Slovakia was once the half of the dissolved Czechoslovakia. It’s a country that has a funny side, not for anything else but because even heads of state make the same mistake – calling or mistaking Slovakia for Slovenia and vice-versa. Former U.S. President George W. Bush declared that what he knows about the country (Slovakia) was from what he was told by the country’s foreign minister when he came to Texas, although he was referring to the Foreign Minister of Slovenia, the person that he actually met. Italy’s Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi introduced the Prime Minister of Slovenia, Anton Rop as the Prime Minister of Slovakia. It would seem that this mistake occurs often because it’s been said that Slovenian and Slovak embassy staff meet once a month just to exchange mails that have been erroneously addressed.
Great chances for relaxation, striking history and sheer natural beauty are the main reasons for visiting Slovakia, a small country that can fit in the U.S. State of Minnesota three times over. Its total area only measures 49,035 square kilometres or 18,932 square miles and yet it has 300 castles that you can see anywhere you go around this stunning country.
Temperate and continental climate
Slovakia’s climate is categorized as temperate so the winters are usually cold and snowy but humid and cloudy while summer is hot and sunny. The country experiences four seasons. Summer in the lowlands and in the southern regions can have temperatures that soar up to 30 °C or 86 °F while the temperature in the northern regions and in the mountainous areas usually do not exceed 25 °C or 77 °F. Even in the summer, it is best to prepare for the sudden temperature changes if you plan to see the Slovakian mountains.
Being at the crossroads of conquerors, the country had to be fortified in so many places, hence the sheer number of castles or fortified buildings that used to safeguard entire cities, built all over Slovakia. The castles come in two types: the “hrad” or defensive, fortified buildings and “zámok,” which are palaces and luxurious manors. Most are built on higher grounds. Remember that there are no ramps or lifts to the castles, but there are plenty of stairs to climb.
The largest in Central Europe is Spiš Castle, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. From May to October the Spiš Museum, which is inside the castle, is open to the public. Overlooking the Váh River and the city of Trenčín is Trenčín Castle, another fortified building that is situated atop a hill. It is a wonderful sight to behold seen from the Old Town that lies below when the lights illuminate it at night. The massive castle that looks like an overturned table is the Bratislava Castle, situated in the Little Carpathians, providing a stunning view of Austria and Bratislava.
Straight out of a fairytale book is the romantic and beautiful Bojnice Castle, a zámok. This is the most visited castle in the country and a favorite location for filming movies, including fairy tales. Devín Castle, a hrad, is one of the biggest castles in Slovakia that now serves mainly as a museum. Bojnice Castle and the Orava Castle host the Festival of Ghosts and Spirits in May and Valentine’s Day specials. For a bit of trivia, the real-life inspiration for Dracula was a woman who lived in the Cachtice Castle.
With major parts of the country made of limestone, Slovakia is home to more than 2,400 caves, five of which are listed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Only about 400 of these caves have been explored so far and 12 are open to the public. The fascinating and mesmerising beauty of the limestone formations are breathtaking.
The most unique is the Ochtinská Aragonite Cave, with its aragonite fills that resemble flowers and other forms. This is the only one of its kind in Europe and one of only three in the world so do not miss visiting this cave. There are parts of the Bystrianska Cave located at the south side of the Low Tatras that are being used for speleotherapy (salt therapy) if you are interested.
One of the most beautiful is the Demänovská Cave of Liberty, located in the Low Tatras. The formations of stalagmites and stalactites take on many different shapes. The Emerald Lake flows through it. The Demänovská Ice Cave is one of Europe’s oldest known caves. Its ice fills started about 500 year ago. On the other hand the ice fills in the Dobšinská Ice Cave have varied shapes and thicknesses.
The Domica Cave is the biggest cave in the Slovak Karst, with 1,600 metres of its 5,140- metre length open to the public. Popular among visitors is the boat ride on the underground river called River Styx.
Part of the charms of Slovakia is its wooden churches, part of the cultural jewels of the country. These building were constructed with using nails. These are truly a marvel of ingenious construction work. You’ll see several of these beautiful wooden churches in Bardejov, Svidník, Humenné. UNESCO has named nine of these wooden churches as World Heritage Sites, collectively called the Carpathian Wooden Churches. The world’s largest wooden altar is at the Church of Saint Jacob in the town of Levoča.
Other points of interest but not the only ones
For a tiny country, Slovakia is indeed packed full of interesting places to see and plenty of things to do. One of the oldest public parks in Europe is the Janko Kráľ Orchard in Bratislava, the country’s capital. Built under the influence of Baroque classicism, one of its features is its eight-pointed star walkways. At Lomnický Peak, which is over 2,500 meters above sea level and gives a commanding view of the High Tatras is a botanical garden.
If you’ve had your fill of castles, churches and caves, you can indulge in mountaineering, hiking or skiing. The rivers and streams in Slovakia are very well suited for white-water activities and rafting or you can have some extra special pampering in the country’s numerous spas and mineral springs.