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Slovakia

By Dmitry Petrounin Dmitry Petrounin Section editor Profile
Buried deep in the heart of Eastern Europe is the small but mightily significant republic of Slovakia. Independent since 1993, this virtually unknown land is slowly getting the recognition it deserves on tourist and traveller radar.

Travel guide

King of folk culture

Here is a country only a couple of decades old but with one of the most fascinatingly ingrained folk cultures on the continent. From the heights of its grey-stone fortresses buried into mountainsides to its sprawling lowland forests and secluded country villages, you'll find a country whose attachment to its local history is endearingly profound.

Hiker's paradise

Jagged mountains, rolling green plains and a world-class national park put hiking high on the list of Slovakian must-do activities. The Slovak Paradise range has a name which says it all, attracting increasing numbers of walkers to explore its wandering trails through gorges and waterfalls, and up fixed ladders linking different sections.

Winter activities

In turn, the winter months provide some of the best and most solitary skiing in Europe, lost to civilization in the High Tatra Mountains. The highest altitudes, namely to the northeast, provide the best skiing and the most challenging slopes, as well as perfect conditions for cross-country skiing.

Blooming Bratislava

In the capital, Bratislava, as well as the smaller towns and villages that pepper the Slovakian countryside, a beautifully preserved heritage stands out above all else, with endless old castles and wooden churches just begging to be explored. You'll find tons of quirky museums, a tumble-down Old Town and more cafes than anyone has ever cared to count...

Head east

But don't just keep to the capital, venture out east to the UNESCO-recognised towns of Levoca and Bardejov for a welcome dose of preserved medieval town centres. Here you'll find a great base for exploring the Slovak Paradise, along with excellent surrounding hiking in the hills of Beskyd Mountains.

Introducing Kosice

City-breakers, listen up. Slovakia's eastern Kosice is quickly establishing itself as one of Central Europe's biggest weekend destinations. The beautiful medieval town certainly has size on its side, offering just the right amount of quirky art installations, historic monuments and day trips to satisfy a short-stay visitor. Once you've become acquainted with the town's monument-packed central square (namestie) and quaint streets, head into the surrounding region to explore the region's majestic cave systems.

Day tripping

The city also provides a great base for exploring the eastern realms. An easy hour's drive to the north lies the formidable fortress of Spis Castle, towering high above the village of Spi?ské Podhradie and. One of the largest castles in Europe, the site includes never-ending outer walls and a central tower offering incredible views out over the rest of the region. Keep an eye on the castle's calendar of events for night tours and medieval festivals, especially during the summer months.

Our Editorial team's advice

Summer may be the season which sees the largest amount of tourists, but consider a spring or autumn trip to Slovakia. The country's road-lined trees are in full blossom throughout May and the cool but bright days make for excellent hiking weather. Otherwise, its woods in September and October offer all the colours of the season, as well as staying relatively rain-free.

Slovakia has plenty to offer those on a quest for an active holiday. Try a trip down the Dunajec gorges in a raft. The descent of one and a half hours starts at Cerveny Klastor and the parade of rocks passed as you float downstream is immense. If water isn't your thing, there's always ?spelunking', which will take you to explore Slovakia's many UNESCO-listed caves.

Hiking is a national pastime so pull your walking boots on and get involved. The country's trail system is one of the best sign-posted and interesting in Europe, with plenty of quirky extras and spectacular scenery to boot. Cycling is also a great way to explore more of the countryside, with a network of cycle paths and adrenalin-pumping Mountain biking tracks.

The Poprad region, near to the High Tatras, is home to numerous Carpathian wooden churches, unique to the region. It's worth taking a wander through the countryside to see if you can spot those in your local vicinity. The church in Lukov is particularly beautiful, with its imposing roof surmounted by two turrets, as is the church in Kezmarok with its cypress roof, supported by beautifully sculpted columns.

Public transport is easy to use and reliable, with regular bus and train departures to the main cities as well as connections to Slovakia's European neighbours. For local travel, buses are usually recommended and tickets are never costly.

pros

  • +Close to the UK.
  • +Both natural and cultural attractions.

cons

  • -The climate limits tourism.
  • -Accommodation in national parks is not well developed.

Traditions

Though a great many of the younger Slovakian generations now speak English, many older people do not and it's always a good idea to have some handy words and phrases under your belt before you go - even if it's just ?hello' (haló), ?please'(prosím), ?thank you' (?akujem) and ?cheers' (Na zdravie!).

When tipping, it is polite to leave around 10 percent of the bill but it is not obligatory and many Slovaks will only round up to the nearest euro to make it easier to split the bill.

The population is largely catholic, so religious holidays are observed and Sundays are reserved for going to Mass. Be respectful when visiting churches and other religious buildings, by covering shoulders and legs.

Food

Slovak cuisine is simple but hearty. Cheese, meat (especially pork, poultry), potatoes and dumplings are the main components in most dishes, as well as tasty soups, plenty of cabbage and rich sauces.

The best beer is local, but the country's real penchant is for good wines. Bratislava's white wines are considered to be amongst the best.

Souvenirs

Slovakia offers varied and good quality handicrafts. There are dishes, vases and majolica statutes (Slovakian ceramic), wooden toys, embroidered scarfs and wicker or metal decorative objects. For more varieties, go to the arts and craft centre in Obchodna street, Bratislava. Shops open weekdays from 9:00 am to 6:00 pm.