This month we’ve explored some of Warsaw’s most historic hotels to bring you the back story behind the city’s grandest and most glamorous addresses – and where better to begin than the majestic Raffles Europejski Warsaw?
The 2018 launch of the Raffles Europejski Warsaw was the culmination of a meticulous renovation that saw no expense spared. But so much more than just another sumptuous hotel, its inauguration marked the return of an iconic building that has often been at the forefront of the trials and triumphs experienced by Warsaw.
Originally opened in 1857, Henryk’s Marconi’s Neo-Renaissance design for the Europejski was complemented by lavish interior touches by his son, Karol, and his nephew, Ferrante. Impressing from its inception, people traveled from far and wide to enjoy the cooking of Józef Wysakowski, the former chef to Spain’s Queen Isabel – quickly, the hotel earned a reputation as arguably the most elegant in the whole of the Tsarist Empire.
Refusing to stand still, further improvements were made to coincide with its 50th anniversary; partly goaded by the opening of the Bristol across the road, the upgrade included the introduction of sound-proofed doors, electric elevators and telephone booths.
The stars of the day flocked there (among them, the avant garde painter Witkacy and actress Helena Modrzejewska, a.k.a. Poland’s most beautiful woman), and the Europejski’s glittering New Year’s Eve parties found themselves immortalized after being featured in The Doll (Lalka), a 19th century classic that has come to be regarded by many as the greatest literary work in the history of Poland.
Rechristened the Europäisches in 1939, the Nazi occupation saw it designated as Nur für Deutsche and for the following five years its corridors clicked to the goosestepping jackboots of visiting German officers.
Heavily damaged during the 1944 Warsaw Uprising, it reopened as a hotel in 1962, albeit a pale shadow of what it once was. Nonetheless, the lack of competition saw it maintain its reputation as the city’s top hotel, and as such the big names continued to check-in.
Of the ‘slebs that lodged at the post-war Europejski, Marlene Dietrich was one of the first with the chanteuse snootily complaining that the lift wasn’t large enough for her four-meter fur (in a huff, she reputedly switched to the Bristol opposite).
Next came The Rolling Stones, with their two landmark gigs prompting riots around town. According to legend, their press conference at the Europejski only went ahead following a last-minute bribe, while other anecdotes claim they finished their first night in Poland downing vodka shots in the bar before eventually crawling back to their rooms “on all fours”.
Of course, not all high-profile visits were as chaotic, and one of the hotel’s prouder post-war moments came in 1970 when Willy Brandt signed a declaration officially normalizing relations between Poland and Germany. Soon after, the West German Chancellor would send further shockwaves across the world by dropping to his knees in front of the Jewish Uprising Monument in Muranów.
For the Europejski, however, the years that followed brought only gloom, a decline finally halted when a 2005 court ruling returned it to its rightful pre-war owners. Working in tandem with Raffles, the resulting restoration has seen the hotel become a benchmark in luxury and a showcase of the finest Polish art and craftsmanship.
Fittingly, among the first VIPs to stay were the Rolling Stones. Visiting Poland as part of their No Filter tour, it was a clear affirmation that this stunning hotel had returned to its rightful perch among Europe’s greats.
Truly extraordinary in every respect, the Raffles Europejski Warsaw has bridged the past with the present in peerless fashion – that the building also now doubles as home to outposts of Vogue Poland, Hermes, Aston Martin and Brunello Cucinelli only serves to underline its blue ribbon reputation as one of the most beautiful addresses in the country.