If you ask anybody who has bought and renovated a manor if they have any regrets, the common answer is, “No.” However, after a brief pause, they add, “I would never do it again.”
Zofia Koczan smiles as she mulls over this question. She takes a moment to recall those nerve-wracking days when she and her husband renovated the roof and the facade of their manor, dubbed the old palace of Bukówko. I remember thinking at the time, “What have we done?” Should they have been more cautious when buying a house measuring 1700 square meters considering that no one else took an interest in it?
Her smile demonstrates that she overcame her doubts a long time ago. However, she gave in to the fact that caring for this old house was simply her calling. Twenty years ago, she and her husband Zdzisław had bought the former residence of the German Family Heydebreck. Since 1810, they have been in charge of the estate and its 1489 acres of land. However, in 1939, the place fell into the ownership of today’s Parsęta Basin River region of Western Poland.
Furthermore, lost places and unspoiled nature combine to create a wild romanticism in the area, which has been home to the Koczan couple since 1988. However, Zofia Koczan took a seat in the entrance hall to tell the story of how the teacher couple became private hotel owners.
It was past eight o‘clock that evening, and she was making quite an effort to focus. Her thoughts are partly occupied with the well-being of her guests, the South-Baltic-Manor-Project team. We have traveled from Lithuania, Germany, Denmark, and partly Northern Poland to experience the charm of the region of our partner association and discuss the ongoing process of achieving our major aim—highlighting the beauty and variety of the Baltic manorscape.
Besides, Zofia can easily handle my extra request to interview her. With over a decade of experience as a teacher and nearly two decades as a host, she understands how to deal with a variety of demands with patience and kindness. However, being a host was never part of the plan.
She explained that she and her husband, Zdzisław, came to Bukówko because they needed more space. With its four-meter plus high ceilings and huge windows, the proportions of a manor offer a feeling of freedom. Before Bukówko, the couple had lived in a small house in a village near her hometown of Braniewo, located in the district of Masuria. “It wasn’t suitable for two adults, three children, and a fourth on the way.” So, in 1988, they moved into their large flat in the manor, which had been turned into a school for 120 pupils. “The house had the atmosphere of a school, but everyone still called it ‘the palace,’ she recalls.”
Zofia, then 29, was happy for two reasons: First, she and Zdzisław had found work as teachers. Second, and perhaps more importantly, they had found a true home for themselves, one that perfectly met their needs as a family. Finding a flat in the late 1980s was a difficult task during the Communist era. People’s lives were mostly dominated by the government—where to work and how far they could advance based on their willingness to comply with the authorities. Finding a nice place to live was considered a luxury. People were used to being squeezed into the smallest of chambers, and getting married was always a good idea because, after being officially confirmed as a respectable union, one could hope for a prioritized position on the waiting list.
With the Koczans already married, the manor of Bukówko turned out to be the perfect two-in-one option. With the teacher-families living and working under the same roof, “It was a lovely time,” says Zofia.
Despite their happiness, they were always short on money. When they could not afford a new tire for their old Fiat, they began looking for alternatives. However, it became the turning point in their lives, propelling them into a self-employment adventure. Zofia recalls, “My husband made up his mind to find a solution. One day, while playing with our children and their wooden toys, it suddenly struck him: ‘Why not build furniture out of wood?’” In fact, finding a flat was not the only disadvantage one had to endure as a citizen of the Communist regime; people also had to endure tough restrictions on consumerist matters. Moreover, you could not just enter a shop and get what you wanted. You had more or less two options to get the desired item: either ask for help from those who could miraculously get them and would be willing to share them with you as an act of generosity or pity (or both), or handle the problem in a do-it-yourself manner. The latter turned out to be the most lasting decision for the Kosczan couple.
In 1990, Zdzisław was able to quit his job as a teacher and start his own company as a wood builder. People from all around asked for his furniture, which was hard to get in a rural region. Ten years later, those skills were demanded at a grander level. However, in 2000, the municipality decided to close the school. Thus, the Koczans were confronted with two tough decisions: leave the manor or buy it.
“We did not want to lose our home, and the company was running well. So, after careful consideration, we finally said, ‘Let’s do it!’” says Zofia. With the help of friends, the Kosczans were able to buy it, putting them on top of a line with a longstanding history of ownership of Bukówko manor. Zofia finally quit her job as a teacher to take care of her husband’s business. At first, they planned to live in the manor and turn it into a showroom for the furniture he produced.
His skills went into every corner of the house, repairing stairs and windows. Over time, he comes to believe that he has built 60 wooden frames all by himself. Even these days, Zdzisław likes it best “when something in the house is done.” On the other hand, Zofia enjoys having visitors, as she says.
When his colleagues stayed overnight, she realized the hidden potential of all the space they had to offer. “I felt that people enjoyed the familiar atmosphere in our house. So I thought, ‘Why not share it with others?’” Until today, Zofia has evolved the manor into a safe haven for everyone. Birthday parties and weddings are regularly held at Bukówko manor, which also means extra pay for their helpers from the village. Surrounded by a large park, close to the River Chotla, and with a rather practical interior, it also serves as an excellent stopover for Kayak fans. Even today, the Koczans hold a warm welcome for their guests. As part of the agrotourism concept, they want to share an easy-going lifestyle. They transformed their former schoolhouse into a place that is run by a down-to-earth mentality and reflects the values of the family: dedication to working hard and great pleasure in making others feel comfortable. Their excellent cuisine certainly contributes to this.
Agroturystyka w Starym Pałacu
The 19th-century manor is located near the River Chotla, which is a great spot for fishing fans. The house offers up to 50 beds, and you can rent bikes and use the sauna, table tennis, a playground, and a grill for your pleasure. You can even smoke fish and dry mushrooms in the oven. The basement community rooms hold a SAT TV, a cafeteria, a conference hall, and a kitchen. Campers are also welcome—a great place for holding functions, weddings, birthday parties, family gatherings, etc. Pets are also allowed to stay. The surrounding nature provides excellent walking and biking opportunities.