hel’s northern tip, and are amazingly clean and quiet – with the exception of the more ‘touristy’ beaches close to the hotel and restaurant resorts themselves. These beaches are always packed and noisy; it’s well worth it to venture farther afield for the novel sensation of having (almost) an entire beach to yourself.
As soon as you move southwards away from the sea, Pomerania’s character and landscape changes quite dramatically. Thanks to his geographical location, this part of Poland has seen more than its fair share of invasions and occupations, as everyone from the Germans to the Danes had a crack at controlling the land. As such, mighty castles abound in Pomerania.
Undoubtedly, the most famous castle is Malbork, which is reputedly Europe’s largest Gothic castle, and is Unesco-listed. An easy day trip from Gdańsk, Malbork is at the most eastern side of Pomerania. In the summertime, it is overrun by tour buses and groups, but is worth visiting, despite this fact. Perched on the bank of the Nogat River, it is an awesome and awe-inspiring sight: built by the Teutonic Knights, it eventually became the residence of Polish kings. It retains its stately, regal air, and wears its enormous size and bulk lightly. Perhaps not as famous, but still very impressive, is the Castle of the Pomeranian Princes in Szczecin. The city of Szczecin is the largest city in north-western Poland, and is only 130 km away from Berlin; as such, the castle served an obvious defensive function in history. Today, it is the home of the Castle Museum – where a permanent exhibition of the castle’s fascinating and volatile history is displayed – as well as the auditorium for opera performances. Unlike Malbork, the castle itself is not Gothic in architecture or style: the Renaissance period largely influenced its creators and builders and so it is more plain, less towering and has a lovely bell tower, from which there are incredible views of the city.
Star-Gazing and Street Life
Almost directly north from Malbork is Frombork, a small town with a population of less than 3,000. It would escape most people’s notice, except for the fact that it was here that Mikołaj Kopernik (known more widely as Copernicus) conducted most of the research and observations to reach his amazing heliocentric theory. One of Poland’s favourite sons, Copernicus is buried in the town’s Cathedral, though nobody is sure of the exact location of his body. Despite its small size, Frombork is well-connected to the large city of Gdańsk: with four fast buses (they take about 2.5 hours) daily, and a few trains, a day trip to pay homage to the stargazer is hassle-free and convenient.
Now: Gdańsk itself. Of all the Baltic coast cities, it undoubtedly has the most character, the most impressive Old Town Rynek and the most bustling street life. The city’s most popular street is ul. Mariacka, the heart of cafe culture and trendy amber shopping; every few paces you stumble across another vendor offering you amber in some truly breathtaking settings. Ul. Mariacka also has numerous restaurants with outdoor patio seating, making it the perfect place to sit and have a glass of wine, admiring your new amber earrings and watching the street life go by... the perfect place to end a whirlwind tour of Pomerania.