The country’s natural beauty, vivid history and great opportunities for relaxation (and due to the small size of the country, it is quite easy to combine all three) took this land-locked country Slovakia up to Lonely Planet’s number five on its Best in Travel 2013 - Top 10 countries list. Being best for “culture, adventure and off the beaten track” put together, travel to this could make a hearty experience just as the three things “coffee, cake and cream” would make a lusciously sumptuous gorge.
Trail through the mountains of Slovakia, meander amidst the monuments or ankle away its cobblestone streets. All in all, graze off this landlocked country only to come upon its fairly diverse culture with over half a million ethnic Hungarians, hundreds of thousands of Roma gypsies, and several thousand Rusyns in the east. Hungarians and Turks came to Slovakia for its natural resources, and so does the modern tourist.
Bratislava: Party, Relax and Unwind
If a city bursting with lively nightlife partying could have by-way streets and tiny but grand buildings dotted with rural atmosphere, where on a hot afternoon, a flock of sheep would not look out of place grazing on Františkánske Square, it would definitely be the brave Bratislava, the capital of the country.
Contrasts like this are all part of Bratislava’s allure. Dinky capital Bratislava does not fail to make you linger over drinks at one of its myriad sidewalk chic cafes and cool underground bars. This festive city is marked by the locals who are less weary and cynical than the natives of most capitals, characterized by a friendly reserve.
The Old Town does not shy away from showcasing the skills of Slovak town planners, who crammed a city’s worth of palaces, shops, cafés, pubs, restaurants, museums and churches into a few blocks. Michalská and Ventúrska, two halves of one street, are lined with stately Baroque palaces, the university library and dozens of places to eat. At number 10 is Mozart House, where the six-year-old Mozart performed for the Palffy clan. Do not miss out on the temporary exhibitions, mostly modern, at the Esterházy Palace wing at the Slovak National Gallery.
The banks of the Danube gives locals a taste of the beach. Tyršovo nábreÅ¾ie, on the south bank facing the Old Town, is friendly, hot and crowded. Entry, hammocks, deckchairs, parasols and sports equipment are free, with abundance of cocktail bars, live music to jive into, table football, volleyball and snack bars.
Relax and Unwind:
Once you beat your party animal, you would definitely be left with a chance to be thankful for the abundance of numerous mineral and thermal springs in Slovakia and around which home some of these world-famous spas built to offer great curative therapies or just simple relaxation. Chill out, swim and sunbathe at the shores of several local lakes and pools or try AquaCity waterpark if you are feeling more adventurous.
Erupting a 30-minute walk from the train station are the densely forested Small Carpathians; the trailer to a mountainous extent that runs country-wide, virtually unimpeded by civilization. Amble among the ski runs and vineyards. Central Slovakia: Quiet and agrarian heart of Slovakia If you are partial to an undulating hill or a winding mossy way, Central Slovakia is your kind of place. There is quiet an evidence of romantic nationalism, the way of life is slow, as are the trains, but what it lacks in zip it repays in beauty. This is where the nation’s own Robin Hood, Juraj Jánošík, once roamed.
Romancing the Routes:
Vysoké Tatry or the High Tatras standing tall on the border with Poland are visible from space with its highest peak, pyramid-shaped Gerlach 2,655m high. These are the mountains which rendered its people their romance to nationalism; the beauty and splendor of these mountains sparked much nationalism such as the song “There is lightning over the Tatras” – today the national anthem.
Move between the scenic villages to land up at the beautiful Smokovec resorts (divided into two adjoining halves, Nový (new) and Starý (old), bustling ski resort Tatranská Lomnica, or spindly Å½diar, one endless street of painted wooden cabins. Look roadside for farmers selling local sheep’s cheese before you lose yourself in a picturesque valley. Most of this jagged range, a part of the Tatra National Park (Tanap), may have you dreaming of opportunities enough to get you fantasizing about a National Geographic career – pristine snowfields, ultramarine mountain lakes, crashing waterfalls, undulating pine forests and shimmering alpine meadows.
The old-world explorers surely perk up being at Slovakia’s oldest mining town Banská Štiavnica lying in a great caldera created by the collapse of a volcano. The town is built up of rich history to dig out; once a cradle of largest sources of gold and silver by the Middle Ages, the Ottoman Wars here strutted up fortifications, watchtowers and a castle to repel marauding Turks. The towns driven out of precious metals were then left by the inhabitants leaving behind them the washed out old Main Square Námestie sv Trojice which is dominated by the Holy Trinity column, a red marble monolith marking the end of the plague in 1711. The incredible Town Hall (Radnica), with a clock that marks hours with its big hand and minutes with its little hand – according to an unusually credible local legend, was the work of a drunk clockmaker.
Eastern Slovakia: Fairytale Castles perched amidst mountains
Traditional dialects and folk customs thrive here, and the land is bleaker yet grander than the Tatras in the west. Its wooden churches, sprawling castle ruins, crashing waterfalls would be revealed only to dawn upon a person as the place most intriguing but the least accessible region of Slovaki – just beyond the High Tatras.
Rewind back to 15th century in Spiš:
Much of the Spiš region is within easy day-trip distance from the resort towns of the High Tatras. Roll down the lane of time at atmospheric pile of Spiš castle. Explore one of four national parks. Visit the wooden churches, or a skanzen (open-air village museum) in the borderlands and Sariš areas to experience the traditional culture.
The Black Town:
What inspired the great Hungarian writer Kálmán Mikszáth to make the medieval neat town LevoÄa the star of his 1910 revenge saga The Black Town is a mystery. Maybe because LevoÄa's grid-plan town runs the main streets from Námestie Majstra Pavla (the main square) to the city walls, becoming darker and shabbier as they go to the crumbling backstreets. However, from the main square you can see the graceful white church at Mariánska hora (Mary’s Mountain), a Catholic pilgrimage. The town’s main attraction is the wonderful religious art at the Church of St James, also a gateway to beautiful Slovak Paradise National Park.
European Capital of Culture:
If you are craving city life, the east has that too. The country’s second-largest city Košice is a grand mix of old and new, with a lively bar and café scene and a towering Gothic cathedral. The suave city has a reason to be 2013's European Capital of Culture; its new string of attractions include major arts installations in a combination of impressively revamped buildings, and eclectic events to enliven city streets. Get your sunny side up, listen to the musical fountain located in the park next to the State Theatre. Since a university town, its buzzing cafes and restaurants on a mellow evening make it hard not to love the city or, at least, want a spirited affair. Out of town, nature encroaches spectacularly with the delights of Central Europe's grandest cave network.