Slovakia

A medium-sized country in Central Europe, it used to be a part of Czechoslovakia, but since 1993 it has been an independent republic. With mountains along its northern border and beautiful countryside dotted with picturesque caves, it’s a good destination for skiers and hikers, especially when searching for more economical options than the Alps. Also, it comprises a range of interesting historical towns and amazing castles which are worth exploration, as well.

Although not considered a prime tourist destination like its sister EU states, Slovakia is a beautiful country with plenty to offer visitors. Its mountainous terrain is especially notable. The Carpathian Mountains stretch across the northern parts of the country. The Tatra mountain peaks are a beautiful sight to behold and a top skiing destination. The highest peak in the country is Mount Gerlachovsky, with an altitude of 2,655 metres. The High Tatras are also home to many scenic valleys and crystal-clear mountain lakes. Beautiful caves, such as Belianska Cave, amaze with their abundance of Karst forms. Well-developed tourist infrastructure, with good transportation, several mountain resorts and a number of mountain hotels and hostels make travelling to the region really comfortable.

The other exceptionally beautiful holiday region is known as Slovensky Raj (Slovak Paradise National Park), which is an area of plateaus and mild mountains, sprinkled with lakes and caves, such as the stunning Dobsinska Ice Cave, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Picturesque valleys, gorges and waterfalls formed by the rivers crossing the park are other great attractions for tourists, who can take advantage of numerous hiking and cycling trails. Slovakia also attracts visitors with a number of spa and health resorts.

Quite surprisingly, Slovakia has the largest number of castles and fortresses per inhabitant in all of Europe. The largest is the impressive Spis Castle, dating back to the 12th Century, picturesquely set on a hill. Orava Castle, where Murnau’s famous 'Nosferatu' was shot, is another highlight of Slovakia. Bratislava, the capital city, comprises two castles, namely Bratislava Castle, a sturdy construction atop the hill overlooking the city and Devin Castle, and scenic ruins at the confluence of the Danube and Morava Rivers. Bojnice Castle is especially popular among tourists for its fairytale architecture, somewhat resembling that in Disney movies. Apart from the castles, a real pearl of Medieval architecture in Slovakia is the historical town of Banska Stiavnica.

Slovakia has great culture, absolutely unique in itself. It maintains long-standing traditions in literature and folk music. Typical Slovakian instruments of folk music include the fujara, a large shepherd's flute, and bagpipes. Folk groups generally consist of cymbalum, double bass and violins. Travelling gypsies often perform dance folk music. The lyrics to this music often involve Janosik, a mythical hero who brought justice for the poor and repressed. UNESCO designated the fujara and the folk music of Slovakia as masterpieces of the Intangible World’s Cultural Heritage in 2005. To better understand Slovak folklore, visit one of the traditional villages, such as Cicmany or Vlkolinec.

If you visit Slovakia, don’t miss its traditional food, especially the cheese made of cow and sheep milk, as well as beverages, including various brands of beer, predominantly Pils, such as Zlaty Bazant, Saris or Smadny Mnich. In the southern part of the country, in the region of the Danube River, there are vineyards producing Tokaj wine. Also, there are popular stronger drinks, such as Slivovice, plum brandy, Demanovka, made of pear, and Borovicka, vodka with juniper, a bit similar to gin.

Its convenient location in the heart of Europe makes Slovakia an easy-to-reach destination, and its vast areas of unspoilt countryside, wonderful national parks and great historical sights, especially the castles, deserve the attention of travellers who want to spend their holidays a bit off the beaten track of the major tourist routes. Explore Slovakia to learn how fascinating this country is.