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Wednesday, February 17, 2010
Slovakia's 100 Best Destinations - From Skalica to Uličské Krivé and all points in between
As a long-time Slovak resident, I've been to pretty much every corner of this small nation, from Skalica to Uličské Krivé and all points in between. I've tried to include a good mix of cultural, historical and natural sights, for this country has plenty to offer in all three categories, or everything except a sea, as the Slovaks themselves like to say. This list reflects each destination's appeal to the average tourist as well as including most of my own favourites. Enjoy!
1. The High Tatra Mountains - alpine peaks with hiking and climbing opportunities that rival anything in Europe. Wildlife spotting along the trails in some of the more remote parts of the park is almost guaranteed.
2. Spiš Castle - The nation's most spectacular castle, and one of the largest in central Europe. Now a ruin, it dominates the town of Spišské Podhradie from its position on a wind-swept hilltop. Spišská Kapitula is found on the hill opposite, a complex of churches and monasteries surrounded by old stone walls that adds a counterpoint to the castle's dominance of the landscape.
3. Banská Štiavnica - A medieval mining town that has managed to retain almost all of its splendour and unique character. Beautiful pastel-coloured buildings spread across a hillside, with two castles in their midst and a hilltop pilgrimage church within view.
4. Bardejov - A perfectly-preserved Saxon town centre, with a cathedral and town hall positioned on a cobbled main square of burgher houses covered in sgraffito facades. The town's set of medieval walls, towers and fortifications is nearly complete, making for a stunning view from the nearby hills.
5. Levoča - A small town par excellence, with a perfect set of medieval fortifications and small winding cobbled lanes. The world's largest wooden altar can be seen in the town's main church.
6. Bratislava - The capital and hub of the country's modern development. The old town quarter is a maze of small streets connecting several large cobbled squares. It has the best restaurants and pubs the country has to offer, and plenty of worthwhile museums. Socialist-era architecture surrounds much of the centre, but a few buildings from this period, notably the National Radio Building, are quirky enough to warrant taking a look at. The town's castle sits on a hill above the Danube, overlooking the UFO-topped SNP bridge, known locally as Nový Most.
7. Čičmany - A small mountain village of wooden houses with a unique twist - most of the dark log homes are covered from top to bottom in white geometric folk designs based on the local patterns used in lacework and traditional costumes.
8. Vlkolínec - A UNESCO heritage-listed mountain village of wooden cottages that has remained untouched by modern development. Spending a night in a cottage here is a highly memorable experience.
9. Orava Castle - perched on a tiny blade of rock which sits high above the Orava river, this is one of the country's finest restored castles. Guided tours will take you through most of the castle's rooms, with superb views from the upper castle windows.
10. Slovenský Raj National Park-A series of steep river canyons amid the forested mountains, this is one of the most unique places for hiking in the country. A series of ladders and metal grids stuck into the cliffs allow you to hike right up the side of crashing waterfalls and through gorges that are strikingly misty and green.
11. Bojnice Castle - A fairy-tale castle in the tradition of French Loire valley castles, with an annual Ghosts and Monsters festival
12. Ždiar- A small village at the eastern end of the Tatra mountains, a perfect base for hiking trips to the nearby peaks. The village has many traditional wooden homes that are beautifully decorated, and has preserved many elements of the unique Goral mountain-peasant culture found in the region.
13. Malá Fatra National Park- Some of the best hiking outside the Tatras, with Vrátna Dolina being the most popular location.
14. Kremnica- A small town in a wooded valley dominated by a castle at its centre with a memorable tower to climb. Watch for the instructions given at the bottom of the stairs warning of the 'pretentious stairs'. The national mint is found on the leafy square that sits below the castle, while the old stone walls that encircle the square make for an impressive sight when viewed from the nearby hills.
15. Košice- The country's second city, with the most easterly Gothic Cathedral in Europe. The main square features many perfectly restored 16th to 18th century buildings, and the 'singing fountain' which plays music in time to the movement of the water jets.
16. Krásna Hôrka Castle and Andrássy Mausoleum- A restored hill-top castle with a commanding view of the countryside. The nearby mausoleum is an art-nouveau masterpiece.
17. Devín Castle- A castle perched on a cliff above the Danube river near Bratislava.
18. Pieniny National Park - An ideal place to experience rafting on a traditional wooden raft, steered by oarsmen in traditional costumes.
19. Trenčín- A pretty settlement on the Váh river with a cliff-top castle that dominates the town.
20. Spišská Kapitula - found on the hill opposite Spiš castle, a complex of churches and monasteries surrounded by old stone walls that adds a counterpoint to the castle's dominance of the landscape.
