In all my years of travel, I have never received a complementary upgrade. Not in a hotel, not on a plane. Never. Not once. So when I checked in to Hotel Bellotto in Warsaw, Poland, and was told I would be receiving one, I truly did not know what to expect, but I was certainly excited.
The assiduous bellman hauled my luggage along, pointing out the features of the hotel as we proceeded — the lobby bar and lounge, the café, the Italian restaurant, the elevator to the casino. He explained that the elevator I should use ascended only one floor; I would have to walk up the next two flights of stairs to my room. That hardly sounded like an upgrade.
On the second floor, we passed the spa, where you can indulge in a dry or wet sauna, or a very soothing 90-minute massage. The next flight of stairs led us to my room, apartment 301, the only room on the floor, transforming the staircase into a virtual private one just for me.
He escorted me in and pointed out the apartment’s features before taking his leave. As soon as he did, I threw myself onto the sofa, took a deep breath, and immediately understood what I had been missing all these years without upgrades.
The crescent-shaped hotel with two wings and a central entrance adorned with four Corinthian columns supporting a sculptural pediment takes up the entire block. Fronted by a trimmed lawn and bookended by the café and the Italian restaurant, Hotel Bellotto presents a handsome appearance. Originally constructed in the 16th century as the palace for Polish primates (the chief bishops or archbishops), Hotel Bellotto has experienced a tumultuous history. Destroyed during the Swedish invasion in the mid-1600s, the palace was rebuilt with baroque flourishes, only to be destroyed again by invading Saxons, Vlachs, and Cossaks in 1704. Rebuilt a second time, the palace was expanded and carried on until the first half of the 18th century, when it was demolished and rebuilt in the rococo style. A few decades later, it underwent another general reconstruction, which saw the addition of the wings with pavilions and the pediment. Then came World War II and yet another catastrophe: The palace was destroyed during the September Campaign in 1939, when Poland was invaded from all sides. It was rebuilt after the war and served as a branch registry office, where many marriages were celebrated, before being converted into a hotel and named after Bernardo Bellotto, often referred to as Canaletto (not to be confused with his uncle and teacher, who was also called Canaletto).
Why name a Polish hotel after an Italian artist who was active in the 1700s? Nephew Canaletto excelled at vedute, urban landscape paintings, and left behind a vast number of masterful and unbelievably detailed scenes of the cities in which he lived under the aegis of royal figures, including Venice, Rome, Dresden, Vienna, and Munich. He spent the last 20 years of his life in Poland as the court painter for the Polish king, completing dozens of vedute of Warsaw (many of which are on display in the Canaletto Room in the city’s Royal Castle). These same paintings survived World War II and ultimately served as a major source of architectural reference when city leaders decided to redintegrate the core of Warsaw in the style of yore rather than 1950s modernism. Today, much of Warsaw looks like it did before the Nazis and Soviets annihilated it, thanks largely to Bellotto’s work.
Given the size of the hotel, I was surprised to learn it contains only 20 rooms and suites. If you should be attending a conference or other event, you’ll end up in the basement, where you can experience the hotel’s past among the brick arches from the original 16th-century structure. On the ground floor, a buffet breakfast is served in the restaurant, Focaccia, where you’ll start your day with, for instance, an omelet with ham and chives, fresh watermelon and pineapples, and Nutella-walnut cake. You can return there for dinner, inside or al fresco, and enjoy some gnocchi with sage butter, and, no surprise, focaccia bread with olive oil and fresh rosemary. In between, the Miodowa Café satisfies your sweet tooth with everything from honey-lemon and strawberry-pistachio cakes to banana bread, meringues, truffles, and muffins.
Of course, to see all that, you’ll have to leave your room, but apartment 301 made that a little difficult for me to accomplish. The living room was large enough to host a small party, complete with sofa, a couple of club chairs, a writing desk and coffee table, a credenza under the flat-screen television for your bartending duties, and a half-bath for your guests. The more than one dozen light switches kept me occupied for a while in my search for what they illuminated, and the electronic curtains, activated by just a gentle tug, were a precursor to a lack of even the tiniest effort I would have to expend while I was staying here.
Through the living room’s French doors, I entered the bedroom, with another flat-screen TV and a queen-sized bed populated by eight pillows. The adjacent dressing corridor, lined with ample shelves, bathrobes, and slippers, led into the marble bathroom with a marble bench and spacious circular shower.
Short of a kitchen, the apartment was larger than the apartment in which I live. And it was infinitely quieter, an unexpected treasure, given that Hotel Bellotto is located on a fairly active street, just one block from the opera house in one direction, one block from the Royal Palace in the other, and the bustling Old Town Square just a few blocks past that (although the rear of the hotel overlooks its garden and follows the practically silent street where Chopin used to roam). Given the configuration of the hotel and my room’s situation, I had no one above me, no one next to me, no one below me once the spa closed at 10 every night (and spas are fairly silent to begin with), and no one roistering in the hall or using the stairs outside my door except for the maid in the morning, long after I had vacated the apartment for the day — all of which meant I was enjoying lots of undisturbed slumber in the lap of luxury every single night in this Polish exemplar of accommodations.