All About Slovakia
The far less famous (and less tourist-crowded) half of the country that used to be called Czechoslovakia, Slovakia offers Old World central European charm, craggy castles, deeply forested countryside, and some of Europe’s most dramatic mountain landscapes, from the Carpathians in the western wine country to the mighty High Tatras in the east.
Slovakia’s compact, cafe-filled capital of Bratislava has a small town air and a restored old center of tidy baroque buildings and market squares snuggled in the midst of the Communist-era suburban sprawl. Bratislava sits at the uttermost eastern edge of Slovakia, just an hour by train from Vienna—when you are standing under the restored towers of Bratislava’s blocky castle above the Danube River, you are just three miles east of the Austrian border, and ten miles north of Hungary.
The lovely farm and sheep country of southern and central Slovakia has such diversions as the medieval mining town of Banská Štiavnica, perfectly preserved between its two castles; the log homes of Čičmany painted with white geometric symbols; the blade-like Orava Castle featured in 1922s Nosferatu; and the deep gorges of Malá Fatra National Park where Juraj Jánošík, the Slovakian Robin Hood, once roamed.
But it’s in the east that things get really interesting. Past the rugged, photogenic cut-glass peaks of the High Tatras mountains—explore beyond Poprad to the resort villages of Smokovec Ždiar, or Tatranská Lomnica—stretches Slovakia’s under-touristed eastern region, long part of the Kingdom of Hungary, with a Magyar flair to the old University town and cultural center of Košice, the medieval city of Bardejov, and the postcard town of Levoča. Levoča is also the gateway for visiting the Spisský Hrad, that impossibly perfect, slightly crumbled medieval castle ranging over a steep hilltop you see on all the “Visit Slovakia” brochures.
When to Go to Slovakia: Slovakia has a temperate, Continental climate, meaning the best times to visit are spring and fall (especially for colors in this forested land). It does not usually get overly hot in summer, though that is the most popular time to visit (not that Slovakia ever feels too crowded with tourists). Unless you are skiing in the High Tatras, much of the country outside of Bratislava is shut down in winter.
Events and Holidays in Slovakia:
|Bojnice Castle makes good use of its evocative setting to spin tales of spirits and hauntings through stories, music, dance, and creepy candlelit night tours.|
|This rock festival features three days of concerts along the Danube, along with theater productions and fireworks.|
|This celebration features a re-enactment of an authentic coronation ceremony, with more than 120 actors in period costumes pronouncing solemn vows of obedience to the king followed by a procession through the Old Town.|
|The Folklore Festival Východná is Slovakia's oldest and largest celebration of traditional folk culture with more than 1,500 performers in dozens of presentations and dance and music competitions on an open-air stage in this village tucked under the Tatras Mountains in Upper Liptov.|
|The Salamander Day festival in Banská Štiavnica, Slovakia is dedicated to the folklore culture of Slovakian miners, and includes a traditional fair, street events, music, and evening costumed parade.|
|Slovakia's most famous town fair has been going strong in Banská Bystrica for more than 350 years, with three days of handicrafts, performances, music, fencing, and food and drink (particularly the new wine–like burčiak).|
|Slovakia's major concert of classical and orchestral music—by both Slovak and foreign composers—features two dozen performances over two weeks by the Slovak Philharmonic and guest conductors, performers, and groups.|
|Bratislava Jazz Days is a festival of modern jazz, from free jazz, jazz rock, jazz funk, and fusion that attracts major headliners and other world-class players to Bratislava.|
|The main squares of Bratislava are filled with stalls and stages for a Christmas market of handicrafts, caroling and storytelling, and Christmas treats (barbecued meats, traditional cabbage soup, lokše (potato pancakes), honey cakes, and Christmas mead).|