Bookshops and traveling are two of the things I love most in life. So it may not come as a surprise that I like to visit the odd bookshop when I travel abroad. Last year, I was fortunate enough to visit the beautiful city of Kraków, in Poland. While I walked among the cobbled streets with their horse-drawn carriages, a tour guide unexpectedly handed me a leaflet. ‘Matras Bookstore, the oldest bookshop in Europe,’ it said. My heart skipped a beat.
Located in the stunning Rynek Główny (the Main Market Square), at number 23, the ornate building that houses the bookshop is in the very heart of Kraków, close to the historic Town Hall Tower and the Cloth Hall.
This area of of the city has been involved in the book trade since 1610. It was in this year that books began to be sold publicly at a house on the Main Square. Originally called ‘Kamienica Kromerowska’ – the House of the Kromer family – this bookstore has expanded and developed over the years and now operates under the name of Matras – a well-known bookselling chain (think the equivalent of our Waterstones).
How could I resist a visit to this magnificent-sounding place? I was greeted with that familiar smell all bookworms love – the smell of deliciously fresh, new books. At first, the shop appeared small. After reading the leaflet I’d imagined a little house with books for sale, but what I discovered inside took me by surprise. Smart-looking shelves lined the walls and were filled to the top, bursting with shiny paperbacks. There was a modern feel to the shop, with sparkling wooden floors, wood panels and display tables beautifully decorated with book towers and bits and bobs to buy. The first sections of books at the store entrance were in Polish, with local authors and illustrators from the city on promotion, like any bookshop.
As you continue through a shelf-covered corridor you find yourself walking up stairs, so engrossed in the books around you that you don’t even realise you’re going up a level. The store is narrow and long, showing how it has obviously expanded over the years. Continuing up the tunnel of books there are quaint little red chairs with accompanying lamps where customers can sit, relax and browse a book before buying. It feels more like a beautiful library than a bookstore, and once I’d got comfortable in one of the chairs I never wanted to leave.
Past the English section, poetry and modern classics, was a coffee shop. Cafés aren’t a new development in bookshops, but this one was hidden up in the attic, like a destination reward for all your browsing efforts. Among the exposed brickwork, modern gallery picture walls and vibrant blue chairs, I bought myself a latte and settled down to enjoy the environment.
This is one of the most unique and beautiful bookshops I have ever had the pleasure to spend time in. A place for travel bugs, bookworms and coffee lovers everywhere.