Winter Holiday at the Baltic

Castles, Copernicus, and Cold Beaches

When you’re as active as Ela and I, February presents a challenge. We feel the need to get out and do something, but there are only a few winter holidays we find suitable. We’re not skiers, we don’t climb anymore, so we have to get creative when we plan a winter holiday.

Winter holiday at the Baltic
Winter Holiday at the Baltic

“Let’s go to the beach,” Ela suggested.

“Greece?” I guessed. A lot of Europeans visit the Mediterranean in the off-season.

“I’m thinking the Baltic,” she replied.

“The Baltic? In February?”

“It’s off-season, so the rooms will be cheap. We can get a place up on the coast, take a day to visit Malbork, and maybe another day to go to Frombork. What you think about it?”

The Baltic in February

I didn’t know what to think, to be honest. February seems like a terrible time to travel to northern Poland, but I’ve wanted to visit the Malbork Castle since I moved to Europe.

Sure enough, she found a nice little apartment with a kitchenette within walking distance of the beach for 50 USD/day. And it only a couple hours’ drive to Malbork Castle. Her plan was to visit the UNESCO world heritage site on one day, relax in town and around the beach on Day Two, and do the round trip to Frombork on the Day Three. One last day on the coast and then home… less than 400 USD inclusive round trip.

Malbork Castle

Malbork Castle during our winter holiday
Outside Malbork Castle

The Teutonic Order of crusaders started construction on the medieval fortress in 1274… and it took more than one hundred years to complete the largest brick castle in the world. Almost destroyed during WWII, Poland restored Malbork to its present state… a UNESCO World Heritage site.

It was massive. Walking around the perimeter before entering, Ela explained that about half of its 52 acres were used for the support village. It took a small city to provide the goods and services the knights needed to live, and those people resided inside the perimeter but outside the walls of the main castle.

When we crossed the second drawbridge, we toured the structures that provided office space and housing for administrators and members of the Order.

Inside Malbork Castle
Drawbridge to Inner Castle

Not Just Knights

In 1466, both castle and town became part of the Polish Malbork Voivodship. It served as one of the several royal residences, fulfilling that function for over 300 years (twice as long as it was headquarters of the Teutonic Order). Each section was separated by moats and drawbridges; a castle within a castle with a support village adjoined.

Model of Malbork Castle
Model of Malbork

As an American, I am always amazed at the look and feel of real history. My home country has existed less than half as long as Malbork Castle, and walking the grounds, seeing the tombstones, and imagining life inside was easier than I had imagined. It made medieval history tangible.

Seaside Village

It took the whole day to tour Malbork Castle, so the next day we relaxed and walked around the coastal village. It looked like any modern tourist town except that there were not many tourists. But the restaurants were open and a few of the souvenir shops, so it felt like real holiday.

Baltic Coast in February
Baltic Coast in February

After coffee and cakes, we went over to the beach. The wind was blowing which gave the water some texture, but we were comfortable in our coats and hats. The beach wasn’t entirely deserted, but it felt like we had it to ourselves. Afterwards, we had an early dinner and rested up for the next day… our trip to Frombork.

Home to Copernicus

Copernicus in Frombork
Statue of Copernicus in Frombork

“So tell me again why we’re going to this little town?” I had never heard of Frombork. All I knew is we were getting closer to Russia by the minute. I could see the Vistula Lagoon from the road.

“This town is where Copernicus is buried. He worked here during his life and wrote his famous book in his home at the Cathedral. The castle was much smaller than Malbork, but I think it is just as interesting.”

Renaissance Scientist

Copernicus - Renaissance Scientist

Copernicus! The man who calculated that the Earth rotated around the sun… one of the great scientists of the Renaissance Era. Most people think of that period of history as the rebirth of art and literature, but science took giant leaps forward, too. And one of the greatest scientists of that time was Nicholas Copernicus.

The town itself occupied that space on the coast since the 13th century, and Copernicus lived there in the early 1500s. We spent the whole afternoon walking the grounds, during the Cathedral, and visiting the observatory across the street where we walked the winding stairs to the top and glassed the Vistula Lagoon.

Glassing the Vistula Lagoon
Enjoying the View

We spent our last day in town relaxing on the beach. The Baltic coast is interesting to me because the beaches are backed by forests. We left our hotel and walked for fifteen minutes on wooded trails, which suddenly opened up to the sea. It was very relaxing in the perfect way to end our winter holiday in Poland.

Winter Holiday on the Baltic

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  1. I think this is a definite must do on my list when I get there. Although, not in February, Lol.

  2. Walking through history! Thanks for sharing this – had no idea of this castle. Outsizes my Fort by about 50 acres!

    • It was amazing, Mike… and there were museums inside. Armor, weapons (from Europe, Asia, and Persia), priceless Renaissance paintings. So very cool, my friend.

  3. The Baltic Sea after the season can be really interesting. Following the trail of the knights of the Teutonic Order, you can learn about the fascinating history of this order.And this is only a small part of what is in this area.A great adventure for people who love stories and exploring new places

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