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Cracow History

Founded by Prince Krak in the 7th century, the city ostensibly came about after the Prince heroically defeated the local dragon, though historians consider the city’s convenient location alongside the Vistula River a more plausible explanation for settlement. Whatever the truth, the city swiftly became a hub for trade and continued to flourish well into the 13th century.

But in 1241, the city almost ceased to exist following a severe beating from the Tatars, who burned it to the ground. Undaunted, within 20 years a new town centre had been built, which included the gorgeous Rynek Glowny square. To the south, the imposing Wawel Castle was erected, in part to prevent a repeat.

Economic prosperity and a cultural boom led to a golden age in the 15th and 16th centuries, during which the affluent nations of Poland and Lithuania merged into a single state. However, this came to an abrupt end when Russia, Prussia and Austria carved up Poland in the Third Partition of 1795, effectively erasing it from the map.

In the 18th and 19th centuries, Poland witnessed a nationalist revival, and by the 20th century, the large eastern European empires had dissolved. Much to the delight of Poles, the Treaty of Versailles declared that Poland was once again a sovereign state, although the country’s new-found freedom would be short lived thanks to the Nazi invasion of 1939.

Under German occupation, the nearby town of Oswiecim was chosen as the site for the largest death camp in the Third Reich, Auschwitz. In Cracow itself, a ghetto was built south of the river in Podgorze, which became the temporary home for the city’s Jewish inhabitants, many of whom were later murdered in the nearby Plaszow camp or at Auschwitz.

With Germany defeated, post-war Poland fell under the sway of the USSR and endured four decades of Communism. Since the fall of the Soviet Union, Cracow has regained much of its past glory. While no longer capital of Poland, its burgeoning art scene has led to it being dubbed the country’s ‘creative capital’ – a title it still holds today.

Did you know?
• Cracow is Poland’s longest serving capital, having done the job for 500 years between 1038 and 1596.
• Astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus, who put the Sun at the centre of the universe rather than the Earth, studied at the city’s Jagiellonian University.
• Only one in four Cracow buildings survived following the 1655 Swedish invasion known as the 'Deluge'.

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Palac Bonerowski

In the 16th century, Palac Bonerowski was the opulent abode of a wealthy, aristocratic family called the Boners (no chuckling at the back). Today the former royal residence is one of the finest, most lovingly restored hotels in Cracow. Located directly opposite the Main Market Square, Palac Bonerowski sits within a UNESCO World Heritage site and has some of the best views in town. Inside, the elegant rooms are still fit for royalty, and there are period features aplenty.

Hotel Polski

This slice of local history has been operating as an inn since 1815, making it one of the oldest hotels in Cracow. Modern amenities aside, guests could be forgiven for thinking they've stepped back in time; the hotel retains its decadent, 19th-century charm with beautiful antique furniture and period features. Add to that the stunning, Old Town location and exemplary service and you have to surmise this hotel will be good for another 200 years.

Hotel Mikolaj

Nestled down a quiet side street near the Main Market Square, Hotel Mikolaj is a tranquil retreat in the centre of this lively city. The refurbished town house has 10 cosy rooms, including suites which come with a kitchenette and lounge. If you don't fancy the short stroll into town for dinner then the hotel boasts an in-house restaurant, which serves Polish and international fare over two atmospheric levels.

The Piano Guest House

Enter The Piano Guest House and you follow in holy footsteps; Pope John Paul II visited twice when he was vicar of the parish in the 1950s. Today, this beautifully preserved, Viennese-style town house (which has been in the same family since 1886) is something of a diamond in the rough, although the legendary hospitality, beautiful breakfasts and the property's raconteur owners more than compensate for the scruffy neighbourhood.

The Secret Garden Hostel

The Secret Garden Hostel covers all bases, offering guests a choice of dorm rooms, luxury doubles and apartments within staggering distance of the lively Jewish quarter, Kazimierz. Private rooms are simple and contemporary with wrought-iron furnishings, colourful walls and vibrant bed spreads making for a clean and comfortable stay. The staff are friendly and knowledgeable and, although the buffet breakfast is a fairly basic, DIY affair, you really can't grumble for the price.

Hotel Amadeus

Located within the labyrinth of Santa Cruz, Hotel Amadeus is set in a classically-furnished, 18th-century manor house and has music as a theme. Several instruments, including a grand piano, are available for use by guests. Rooms are small but attractively furnished, with antique furniture and original patterned tile flooring. The hotel's rooftop terrace opens up to a panorama of Seville’s historic centre and is an excellent spot to enjoy breakfast.