21. Čachtice Castle- A hill-top castle ruin associated with the blood-thirsty deeds of the Countess Báthory.
22. Špania Dolina- A traditional medieval mining village just north of Banská Bystrica.
23. Spišská Sobota- Nowadays a suburb of Poprad, this village square is one of the finest in the Spiš region, with many well-restored merchant houses.
24. Kežmarok- A Saxon town in the Spiš region with an impressive castle and old town, and probably the finest Evangelical wooden church in the country.
25. Slovenský Kras Caves- This series of caves near Rožňava include the bizarre Argonite cave with unusual stone formations, and a chain of caves that run under the border into Hungary.
26. Piešťany- The country's finest spa town, popular with German and Austrian visitors. A man breaking his crutch after being treated with the healing waters is the town's symbol.
27. Banská Bystrica- A large town in the hills of central Slovakia, with a memorable main square and castle. The museum of the Slovak National Uprising details the struggle to free the country from Nazi occupation during World War II.
28. Strečno Castle- A cliff-top ruin on the Váh river, east of Žilina.
29. Andy Warhol Museum in Medzilaborce- One of the strangest places in the world to find a major art gallery, with many famous works by Warhol displayed. His parents came from a small village a few kilometres from the town.
30. Zuberec- A village in Orava region, this is a great base for hikes in the western part of the Tatras and has an outdoor folk museum of wooden homes and churches.
31. Beckov Castle- A mighty ruin dominating the small village below it, this castle is also associated with the Countess Báthory, accused of many grisly deeds.
32. Terchová- A small village in the Malá Fatra mountains that is famous as the home of the 'Slovak Robin Hood' hero Juraj Jánošík. His statue sits on a hill above the town. This is a great place to see traditional Slovak music and customs, as there is a major annual folk festival and many smaller events throughout the year. This is also a god base for hiking in the Vratná valley.
33. Bardejovské Kúpele- A spa town just north of Bardejov, with an excellent folk architecture museum containing two Greek-Catholic wooden churches.
34. Demänovská Valley - South of Liptovský Mikulaš, this is a major outdoor recreation area with hiking trails, winter skiing, and several unique caves.
35. Ladomirová - One of the finest Rusyn wooden churches in the country, found north of Svidník near the Polish border.
36. Danubiana Art Gallery in Čunovo- An art gallery at the end of Slovakia, or that's how it feels as you walk out to its island location in the middle of the Danube. Showcasing the best in Slovak modern art with regularly-changing installations and many international exhibitions.
37. Poloniny National Park- An untouched corner of the country in the far north-east, this region has excellent hiking and many traditional Rusyn villages to explore.
38. Nitra- 'The Mother of Slovak towns', as it is called here, has a castle on a hill at its centre with a history that dates back to the Great Moravian Empire and the arrival of the Saints Cyril and Methodius who created the Cyrillic alphabet.
39. Červený Kameň Castle- A square-sided castle in the Small Carpathians, it has huge corner towers that protected it through many invasions.
40. Dukla Pass World War 2 monuments- This region was heavily defended by the Germans, and thousands of Russian and Czechoslovak troops died trying to capture it. Today there is a viewing tower and huge memorial to the victors, and many tanks and military vehicles lie scattered across the surrounding landscape, left where they came to rest in the fighting and restored as a part of the memorial.
41. Hervartov - A small village south of Bardejov featuring a Roman Catholic wooden church, the oldest wooden church in Slovakia.
42. Betliar- A palace that has been superbly renovated, with an extensive collection of exotic items collected from around the globe. Large gardens and parks with a man-made waterfall surround the palace.
43. Plavecký Castle- A ruin found in the Small Carpathian range which is in very good condition.
44. Hronsek - A village between Zvolen and Banská Bystrica which contains an evangelical wooden church with UNESCO heritage status.
45. Pribylina Folk Architecture Outdoor Museum- A collection of wooden homes and a stone church and manor house with the Tatra mountains as a backdrop.
46. Smolenice Castle- A restored castle in the Small Carpathians, with a tall central tower.
47. Modra- An attractive small town famous for its wine production.
48. Trnava- A walled town nick-named 'The Slovak Rome' - although the name is a bit much to live up to, the town has many beautiful churches.
49. Miroľa - a small village north of Svidník featuring a fantastic Greek-Catholic wooden church.
50. Gýmeš Castle- A castle ruin east of Nitra, with great views.
51. Dobroslava - A village north of Svidník with a superb Greek-Catholic wooden church.
52. Skalica- A town near the Czech border with a pleasant old town and central square, and a Romanesque rotunda.
53. Východná - a town in the Tatra mountain region made famous by its annual folk festival.
54. Lietava Castle- A huge castle ruin south of Žilina.
55. Žilina - A large town with an enjoyable old town square and Budatín Castle on its outskirts.
