The cost of looking good is getting ever higher - so now the beauty-savvy are heading to Szczecin and combining their cosmetic needs with a holiday in Poland
The average price of a beauty treatment in London is around £50 - but you could fly out to Szczecin in Poland for around the same amount and get the most advanced beauty treatments at about a third to a half of the UK price. Szczecin, pronounced Stettin (or near enough), is experiencing an influx of tourists from Europe, many of whom have been lured by the cost-effective cosmetic surgery, dentistry, beauty and even hairdressing on offer.
While going under the knife on holiday may not be the most relaxing of thoughts, many sturdy tourists have had boob jobs and bum lifts, returning from their hols with their very own extreme makeover. For the faint-hearted (eg me), the beauty treatments are a real draw and are among the most cutting-edge on offer. At the Philosophy of Beauty, therapist Monica gave me a body scrub and then put me in a sauna bed (like something out of The Fifth Element), leaving me with soft skin and a dreamy sensation that made me miss my taxi.
You may find that you start doing a bird impression while you’re here (cheap! cheap!) as just about everything is at least half the price of London. A taxi-ride is about a fiver to most city-centre destinations. A main meal in a nice restaurant is again around a fiver. High street shops like Morgan and H&M can be found in the Galaxy centre (like a big Brent Cross), with prices about two-thirds of those in the UK, and regular sales.
The nightlife is enjoyable, as the locals seem to be extremely tolerant of bad dancing and you get some stunning girls paired up with some beaten-with-the-ugly-stick men who gyrate frighteningly out of time with the music. You also don’t get the drunken loutishness, despite the fact that beer is only about £1.30 a pint. Polish men are famously gallant and are unlikely to try to cop a feel. A few of the popular clubs can be found just a bit set back from the river, for example City Hall (formerly the town hall, now a funky club, playing an unholy mix of techno and electro-pop) and Rocker club (better music and lots of rock memorabilia).
The city is also ideal for excursions into nature, being surrounded by some superb pine forests and about an hour away from the sea. There are quite a few gardens and parks in the city itself and it has a strong café culture in the summer. The city was planned in exactly the same way as Paris, so the layout will seem strangely familiar. However, Szczecin is a great deal more affordable than Paris and in the summer heat it more than holds its own. Head out to the Old Town to enjoy the mix of German- and French-inspired architecture while sipping an espresso or two.
Szczecin also boasts the oldest cinema in the world. The Pionier cinema began screening films in 1909 and continues to do so. The old-fashioned red curtains part to show a screen that is small, but the seats are all velvet-covered and comfy. As many of the films shown here are subtitled instead of dubbed, you can enjoy an English or French film (if your Polish isn’t up to much) or just hang around looking all arty in the bar/café that is part of the oldest cinema in the world’s appeal.
After all these activities, you’ll probably be ready for some more spa treatments. Studio Masumi have a salt chamber where you can sit and soak up the good vibes. If you get bored, book yourself in for a bracing massage. A word of warning: they believe in the ‘no pain, no gain’ maxim here, so expect a pummelling. You will walk out refreshed and revived, though.
In terms of sustenance, while the Greeks see vegetarianism as an unfortunate affliction, the Poles see it more as being mythological. Vegetarians, fairies and unicorns all frolic winsomely at the edge of Polish reality. Menus here have things like fish wrapped in meat and, of course, meat wrapped in meat, just in case you thought they were serving you some wussy single animal dish. Try the zurek, a hearty stew served in a half-rye, half-wheat bread bowl. Not vegetarian but, as we know, they’re only in our imagination.
A number of hotels have excellent restaurants within them, so try ones like the Neptun at the Orbis Neptun hotel or Renaissance in the Radisson SAS. Staying in the Radisson’s complex, a place not to miss is café 22, located on the 22nd floor, with panoramic views of the city. End a day of exploring the city with a hot chocolate and slice of cake here. With the local reputation for cosmetic surgery, you can indulge, knowing a tummy tuck is quite do-able on your next trip to the city.