Slovakia may be small in size but it offers a huge selection of exciting destinations and unique sights.
Since the accession of several Slavic countries into the European Union, it is much easier to travel in the eastern part of the continent. And the Balkan countries offer tastes of natural beauty that for much of recent history were kept hidden away from the outside world. The temptation to explore the unknown was too great, and I set my sights on Slovakia, a decision I would not regret.
The reason I chose Slovakia is because the geography of the country makes it perfect for a biking holiday. The country is noted for its mountainous landscape, with the majestic peaks of the Carpathians extending across much of the northern half of Slovakia, accompanied by fertile valleys and large rivers. The natural beauty of the country is punctuated by the reminders of its history sprinkled around the countryside.
Bratislava was my starting point. Forget about grey, gloomy, communist towns with suspicious inhabitants watching your every move. Bratislava is a beautiful European city, with grand historical buildings and courteous and helpful residents.
Bratislava, a city of half a million inhabitants, often called the Beauty on the Danube, is bordered to the north by the confluence of the Morava and Danube rivers, and to the south by the fertile valleys of Rye Island (Zitný ostrov). Bratislava is uniquely positioned near the borders of two neighbouring countries – Hungary and Austria.
The stark contrast of the picturesque architecture and narrow streets of the Old Town and the drab concrete housing schemes offer a visual history of the rise and fall of Bratislava during its long history. Many beautiful historical monuments of the past have been lovingly preserved, including the dominant landmark in the city – Bratislava Castle and, beneath it, St. Martin’s Dome, where nineteen Hungarian rulers donned St. Stephen’s crown.
Although Bratislava is somewhat more relaxed than its glamorous neighbours Vienna and Prague, there are still plenty of fun hangouts to explore, and every year the city hosts a variety of festivals. Following the Velvet Revolution the tempo of life in Bratislava has visibly accelerated.
Out of Bratislava, I ride to one of Slovakia’s main tourist attractions, the Tatra Mountains, the highest peaks in the Carpathians. The Tatras present an opportunity for high-mountain hiking and climbing, and also for pleasant walks and bicycle tours.
There is a nice view of the Obrovsky vodopad waterfall from the bridge on the Tatra arterial road. The foaming white water falls in a notch between two rocks to a depth of 20 metres. The Trojity Vodopad waterfall has in Hungarian and German a poetic name that may be translated as the “waterfall of artists.” It is hidden in the forest and receives few tourists.
Cableways in the mountainous areas of the High Tatras and the Low Tatras help tourists conquer their peaks without much difficulty. A popular destination is Hrebienok, which can be reached by funicular from Stary Smokovec. As someone who is afraid of heights, I had to challenge myself to make the trip by an aerial ropeway without a single supporting column from Lomnicke sedlo to Lomnicky stit, at an altitude of 2,632 metres. It was an exhilarating experience.
Slovakia is rich in mineral springs, many of which claim therapeutic properties. There are thermal baths located close to the Tatras, offering a welcome respite after a day of climbing through the mountains or hurtling down its slopes on skis. Traditional swimming pools are equipped with modern amenities and offer wellness programmes – saunas, various types of massage, aromatherapy and hot compresses. It may not have the reputation, but Slovakia certainly has its allure for a spa connoisseur.
The beautiful natural scenery, rich history and grand monuments make Slovakia an unforgettable destination. Travelling by bicycle lets you to see the country up close and personal, falling in love over and over again with the sights and sounds of beautiful Slovakia.
Text by Antonius Martono | Photos Courtesy Slovakian Tourism Board