I write a lot about travel, and because work is work no matter how cool-seeming your profession, these days it’s tough to get me excited about almost any destination. (I know, cue the tiny violins in my honor—eye roll, eye roll!) So, I was surprised when Eva Dixon, co-founder of slow travel retreat company Godai Escapes, was able to get me jazzed about an experience abroad I’d not really considered: a summertime visit to the countryside of her homeland, Poland.
Specifically, it’s what’s known as the Masurian Lake District, located about three hours by car from Warsaw, which Eva tells me is ripe for a visit, so much so that Godai plans to hold its next escape there this coming July. Since I love any sort of travel which feels hyper-local—and because I never really pictured water sports a part of any trip to Eastern Europe—she had my attention the moment she mentioned standup paddleboarding in a Polish lake after indulging in some quark. (More on that in a minute!)
Below, Eva shares her guide to this magically serene part of Poland as well as a few tips on Warsaw’s must-visit hotspots.
Where to Stay
Warsaw "When in Warsaw I always stay at Autor Rooms ," says Eva. "It’s a charming boutique hotel with thoughtful and eclectic interiors by curated Polish artists that feels more like a friend’s stylish apartment than a hotel." Eva so loves this spot that she has a pet chamber. "My favorite room is 1777 —it has the most beautiful morning light, and I love the open bathroom," she says.
Masurian Lake District Out in the country, Dixon's favorite lodging is Hotel Galery 69. "It's an idyllic hideaway in the midst of woodland and dreamy lakes in a remote fairytale area of northeast Poland," she tells me. "The property was a former furniture showroom and has evolved into a design hotel which seamlessly blends aesthetics and functionality." It’s crafted, she adds charmingly, with "so much love and passion" by the creative founders and "incredible souls" Malgosia and Wojtek Żółtowska. "There is a very special atmosphere of serenity [at Hotel Galery 69] and it calms me subconsciously," she adds.
What To Eat
Warsaw In Warsaw, Dixon's favorite dinner spot is Ale Wino. "They present Polish cuisine in a modern, lighter way and turn the most humble ingredients into a feast," she says. "It’s a must-visit for a casual evening in a friendly atmosphere."
Dixon also tells me that Bibenda is worth a visit. "They do a delicious lunch menu and never compromise with the quality of the produce," she explains. "It’s run by Benio Bielecki, who started his career in his own apartment with a supper club and now has two fantastic places in town."
Masurian Lake District Out in the countryside, Dixon's recommendations are more general—after all, this isn't the setting for 5-star restaurants but rather for fresh and authentic Polish food enjoyed by locals every day. "I highly recommend you try the fresh produce and regional dishes," she says. "Those who are new to Eastern European cuisine will we pleasantly surprised by unexpected tastes." Homemade Pierogi (aka a Polish dumpling), she says, is one her favorite dishes in the world—they come in sweet and savory variations. "For the summer, I love the fillings with blueberries, cherries or sweet twaróg [aka quark, a type of cheese]," she says. "And I love Naleśniki for breakfast—they're crepe-like pancakes I eat with seasonal fruits and vanilla twaróg."
For a light, summery meal or snack, Dixon recommends hering with potatoes and dill or a refreshing pickled cucumber soup. "And being in Masuria, one must try the traditional fish soup and other waterside delicacies," she says. "I could eat the fish soup at Hotel Galery 69 all summer—it varies slightly every day and it’s so good!"
What To Do / See
Warsaw Of course, there is lots to see and do in Warsaw, but Dixon specifically calls out the shopping opportunities as you won't be doing anything of the sort once you leave the city. "When in Warsaw, you have to visit Chylak—they do amazing bags for every day which are elegant and functional." The brand's mini belt bag, she says, is perfect for traveling.
Meanwhile, she offers another hot tip: The most exciting designer in Poland right now, she says, is Magda Bytrum. "She perfectly blends coolness with a bit of grunge and a pinch of romance," Dixon says. "It’s a brand for strong women who are confident and not afraid to mix statement pieces into their everyday life."
Masurian Lake District Once you get out to the lake district, it's time to slow down, says Dixon. "There is no noise [in the Masurian district], the air is clean, and the light that reflects from the water is magical," she says. "Masuria is a playground for curious minds who enjoy outdoor sports, [open] space and being in nature." Her perfect day, she says, would start with standup paddle-boarding, canoeing or sailing followed by a picnic by the lake.
Those who are interested in art and culture, she says, should visit the ateliers of local artists Jan Pruski and Robert Listwan while in the area. "Chances are high that these visits will end with zakąski (Polish tapas) and vodka shots paired with insight about Poland’s rich history," she explains.
Warsaw Warsaw boasts an incredible night scene, says Dixon. "I’m a huge fan of speakeasies and for me Weles is the place to go for drinks and live music," she says. "They serve the most sophisticated cocktails, and being there it’s always an experience."
Masurian Lake District Nightlife in summer in the Masurian district is much quieter, Dixon says, and it pretty much revolves around the lakes. "It’s about sitting by the fireplace accompanied by interesting conversations or just relaxing, doing nothing but absorbing the nature around you," she says. Or, she tells me, you could attend one of the Hotel Galery 69 summer concerts, which take place on a temporary stage built on the lake. "They always have the coolest line-ups of new talents and established titans as the owners have excellent taste and are very well-connected in the music industry," she says.
Dixon also recommends a drive to the nearby town of Olsztyn for a little pub crawl (she specifically recommends a joint called Highlander Whisky Bar).
For more information on Godai's escapes—include their upcoming adventure in Masuria—check out their website here.