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Slovakia

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Did You Know … ?

  • Artist Andy Warhol’s parents came from a village in Slovakia.
  • The mountain bison living in western Slovakia are Europe’s largest land mammal.
  • The Slovak, Stefan Banic, invented the parachute in 1914.
  • The Kremnica mint holds the world record for manufacturing operations without interruption (from 1328).
  • Krasnohorska Cave is the site of the world’s longest stalactite, 107 feet.

The overlooked divorcee

The 1989 Velvet Revolution that swept communists from power in Czechoslovakia was followed in 1993 by the Velvet Divorce, which split the country into the Czech and Slovak republics.

Slovakia, a country about twice the size of New Hampshire, proceeded with nation building without the buzz that made the Czech Republic a go-to place immediately.

Slovakia doesn’t have a city like Prague, but like the Czech Republic it does have the delightful small villages that now appear on UNESCO World Heritage lists. UNESCO also accepted eight of Slovakia’s historical wooden churches as protected sites. In addition, scores of castles tell something of Slovakia’s colorful history; some are like visions from a fairytale and others are haunting in their ruined state.

When Czechoslovakia split, Slovakia got the mountains, located in its central and northern regions. Its ranges, dotted with scenic lakes and valleys, include the High Tatras.

Mountain villages retain many aspects of an older way of life. Tourists may enrich their connection to traditional themes by arriving in time for one of the country’s several folklore festivals.

Natural wonders are underground, too. Some sources say Slovakia has more caves on a per capita basis than any other European country. That may well be true. There are thousands of them. The dozen or so open to the public include ice caverns and UNESCO-protected places.

Furthermore, there are mineral and thermal springs across the country; as a result, Slovakia has a well-developed circuit of spa towns.

The capital, Bratislava, is a lively small city with a delightful pedestrian-only historic center, a white castle prettily set atop a hill overlooking the Danube and a recently redeveloped riverfront with restaurants and bars aplenty, shopping centers and even a new opera house.

The Slovak people are welcoming to foreign visitors, and local prices are easier on the budget than rates in western Europe or even the Czech Republic. Slovakia has the natural and manmade features to lure travelers of all personality stripes, but for the moment, venturesome travelers are likelier to include the country in their plans.

Things to do for Venturers

  • Visit in winter for a ski and snowboard vacation in the High Tatras, the highest range within central Europe’s Carpathian Mountains. Or, at other seasons, climb in the mountains.
  • Spend several days cycling across Slovakia. Create your route by combining seven marked trails in the country beginning with the Danube Cycling Route.
  • Ride a funicular from Stary Smokovec to the ski resort town of Hrebienok, then make the journey back down via mountain scooter. The device is part mountain bike, part scooter and even a bit like a snowboard. Ride the mountain scooter down Hrebienok’s 1.6-mile toboggan run.
  • Check out the watering holes and restaurants along the recently redeveloped riverfront in Bratislava. Order Slovakian beers and wines.
  • Go whitewater rafting on the Bela River; sections of the Bela are recommended only for experienced rafters.
  • Hike into the national parks and look for wildlife, but especially the iconic Tatra chamois, while touring in the mountains.

Things to do for Centrics

  • Plan a driving itinerary that lets you visit UNESCO World Heritage towns (Banska Stiavnica, Bardejov and Vlkolinec). Or make that an itinerary that takes you to some of the country’s wooden churches in the Carpathian Mountains.
  • Fish for catfish or pike in one of the lakes of middle or northern Slovakia.
  • Schedule your visit in the spring for the International Festival of Ghosts and Spirits at the Bojnice Castle. See impersonators reenact episodes related to the past of the castle and its sometimes-unsavory inhabitants.
  • Eat brvndza, a unique cheese made only on Slovakia.
  • See traditional folk dancing and folk clothes at one of several Slovakian festivals. Options include the Zamagurie Folklore Festival, the Saris Song and Dance Festival and Upper-Torysa Folklore Festival. Keep an eye out for the fujara trombita, a musical instrument that can be nearly 20 feet long.
  • Attend one of many carters’ races held in central and eastern Slovakian villages throughout the year. The events measure men and their draft horses in races for speed and tests of skills involved with the logging business.

Things to do for Authentics

  • Buy made-in-Slovakia Bohemian crystal, available in shops around the country.
  • Join a guided tour of one of Slovakia’s famed caves. See bones of the extinct cave bear in Vazecka Cave. Take a boat ride on an underground River Styx at Domica Cave.
  • Spend some down time in one of Slovakia’s spa towns, enjoying the massages and other services.
  • Look for the Tinkers’ Craft Exhibition at the Povazie Museum in Zilina. It’s a rare thing for curators to document the life and times of itinerant tinkers.
  • Get tickets for an ice hockey game in Slovakia; the game is one of the country’s most popular sports. Also, allow time for the Hockey Hall of Fame in Bratislava’s castle.
  • Tour one of the country’s several open-air museums where traditional buildings and furnishings are preserved. The largest is the Museum of the Slovak Village in Martin.

Additional Resources

For more information, consult the Slovak Tourist Board at www.slovakia.travel and choose your language if necessary.