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krisek Ustka - A travel report by Krys
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Ustka,  Poland - flag Poland
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krisek's travel reports

Ustka, Poland’s summer capital.

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Ustka has been competing with a few coastal resorts for the title of Poland’s summer capital. For a number of years, it’s been voted by Poles as the best seaside town for summer holiday. Recently, its slipped to second place after bigger and richer towns.


Ustka - Eastern Beach
Ustka - Eastern Beach
I travel to Ustka few times a year, mainly in the summer. I have friends and family there. I would like to say that I know the place very well, but the resort has been changing so dynamically over the last years that whenever I go again, I keep discovering. In the last couple of years, Ustka has embarked on a revitilisation of its old town. Old fishermen ‘chocolate box’ houses are being rebuillt or renovated.

But it already is a lovely place. The town boasts two large sandy beaches, eastern and western, divided by the mouth of the river Slupia. The eastern beach is adjacent to the main part of the resort and is complete with a waterfront paved promenade, where numerous bars, eateries, pine parks and a small concert hall are placed. The main characteristic of the eastern beach are the sand cliffs, some reaching over 50 meters in height. The western beach is flat, however it is wider and less prone to abrasion. In the summer, a regular ferry takes visitors from one beach to another crossing the little port. In the winter, one has to take a long hike outside the town centre to cross via road bridge.

The resort has tried a number of marketing stunts to attract attention to it as a prime summer destination. It's in constant battle with the town of Leba, 50 km east of Ustka, over the status. The initial fight led to considerable media attention and eventually to a more or less formal process of rating the seaside towns in Poland. One of the contests is called ‘Stars on Sand’ fronted by one of the weekly magazines (Polityka), and is run annually. In the initial few years, Ustka topped the list with five stars, and recently, it slipped to the second place (still with five stars though) following bigger, more developed, busier and richer places like Sopot near Gdansk or Swinoujscie by the border with Germany. Another stunt involved a petition for breast enlargement for Ustka’s mermaid, featured on resort’s coat of arms. It was successful!

Favourite spots:
Ustka - Eastern Beach
Ustka - Eastern Beach
Beyond the end of the waterfront promenade, at the eastern end of the town, where the cliffs gain height, there is a view point over the crescent of the beach, leading to the next resort, Orzechowo and farther. Although the resort is not visible. The spot is on the top of a dune amongst the pine forest, and between this place and the next resort, there are no buildings. A footpath and tourist trail lead to the next village. This viewpoint allows also to admire the beach in the westerly direction. The spot is close to the home of Poland’s only venomous, but shy Zig-Zag snake.

In the middle of the promenade there is a great monument of Fryderyk Chopin. It is positioned as if the great composer, standing on a piano, was looking far into the sea with his hair caught in the Baltic breeze. It is a great spot, considering that Chopin has never been to Ustka.

What's really great:
Kluki - Ethnographic Museum
Kluki - Ethnographic Museum
In the summer, this little resort (c.17,500 inhabitants) gains its pace and braces itself to receive thousands of holidaymakers. However, the hordes of tourists are not visible, apart from the beaches, of course. This is because Ustka has large wooded areas within its limits, which provide hideout and place where the visitors can disperse. It is predominantly pine forest with countless patches of birch tree, growing on sand dunes. It is a protected area, and in the spring, when there is little or no precipitation for weeks, the woods are off limits for both inhabitants and visitors.

From mid June, a number of bars, cafes, eateries, discos and clubs open, and some of them stay open for 24 hours. Often giant tents are pitched on the western beach, which house clubs. These clubs benefit from their location far from residential areas, and are allowed to play loud music non-stop. The popularity of the resort attracts many artists, some of whom organise free open-air concerts.

Sights:
Slowinski National Park - moving dunes
Slowinski National Park - moving dunes
There are not many historical sights in Ustka itself. There is an old and great little lighthouse and a small Neo-Gothic church, both from the end of XIX century. And there are a few little old fishermen houses scattered around the old district. The lighthouse is Ustka’s most recognisable building.

Great sights however lay just a few kilometres outside the town. One of them, perhaps the most remarkable is the Slowinski National Park, boasting Europe’s only moving sand dunes. Just east of the town. On the way, there is an interesting ethnographic open-air museum at Kluki, displaying original houses and households of the local Slovin people. In the larger Slupsk, 18 km to the south, there are a number of medieval monuments and a castle of the Dukes of Pomerania.