56. Ruská Bystrá - A remote Rusyn village near the Ukrainian border featuring a UNESCO-listed wooden church.
57. Zvolen- A large town in central Slovakia with a well-fortified castle and a huge town square.
58. Detva - A small town known for its folk festival and preservation of folk traditions.
59. Stará Ľubovňa Castle- A half-ruin above the town of Stará Ľubovňa with a folk architecture museum on the grassy plain below.
60. Žehra - A UNESCO-listed church with a unique onion dome and inerior frescoes, found just south of Spiš castle.
61. Trenčianske Teplice- A spa town surrounded by forested hills with a relaxed atmosphere.
62. Podbiel- A village in Orava region that has a wonderful collection of traditional wooden folk cottages.
63. Brhlovce- A village east of Levice that contains several cave houses; the locals dug their way into the cliff faces around the town for protection from invaders, and several still remain today, including one that has been turned into a museum.
64. Bodružal - A village north of Svidník with a UNESCO-listed wooden church.
65. Svidník Folk Architecture Outdoor Museum- A collection of Rusyn farm buildings and homes, with one of the region's finest wooden churches.
66. Dobšiná Ice Cave- A cave south of the Slovak Paradise National Park.
67. Prešov-A major city of eastern Slovakia, with an impressive main square and several orthodox churches.
68. Komárno- A town along the Danube river with a large ethnic Hungarian population. It has a large fortress and the European square, featuring a set of buildings in many different national European architectural styles.
69. Osturňa- A small village north of Ždiar near the Polish border with many preserved wooden folk cottages.
70. Dobrá Voda Castle- A large castle ruin in the Small Carpathians
71. Nižný Komárnik - A village north of Svidník with an unusual wooden church.
72. Martin - A town featuring the National Folk Architecture Outdoor Museum, the main branch of the National Museum, and the National Cemetery.
73. Slovak Bethlehem Wooden Diorama in Rajecká Lesná- A diorama made entirely of wood that contains moving parts in the scene.
74. Dražovce - A beautiful Romanesque church on a hilltop north of Nitra.
75. Tvrdošín - A town in Orava region with a UNESCO-listed wooden church.
76. Lednický Castle- A ruin on a steep cliff-edge near the Czech border.
77. Svätý Kríž - A village in Liptov region with an Evangelical wooden church which was moved to its present location to save it when the Liptovská Mara reservoir was constructed.
78. Humenné Folk Architecture Outdoor Museum- A collection of Rusyn houses and a wooden church.
79. Likava Castle- A large castle ruin north of Ružomberok.
80. Rusovce - a village featuring a Roman Legion Camp Museum and a bizarre palace.
81. Topoľčianske Castle- A spectacular castle ruin with a tall central tower.
82. Budmerice Palace- An impressive palace west of Trnava.
83. Pezinok - A town near Bratislava that is famous for its wine festival.
84. Slovenská Ľupča Castle- A large restored castle east of Banská Bystrica.
85. Leštiny - A village in Orava region with a UNESCO-listed Evangelical wooden church.
86. Červený Kláštor Monastery- A monastery found in Pieniny national park, one of the oldest in the country.
87. Spišský Štvrtok - A town with a Romanesque church in Spiš region.
88. Tokaj Wine Region- Found in the far east along the Hungarian border, this region produces some of the country's best wines.
89. M.R. Štefáník Monument in Brezová pod Bradlom- A stone monument on a ridge built for a defining figure in Slovak history. Štefáník was instrumental in the creation of the Czechoslovak state after World War I.
90. Uličské Krivé - A small village near the Ukrainian border with a wooden church.
91. Hronský Beňadik Monastery- A town featuring a hill-top monastery.
92. Svätý Jur- a pretty small town near Bratislava with plenty of good wine on offer.
93. Hrabová Roztoka - a village near the Ukrainian border with a wooden church and several orthodox churches.
94. Vychylovka Folk Architecture Outdoor Museum - A set of wood and stone buildings and a forest railway in Kysuce region.
95. Šomoška Castle- A ruin sitting directly on the Hungarian border south of Lučenec.
96. Frička - a village north-west of Bardejov with a large wooden church.
97. Jasov Monastery- A monastery found west of Košice in a small town.
98. Strážky Palace- A white fortress-like palace north of Kežmarok.
99. Ruský Potok - A small village near the Ukrainian border with a well-restored wooden church.
100. Podolínec- A town north of Kežmarok with traditional Spiš-style architecture.