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‘Tis the season for heavy blankets and warm mugs, especially in Poland. Eastern Europe is infamous for its frigid winters, so it’s no surprise that local traditions have adapted to make the season as enjoyable as possible. Even on the coldest days in Kraków, bars and cafés are still bustling, serving beverages that warm from the inside out.
In the rynek (main market square), situated around the 16th-century Sukkienice (Cloth Hall), the annual holiday market brims with locals and visitors alike. Lines form at giant barrel-shaped booths that serve steaming grzaniec galicyjski (Galician mulled wine), steeped with nuts and dried fruit. It’s almost customary for visitors wander the rows of the market admiring the painted pottery, thick animal skins, shining ornaments, with hands wrapped around steaming cups.
If wine can be warmed, so can beer. Often surprising to foreigners, grzane piwo (mulled beer), can be found in most bars in the city. Its distinct colour and flavour come from flavoured syrups that are added to the beverage. And, like its seasonal counterpart, grzane piwo is infused with therapeutic ingredients like honey, cinnamon, and cloves.
Mulled wine and beer are winter staples, but Poland did not earn its reputation as a vodka producer for nothing. Vodka, in particular, is believed to have health benefits. It’s not uncommon to make nalewka (infused alcohol) at home during the summer months when fresh fruit is in season.
In the winter, it’s served warm with krupnik (honey wine), is made from 80–100 percent grain alcohol with a number of herbs. The recipe often varies, but one of the best versions in Kraków can be found at Bomba Klub, not far from Hotel Indigo Kraków. Their iteration includes immune-boosting slices of citrus fruit and cinnamon.
For non-alcoholic winter pick-me-ups, there’s always tea, coffee, and a sweet classic: hot chocolate. At bars and cafés throughout the city, molten chocolate is constantly churning, enticing children and adults alike. In the rynek, trust none other than the Polish chocolatier E. Wedel for your drinkable dessert. For the best mug in the city, though, stop by cosy Mleczarnia in the Kazimierz district. They serve up impressive variations with ingredients ranging from chilis and cinnamon to vodka. While you sip, admire the surroundings, decorated by heart-warming antiques.
In Poland, the best defence against the blistering cold is warm alcohol (and hot chocolate). With so many delightful mugs to choose from, it’s no wonder that visitors catch on quickly to these local winter traditions.