travel: A POLE WINNER; Gdansk has it all .. romance, cool and chic culture.
TAKE the romance of Paris, the feel-good vibe of Amsterdam and the cultural richness of Rome and you'll start to get a flavour of Gdansk.
One of Poland's oldest and wealthiest cities, Gdansk is situated on the beautiful Baltic coast. It's only a short flight from Prestwick, but a million miles from what I expected.
All I knew about Gdansk was that its famous shipyard was the place where downtrodden workers formed the Solidarity movement in 1980. But my preconceptions of an industrial, down-at-heel city were way off the mark.
Gdansk was largely destroyed inWorld War II but, astonishingly, it's been rebuilt, piece by piece, often using bricks from the original structures.
Today, it is an enchanting mix of Gothic, Renaissance and Rococo buildings.
The old town is a delight to stroll around, with smart, tenement houses, charming shops, and plenty of pavement cafes to enjoy a coffee or a goldwasser - a local liqueur. We stopped for a lazy lunch at the Brovarnia, a converted granary which is one of Gdansk's newest and most chic hotels.
In truth, I didn't expect to be impressed by the food - Poland is not, after all, readily associated with haute cuisine. But again my preconceptions of slabs of meat and stodgy dumplings were entirely mistaken.
The food in Brovarnia, and later at the cosy Red Door in Gdansk, was outstanding, with fresh, local produce cooked by experts.
And wherever we went on our visit, the hospitality was faultless.
Just a short train trip away from Gdansk, lies the seaside resort of Sopot, known as Poland's summer capital and officially now as one of my all-time favourite places.
We stayed in the luxurious Sofitel Grand Hotel, a newly-refurbished art-deco-inspired landmark which sits overlooking the sea. It has all the facilities you would expect from a five-star hotel, including an indoor pool overlooking the bay, sauna, turkish bath, gym and a beauty spa.
And the rooms are fantastic. Mine had a balcony overlooking a sweeping sandy beach fringing the Baltic and a wooden pier where the in-crowd like to be seen strolling around.
Sopot has been known as a spa resort since the early 19th century and many people still go there for restorative treatments. But Sopot has the feel-good factor without any of that. There are beautiful parks and interesting shops and galleries to wander around, and the town is a hub of social and cultural events which draws musicians, actors and artists.
Some come to work, those who can afford it have bought homes here, and others just come because it's the place to be seen. The nightlife is vibrant, yet laid back. In short, this place is seriously cool.
We stayed one night in the Sofitel Grand and two nights in the Holiday Inn in Gdansk and before we checked out of either, we were already planning a return visit. It was a perfect weekend trip which combined a city break with seaside luxury - inspiring, relaxing and definitely to be repeated.
For information, log on to www.visitgdansk.eu
Wizz Air operate three flights a week to from Prestwick Airport to Gdansk. Prices start around pounds 20 one-way, inclusive of taxes and charges.
Barrhead Travel offer the following break to Sopot: January 20, 2009 - flying from Prestwick with WizzAir, two nights at the five-star Sofitel Grand Hotel Sopot, pounds 199pp. Log on to www.barrheadtravel.co.uk or ring 0141 222 2223.
DELIGHTFUL: The charming waterfront of Gdansk is a wonderful place to stroll around the beautiful buildings before relaxing with a goldwasser liqueur at a pavement cafe; ENCHANTING SIGHTS: The city's Old Town Hall