Slovakia

Slovakia statue by CC user photobeppus on Flickr

Introduction

Forming the southern fragment of what was the former republic of Czechslovakia, Slovakia is a Central European country covered by mountains and ancient medieval castles over much of its footprint, making for an exciting definition for travelers on all fronts.

Unlike comparable countries further west that has an excessively high cost of living which bleeds your wallet in record time, Slovakia offers its prime attractions at the rate that is much friendlier to your bank balance.

This allows you to linger longer in a region which has the biggest concentration of castles per capita in the world, some of the tallest peaks in the Carpathian range, and countless examples of quaint towns and villages built in the gothic and the baroque style.  Indeed, it is a distinction that allows you to truly discover Europe as it was and how it is now, without having to take out a second mortgage to do so.

Currency: Euro

Languages: Slovak, Hungarian, Ukrainian

Devin Castle by CC user fearless_fred on Flickr

What To Do

Your Slovakian journey begins in the capital of Bratislava, where Devín Castle sits atop a rocky promontory.  Having a commanding view of the confluence of the Danube and the Morava rivers, the commanders of this mount could control trade and movements through the region, making it a highly coveted position throughout the civilized history of this area.

The most striking feature of the entire complex is a solitary tower situated on a steep limestone column.  This place has been known for ages as the Maiden Tower, and was so named for legends surrounding it that had virgins imprisoned here, who eventually ended up jumping to their death after giving in to despair.

Another castle worth your time in Slovakia is Spiš Castle, which is one of the largest complexes of its kind in Europe. While time has been unkind to its grounds since the last owner moved out in the 18th century, rehabilitation work has restored its massive grounds partially, and in recent years, popular films such as Dragonheart and The Last Legion has used these grounds as a backdrop for their projects, adding to the appeal of this place for visitors.

Fans of Christian religious sites will want to direct their attention to the town of Levoca, a charming town of 15,000 residents, as its centrepiece house of Christian worship, the Church of St. Jacob, houses a relic of significant importance.  Within its walls, you will find the largest wooden altar in the world, which will make you feel like an imp at a staggering nineteen metres high by six metres wide.

High alpine lake in the High Tatras by CC user mateusz-kulawik on Flickr

Those looking to get into the outdoors should do so at the appropriately named Slovak Paradise National Park. The cliffs, canyons and waterfalls will keep the trekkers in your party happy, and those wishing to scramble the subterranean delights of this country will find a spectacular place to do so at the Dobšinská Ice Cave, which is positioned so that ice builds up and stays frozen all year round.  As a result of these conditions, the average temperature inside remains at or below zero Celsius, so do remember to bring warm clothing with you before tackling this spelunk.

If you’re a fan of high places, then getting away to the High Tatras should be a mandatory part of your travel plans in Slovakia. Mountaineers, skiers and boarders, trekkers and admirers of fine alpine scenery flock here throughout the year, drawn by this range’s prominence and lesser known status vis a vis the Italian/French Alps.

The range’s system of mountain huts make it very popular amongst hikers in the know, but even if you choose to snap pictures of the gorgeous pics of the snow laden peaks from the valley floor in the spring, visiting here is still well worth the effort.

Bryndzové halušky by CC user avlxyz on Flickr

What To Eat

Like many nations in Central Europe and the Balkans, the cuisine here tends to be heavy and hearty, and as such, those who eat lighter or sans meat may want to plan ahead to avoid tough situations or choices away from major cities. An example of this is reflected by Bryndzové halušky, a national dish of Slovakia consisting of potato dumplings and sheep cheese.

While this dish is quite savoury, often they will also add crumbled bacon in the midst of your plate.  While this will be cause for celebration of most people, veggies will find this to be a most unpleasant surprise.  As a result of this tendency, be sure to ask for it without the topping of tasty cured pork.

Those looking for something a bit more solid should order some Rezeň, which is a pork schnitzel.  Those not familiar with what a schnitzel is should know that is a flattened cut of meat that has been breaded and fried. Usually, Rezeň is served with mashed potatoes or potato salad, making it a meal that will fill you up, no matter how hungry you are.

Dessert time will eventually find you consuming some Skalický Trdelník, a uniquely Slovak pastry.  This treat is cooked by forming dough on a stick that is grilled over a fire, after which it is topped with sugar and a walnut mix. With its integrity protected officially by the European Union, it is a foodstuff that can be considered to be a bona fide taste of Slovakia, sweet as it may be.

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