Until recently, if you mentioned travel in Slovakia, the response may be a blank stare. “Where is that?”
Slovakia, also known as the Slovak Republic, is a landlocked country in Central Europe. With its central location between much more well-known tourist destinations, Slovakia is finally making a name for itself on the tourism map. To the west lies Austria and the Czech Republic, Ukraine to the east, Poland to the north and Hungary to the south.
Until 1993, Slovakia was a part of Czechoslovakia, but seceded, forming the Czech Republic and the Slovak Republic. That separation is now referred to as the “Velvet Divorce” for its smooth and peaceful division. In 2004, Slovakia became a member of the European Union, and in 2009, adopted the Euro as its currency.
Bratislava, the capital city of Slovakia, is a modern city of 450,000 residents. Resting on the banks of the River Danube, the streets are mostly cobbled and outdoor cafes, restaurants and marketplaces are plenty. Major tourist sites includes Slovakia’s most important archaeological site, the Devin Castle, an ancient fortress dating back to 5000 BC. The castle is closed to the public during the winter months. The Bratislava castle on castle hill overlooks the city. It is scheduled to be under renovation until 2011 or 2012.
A mountainous country, Slovakia is made up of the Tatra range, which is the highest part of the Carpathians. In the north, sharing the border w/ Poland, lie the High Tatras, which have long been a popular snow skiing and mountaineering destination. Dotted with numerous lakes and rivers, rafting is a popular summertime activity for locals and tourists alike.
In November, 2004, Slovakia had a major inland hurricane, with winds reaching 140-180 km/h (110 mph), causing extensive damage throughout much of the country, particularly in the High Tatra National Park.
I visited Slovakia in September, 2005. My main purpose of the visit was to get in a week of hiking between visits to Poland, Czech Republic and Hungary. I stationed myself in Stary Smokovec, a charming alpine village and centralized starting point for hikes in the High Tatras. It is the junction of the electric railway line, making transfers to and from hikes simple and reliable. The devastation of the forests was obvious, but the higher we climbed, the less noticeable it became.
Caves are constantly being discovered in its karst topography, and Slovakia has one of Europe’s heaviest concentrations of caves. Ochtinská Aragonite Cave is one of three aragonite caves in the world, and has been proclaimed have been proclaimed a UNESCO's World Heritage Site. Presently, thirteen caves are open to the public in Slovakia.
Today, Slovakia is a modern European country with deep folkloric roots and traditions. Infrastructure is well-laid out, and the economy is highly developed. The people of Slovakia are friendly and helpful to tourists, although caution and common sense should be used in crowded areas and overnight trains.
Travel to and from Slovakia is easy and efficient thanks to newly discounted airlines from other European cities. Flights into Bratislava from nearby Vienna, Prague and Munich are plentiful. Train and bus service is also frequent and efficient.
Within Slovakia, trains are by far the best way to travel. The rail network is extensive, and the trains are clean and reliable.
In summary, although Slovakia is often overlooked by travelers to nearby, better-known destinations, it should not be missed. From stunning mountains, lakes and rivers to modern cultural attractions, There is something for most in this landlocked paradise.
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