Around the western beach, there is a chain of old military bunkers, some dating prior to WWII. They are great (and a little scary) to get lost in them, if one can handle the stench of seventy years old urine. :)

Accommodations:
Ustka - Port
Ustka - Port
Every year I go to Ustka, locals tell me about this new pension, hostel or boutique hotel opening. And yet, it still feels that there is never sufficient number of them. The town has struggled with this problem for years and years. So, locals developed practice to squeeze themselves into one room over the summer and let all other rooms to tourists as bed and breakfast, or just bed and no breakfast. Depending on the standard and location, they would charge from 25 to 35 zloty per night per person.

A few years back, an old warehouse was converted into a 4* hotel, Lubicz. Well, the conversion went beyond recognition, and not even the structure’s tiniest bit resembles the original warehouse. However, it is now the most comfortable accommodation option in town. And the most expensive, too.

But perhaps another interesting option is a small 3* hotel in a converted wheat warehouse, right in the port. It is called Olenka.

And hey, occasionally I slept on the beach by the fire. It was great.

Nightlife:
Ustka - Red Villa (good club downstairs)
Ustka - Red Villa (good club downstairs)
Winter sees only few boogie places open, and some do business only in the weekends. But in the summer, Ustka is partying all day long, all night long, for about two months. The best place is in the converted (yes, again!) port’s wheat warehouse, called Viva. It is so good that people come here from Slupsk, a metropolis of 100,000 people. It is a good idea to book a table, if one wants to sit down every now and again. The place is so flexible that they would accept the euro, when one runs out of their zloty. In the winter, Viva opens on certain weekends and it is as hot as in the summer, and packed with locals only.

The number of places to have a drink, mingle with locals, and mainly other visitors, hop around, listen to the music, is sufficient. Both in the winter and summer. The resort is small, so everywhere is walking distance. The larger disco Kazamaty is a rather dodgy place that it is no stranger to trouble to and interesting element.

Hangouts:
Ustka - Fishing Harbour
Ustka - Fishing Harbour
During the day, the best place to linger and watch people is the waterfront promenade. Every time I go there, people are taking their walks along the seafront. Summer is of course more animated, but other seasons make the drag more romantic - dramatic skies, chill in the air, mighty waves, wind in the hair...

If its warm enough, sitting in a temporary tent bar directly on the beach has always been my favourite hangout. The bartenders usually play cheeky tropical music from Brazil or Cuba.

And of course, there are the forests and dunes in the town, too. A few trails exist and since the wooded areas are under government protection (preservation zone) there is little intervention of the man in them. When a tree collapses, it is left like that untouched and stays there, unless it poses a serious threat to the community. There are some great spots to hide among the dunes.

Restaurants:
Kluki - Traditional House
Kluki - Traditional House
There are few decent places to have a meal in town. The last summer I was in Ustka in 2007, the best place was at the promenade, called City Bar. Their signature dish was roasted pig.

My favourite ever place is a little pizza place, opposite the church, called Jadlo Chata. Pizzas come in various sizes, the largest one would feed a family of four. If the kitchen is about to close, they would still serve their customers, but would seat them in the adjacent sister place Pub Chata. Both have great rustic decor. They are open all year round. There are also other local eateries offering traditional and hearty Polish dishes, like liver, pierogi, bigos, golonka.

The promenade sees many seasonal places open up selling greasy fried fish. The trick is not to order cod. Dishonest places would claim it was fresh, but in the summer fishing of cod is prohibited. It’s best to order salmon or flat fish, instead.

I have seen a few exotic places, like Chinese, open up for one season and then close forever.

Other recommendations:
Kluki - Ethnographic Museum
Kluki - Ethnographic Museum
If it's up one's alley, horseback riding is an option. It is prohibited to ride them on the beach, but the woods and meadows are great places to gallop as well.

Ustka is not the easiest of places to get to. The nearest airport is in Gdansk, about 150 km east. It takes approximately two hours in the winter and, with a bit of luck, about 1.5 hrs in the summer. Last time I drove, the road was in decent condition. The worst bit is the 18 km between Ustka and Slupsk.

Rather infrequent trains connect Ustka with Slupsk (20 minutes), from where direct trains go to a Gdansk, Szczecin, Poznan, Wroclaw and Warsaw.

In the summer season, if talks are successful, Ustka authorities agree with the Danish island of Bornholm a regular boat service. It’s usually a small speed ferry, which would take bikes, but not vehicles. Depending on weather it would take about 1.5 hrs to make the journey.

Published on Monday February 18th, 2008


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Tue, Mar 25 2008 - 01:53 PM rating by basia

:) very nice pictures from my home town!

Fri, Mar 14 2008 - 03:50 PM rating by alfonsovasco

i see that you love your country. taht is very good

Sun, Feb 24 2008 - 01:26 AM rating by jorgesanchez

Text and pictures are super!

Wed, Feb 20 2008 - 12:06 AM rating by rangutan

Another excellent report supported by your colourful photography.

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