Walking and trekking
If you want to see why Slovakia is considered a fine walking destination, you need only consider its geography. Slovakia is a landlocked country with mountains in the north and flat terrain in the south: namely, the Carpathian Mountains and the Pannonian Basin. So far, so upside-down Switzerland, were it not for the dearth of tourists and lack of stratospheric prices. Approximately two-thirds of the country is in the Carpathians, which include the mountain ranges of the Lesser Fatra, Greater Fatra, the High Tatras, and Low Tatras. South of this area are the Slovak Ore Mountains and Slovenské stredohorie (Slovak Medium Mountains), all of which offer supreme hiking opportunities for varying levels of technical competence. The High Tatras will lure mountaineers, with 11 peaks over 2500m and a truly wild, Alpine-degree spectacle, as demonstrated by the country’s highest peak, Gerlachovský štít (2,655m), accessible from the villages of Starý Smokovec or Tatranská Poliankawhich. The mountain is a big undertaking, and requires some careful scrambling (on lower-grade paths, this is protected; on the quiter faces of the mountain, it is not) to reach its top. The mountains here pack a visceral punch which more than equals their visual spectacle and isn’t to be underestimated – some climbers suggest they be treated as ‘short 4000m peaks, rather than tall 2000m peaks.’ Bear. Lynx and wolf roam these mountains, which include Krivan (2,495m), a granite pyramid which is considered the country’s most beautiful mountain and adorns a Slovakian one-Euro coin. It’s also worth noting that you can climb Rysy, which is claimed to be the highest ‘walk-up’ summit in Slovakia and is also the highest peak in Poland, making it a tick of one-and-a-half for baggers!
Elsewhere in Slovakia, the long-distance trans-European walking routes E3 and E8 pass through the country at various points, and there are many sections which can be enjoyed for a day walk – the E8 in particular traverses the middle of the country through the Low Tatras, and makes for stupendous walking.
In the extreme west, the area around the pretty town of Devín, near Bratislava and positioned where the rivers Danube and Morava meet is a charming destination for the gentler walker. The dominating prescence hereabouts is the castle rock, which has been permanently settled from the times of old Celts. Here you can look into Austria or take a wander through the river forests of Moravia, making it an ideal excursion from the hubbub of the city.
There are also several UNESCO world Heritage sites, which include the Primeval Beech Forests of the Carpathians and the Caves of Slovak Karst, a cave and surface system scoured by geological forces, which makes for thrilling exploration. One of them – the Baradla-Domica cave system – is 21 km long and connects Slovakia with Hungary. It has a cavern capable of holding 1,000 people, a 13m long stalactite and the underground river Styx. Some of Slovakia’s caves are said to have healing air for respiratory problems, and you can find most of them in the south, near the border with Hungary.
Slovakia is – somewhat surprisingly, given its subdued reputation as a tourist magnet – a fully operational vendor for adrenaline junkies. The numerous rivers which descend from the northern mountain ranges make for excellent rafting, making it an eager watersports destination for anyone who prefers a paddle to walking boots. The aforementioned caves are a must, as Slovakia has over 4000 of them, many of which offer thermal spas said to allieve a variety of ailments.
There are also manifold opportunities for mountain biking in the uplands of the north, cycling through the forests of the west, fishing, photography, golf, white water rafting, bird watching, horse riding, and paragliding. From a cultural point of view, Bratislava is an alluring city – kind of a smaller, cheaper Vienna – straddling the huge River Danube with a fine castle as its centrepiece. The hilly old town is beguiling, and a superb place to base yourself on any trip to the city.
The city of Bratislava is actually half in Austria – the Danube is the border. FALSE. The city does border Austria – and also Hungary, making it the only National capital to border two countries – but the Danube crosses the border into Asutria north of the city.
Andy Warhol was Slovakian: FALSE. He was born in New York to Slovakian parents.
Must see and do
- Visit Spis Castle One of the largest castle sites in Central Europe, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s located in the Kosice region of Eastern Slovakia. http://www.mountainparadise.co.uk/summer/2_activities/day_trips/spis_castle.php
- Ascend Lomnicky Peak the lazy way (2634m) Fine peak in the High Tatras – the second highest in the country. It has a cable car which goes to its summit, making it a peak to visit if your luck fails and the weather’s bad! http://vysoketatry.com/ciele/lstit/en.html
- Visit Slovak Paradise National Park A magnificent array of caves and waterfalls in central Slovakia. More here.
- Walk Rysy (2503m) in the footsteps of Lenin Legend has it the Communust leader climbed Rysy in 1913 from the Slovakian side.