After a long, hard Saturday night, it's time for a quick lie down, to bask in the steadily brightening early morning sun. Shirt off, bare feet nestled in the soft, white sand, I stare out at the birds circling over the dark blue sea that stretches for miles, a tranquil scene dissected only by the long, weatherbeaten wooden pier. Aaaah ... you gotta love Poland. Beach? Sun? Poland? Yes. Gdansk, actually. Or to be more precise, its little-known gem of a neighbour 10 minutes down the road, Sopot, the former spa and summer playground of the Prussian aristocracy and now Poland's party capital. Asking a travel agent for a beach holiday in Poland is akin to requesting a hiking trip in the Seychelles or golf in the Gobi. But beach holidays in Poland do exist. Good ones too. By day, Sopot offers kilometres of white sandy beach sprinkled with cafes and bars, fringed by cycle paths and promenades, landscaped parks and woodland tracks. An elegant 19th-century town dotted with health spas, Prussian villas and regal summer houses, it also boasts a pier said to be the longest in mainland Europe. By night, Sopot is a mecca for hedonists. Its wealth of restaurants serves a world of cuisine, from French to sushi, Russian to Vietnamese, and its bars attract revellers from all over Poland (and increasingly Germany and Sweden). Its clubs - also a major attraction, being perhaps the best in Poland and drawing top European DJs - bump and grind until dawn. With some clubs on the beach, the now-defunct style magazine The Face drew parallels with Ibiza. As with most things Polish, Sopot is also ridiculously cheap. Zywiec, the best Polish beer, costs HK$10 a pint, while a three-course meal of pancake noodles, rabbit thigh stewed in Dijon sauce and cold sweet plum soup costs about $114 at the starched white tablecloths and varnished oak floors of the 100-year-old, three-star boutique hotel Villa Sedan. Room rates also surprise. The Hotel Maryla, the amply gardened former summer house of Kaiser Wilhelm II perched on the hinterland hills, costs $356 a night. Cheap, cheerful and chic. So what's the catch? Well, the sea is cold (OK, it's absolutely Baltic) and perhaps too much for thin Southeast Asian blood, and you may need an umbrella and Gortex jacket to protect against the unpredictable elements. However, if it does pour, as it did repeatedly on this trip, visitors simply up sticks to the other two cities in what the Poles call the Trojmiasto (the Tri-City). Gdynia, a short drive north, is a boomtown port built in the 1930s but fast earning a name for its good food, affordable modern hotels and lively pier area full of food stalls and floating museums. A 10-minute train or $70 taxi ride south of Sopot lies Gdansk, an all-year-round, one-stop heritage and cultural centre with oodles of history, medieval and modern, whose attractions all lie within a short walk. Painfully restored after a major redesign by allied bombers and Stalin's artillery, Gdansk is redolent of Amsterdam, which is not surprising given the 16th-century Hansa merchant townhouses towering above the cobbled streets and surrounding canals of the Glowny Miastro (main town) were built by the Dutch. Whoever controls Gdansk, it is said, controls Poland, which is why its history reads like a tag team wrestling match between rival powers: Teutonic knights and Polish kings, French emperors and Prussian kaisers, Nazis and communists, all leaving their mark, be it the Gothic red-brick rampart or the Lenin shipyard. Under the Hanseatic League, Gdansk was much like a city state, akin to modern-day Dubai, flaunting its wealth by setting records: the tallest astronomical clock, tallest tiled stove or the monolithic St Mary's (Kosciol Mariacki), reputedly still the biggest brick church in the world, whose cavernous whitewashed interior can host 20,000 worshippers. Gdansk's main walkway leads to the canal and eventually the sea, and is awash with crowds in summer, ambling past the pavement cafes, bars, restaurants and ubiquitous amber shops. Gdansk's streets are paved with this 'Baltic gold', the town seemingly