Mikołajki – a lakeland jewel

The restaurant, Bella Italia 2.0, is in a prime position, right on the promenade running along the waterfront past the rows of sail- and motor-boats moored in the hot August summer sunshine.  The prom was thronged with people, strolling and laughing and talking, looking at the many stalls selling the usual gifts: hippy beads and leather bracelets, assorted fridge magnets, coffee cups in blues and whites adorned with representations of yachts and seagulls and the resort’s name, and piles of stuffed toys, genuine fake Ray-Ban sunglasses and cheap straw sunhats.  Many were enjoying delicious ice-creams, less delicious hot-dogs and kebabs and pink candy floss.  Young girls paused by stalls where teenage girls platted fluorescent green and yellow, blue and purple hair extensions, the youngsters tearfully trying to persuade parents to let them have some too.  At others, equally youthful stallholders sold henna tattoos of dragons and scorpions, and tribal marks like Justin Bieber.  Everything was, of course, at inflated prices, but what the hell – it’s a holiday place, closed for six months a year.  

It was a good restaurant, and we were given a perfect corner table for 8, by the open full-height window to enjoy the views as well as the food.  I took some photos of the panorama of bobbing boats and whizzing jet-skis and the chugging replica pirate ship that, despite the three masts, bowsprit and fake cannon, was diesel powered as it headed into its berth further along the prom, its day of pleasure cruises over. 

The place was packed, to be expected given its position, and our host had secured us the best table: she was a favoured and fairly regular customer in its parent establishment in a street further back from the promenade, so knew the owner well.  2.0 hadn’t been open too long, but had clearly gained a good reputation already – and as it turned out with good reason. The food, as our friend had promised, was excellent, well-cooked traditional Italian fare, good wine and locally brewed ice-cold beer, served quickly and efficiently by friendly smiling staff.  We stayed there well over an hour, eating and drinking, chatting and laughing, before settling the very reasonable bill and heading off for a further stroll around town.

As I watched the beautiful red sunset, I decided I liked this place very much.

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We were in Mikołajki, the holiday capital (if not the administrative one) of Poland’s Mazurian lake district in the north east corner of the country. It had been a hot sunny day, so we had stayed at our friend’s house in a town some 100 kilometres away until late afternoon, still recovering from the previous day’s extensive and tiring canoeing expedition elsewhere in Mazury, before driving back to this area as the temperatures cooled.

I had been to the town once before, the best part of 20 years ago, when I had a long weekend sailing with a group of friends.  We had come into port on the Saturday morning to pick up some much needed supplies (not all of them alcoholic), and I had managed to slip getting off the yacht, much to everyone’s amusement.  But not mine: I had landed flat on my face, my full weight on one arm under which was the unforgiving concrete promenade.  I was in a lot of pain and discomfort, but did my best to hide the fact. I got through the rest of the weekend with the help of Tyskie beer and aspirin, then we went home as I was off to work the next day.  I flew to Zurich, the pain still throbbing in my elbow, and when I finally got to the office excused myself and headed to the nearest hospital.   The x-ray showed I had fractured my elbow, a lovely clean crack in the ball joint of my lower left arm.  They plastered me up and told me to come back in a month to have the cast removed, further x-rays, and hopefully physio. It all went well and in a very short six weeks all was healed.  But it was not a good memory of Mikołajki, and I still haven’t lived the incident down.

The place lies at the centre of a channel linking two of the area’s larger lakes, to the north west Tatry, to the south east Mikołajskie which in turn connects to Lake Sniardwy, the biggest of them all. The town has thus been a tourist destination for pretty much as long as there has been a tourist industry, and remains one of the most popular destinations, not only in Mazury but in the whole of Poland.  

It’s a well deserved reputation, because it’s a lovely place, full of night life, good restaurants and bars, shops and plenty of accommodation at all price ranges. There is a constant stream of vessels arriving and leaving the port, because many of the lakes that comprise Mazury are linked to form a navigable network, including feeder streams for canoes.  It’s a quite wonderful area for a holiday, come rain or shine: given its location, the weather is not always the hot and sunny conditions we enjoyed this year on our visit.  On my original trip, all those years ago, we had hot sunshine, windy overcast and pouring rain, all within the same week, and enjoyed the sailing through it all.

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The town has changed somewhat since then, and now boasts more of everything.  Most eye-catching is a new pedestrian bridge, Most wiszący Mikołajki, that spans the channel, towering over the water and the surrounding streets and buildings.  Floodlit at night, it is spectacular and offers panoramic views across the town and the channel out to the lakes at either end.  I snapped away, trying to do the view justice: the picture at the header of this piece, looking towards Tatry, is probably the best of them.

At either end of the bridge are more souvenir and fast-food stalls, and a cobbled footpath led us back into the old town square. We were in time, in full darkness now, illuminated by dull street lights and the neon signs of bars and pubs and open store doorways, to catch the end of a live concert by what I believe was a local group – and very good it was, too.  I can’t remember their name, but we looked them up on Spotify on the drive home and enjoyed more of their music than the couple of songs we had caught live.

There was also a local beer festival with stalls selling a variety of local beers, but I gave that a miss – way too inviting for my own good!  We checked out a few gift shops and my daughter bought me a new hippy-bead necklace to replace the one I broke at sometime in the past – I can’t remember exactly when, but I think during the Pandemic on a rare trip out. I love ’em.

Then we strolled back to the car, and headed back to our lodgings after a lovely day out.  It’s a place that I liked first time around, and like even more after this visit.  I really is a lakeland jewel, and I can’t recommend it enough.  I must return for a proper look around at some point, to see more of the town and the beautiful countryside that surrounds it – perhaps next year.

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