Now the Mankowskis, in their 30s, have returned to their Polish roots along the Slovak border – winning back some of the family land nationalized under communist rule. They’ve reclaimed and rebuilt the dream of their great-grandfather, Adam Stadnicki, a count who fell in love with the area in 1909 and developed it. A hundred years later, the count’s offspring still identify Poland as their native realm.
The quaint town has been a remote mineral-spring spa since the 19th century, stamped with the ornate carved-wood porches on Austo-Hungarian Alpine A-frames. The town’s higher elevations offer vistas of the Slovakian Tatra Mountains that resemble the craggy peaks of the New Zealand set of the “Lord of the Rings” film. Fly fishers in waders wave their wands in rivers that produced a local kayaking Olympian.
Under communism, the town became an advertisement for egalitarian disrepair and shabbiness, languishing as charmless, boxy, structures multiplied, and the count’s signature mansion – a grand, towering wooden cultural and concert center – burned to the ground.
Last year the Mankowskis – Christophe handling the business end of their company, Thermaleo, Helena doing marketing, and Nicolas designing the look of cafes and walkways after Paris locales such as Montmarte and Trocadero – recreated that center, nearly precisely. It now features a concert hall with retractable seats and a jazz bar with plush trimmings.
The top-shelf spa resort and conference center opened informally in May, and now draws clientele from across Europe and Russia and from the up-and-coming set in Krakow’s information technology boom. The scale and speed of the project is an eye-opener locally.
“It is a new place, it has become something,”says Jan Lazienski, who has worked different jobs in Szczawnica for more than 20 years, and now runs the resort van pool to Krakow.