selling little else. Shop staff will soften you up with another local speciality, Goldwasser - also known as Danziger Goldwasser, Gdansk being Danzig until 1945 - distilled here since the 16th century. Local legend has it that Neptune blessed Gdansk's seafaring citizens by putting flecks of gold in their water. Who decided to remix the gold in a potent herb liqueur is another matter, but it warms the cockles on a wet day, especially near the Motlawa canal, which is dominated by its 15th-century crane. Once the largest in Europe, it was operated not by steam or donkey but by men, treading the huge wheels like hamsters. You can still climb up the wooden structure. Opposite lie many of Gdansk's granaries and wharves. With 300 in its heyday, only 20 survive, many being redeveloped, such as the new Hotel Krolewski, a three-star hotel offering modern rooms from $570 a night and fine views of the Glowny Miastro. You can smell the canal-side food stalls, serving kebabs, beer and dorsz and frytki (cod and chips). Here a longer boat ride awaits, to Westerplatte, a concrete bunkered garrison an hour away and the starting point of the second world war, where 180 Poles held off 4,000 Wehrmacht soldiers for six days. Back in Sopot is the refurbished three-star Grand hotel, a 113-room live-in pantheon to art nouveau built in 1927 that dominates the beach. No stay in Sopot is complete without a night there, with spacious double rooms costing $710. Or at least a visit to its casino. Among past guests are Fidel Castro, the Shah of Iran, General Charles de Gaulle and former French president Valerie Giscard d'Estaing. Adolf Hitler also stayed there in September 1939 to watch the invasion. Guests still ask to see and stay in the fuhrer's room, says a maid. The beachfront rooms at the Grand offer the best vistas of the sunrise over Gdansk Bay, though it is spoiled by the house soundtrack from next door's Viva nightclub, an impressive five-bar, two-dance-floor venue attracting a late 20-something, 30-something crowd. The more infamous clubs such as Galaxy and Sfinks lie in the park beyond. Before dancing comes drinking: up and down Sopot's main night-time artery, Monte Cassino, a pedestrianised road that bizarrely boasts buskers singing opera (possibly on their way to work at the grand open-air opera in the park further west). Better bars include Hermdars, more an antique shop cum wine bar than a pub, chock-full of birdcages, old sewing machines and objets d'art, or Spatif, the hangout of celebrities sozzled on Zubrowska, bison-grass vodka mixed with apple juice. There's also Galeria Kinsky, a cluttered shrine to Sopot's most famous native, Mr Nosferatu himself, Klaus Kinski. Bright young things from Gdansk and Gdynia frequent Marinka, a three-level bar that wouldn't look out of place in Lan Kwai Fong. Monte Cassino crawls down to a square full of outdoor stalls, serving kebabs, grilled Polish sausages and onions round the clock, before crossing the road to yet more bars, Sopot baths (where patients seek restorative therapy) and the Molo, its famous pier. Well, famous to the Poles, because at 800 metres long and 167 years old, it's the Baltic's best. At the pier's end, you can see Gdynia to the left, Gdansk to the right and Sopot behind. Why so few people know about these three cities is more an injustice than oversight. Being cloaked for nearly 50 years behind the iron curtain offers an excuse. But now Poland is in the EU that can only change. Soon, a trip to the travel agents for a beach holiday in Poland will no longer prompt surprise or sarcasm. When that time arrives, just ask for a beach holiday in Hel, another charming resort 30 kilometres away. Getting there: Return flights from Hong Kong to Gdansk, via Frankfurt and Warsaw, cost $10,400 plus tax on Cathay Pacific and Polish Airlines. The Grand Hotel, tel: 48 58 551 0041, fax: 48 58 551 6124; www.orbis.pl . Room rates: single from $580; double $730. Villa Sedan, tel: 48 58 555 0980, fax: 48 58 551 0617, www.sedan.pl . Room rates from May to September: single room $485, twin $590, two-bed apartment $800.