Why go? Spectacular mountain scenery, castles, wooden churches, medieval towns untouched by modernity, the culture of many ethnic groups.
Central European connection: Takes you from Cracow, Poland (border crossing is between Poland’s Nowy Targ and Slovakia’s Tatranská Javorina) to the Hungarian border (border crossing at Ozd).
Day 1 – High Tatra Mountains – Spectacular scenery, 15th c. Town
Start early morning at the border town of Tatranská Javorina and drive south 40 minutes to Tatranská Lomnica, a small mountain resort.
Park and take the cable car to the Skalnaté Pleso and stop for a beautiful view of the High Tatra mountains with alpine meadows, mirror-like mountain lakes and Swiss pines (limba), which live as long as 800 years.
If you get there early enough (by mid-morning) get a ticket to continue on to the second highest peak in the Tatras, and the highest one reachable by cable car, Lomnický Štít. Be prepared for breathtaking views and dress warmly (even in summer). Elevation: 8,635 ft.
Warning: Access to Lomnický Štít is limited to a fixed number daily and no reservations are possible so go early.
Grab a quick lunch at the snack stand and return by cable car to parking lot. Drive 30 minutes north via Tatranská Kotlina and Spišská Belá to visit Strážky, a Renaissance manor house with the best collection of paintings by the 19th century Slovak expressionist, Ladislav Mednanský.
Drive 10 minutes south to visit the historic town of Kežmarok, located on the medieval trade route between northern and southern Europe.
Top sights: Renaissance-style Kežmarok Castle, a 17th c. wooden Lutheran church, 15th c. Catholic church Sv. Kríž with 16th c. altar carved by the workshop of Pavol of Levoča, and charming 400-yr old buildings along the main street. Additional info on Kežmarok.
Dinner in Kežmarok at Three Apostles Restaurant or your hotel.
Or stay 3 miles southwest of Tatranská Lomnica in Gerlachov at the 4-star Gerlachov Hotel Hubert.
Additional Day Idea #1
– Rafting on a lazy river, hiking by glassy lakes, relaxing in a spa.
Very close to the High Tatras National Park is Pieniny National Park, the smallest national park in Slovakia. www.pieniny.sk
Drive 50 minutes north via SPISSKA BELA (http://www.muzeum.sk/mesto/defaulte.php?co=ss) and SPISKA STARA VES to CERVENY KLASTOR to spend a relaxing 40 minutes on a traditional wooden raft through a gorge on the calm Dunajec river (http://www.gabriela.sk/plt/en/index.htm), surrounded by the beauty rocky gorges and nearby pristine mountains. CERVENY KLASTOR is known for its monastery. The most notable of its monks was Friar Cyprian, known as the Flying Monk, who in the 18th century built a flying device. Cyprian’s monastic order felt the machine was a product of the devil, burned it in the square of Spisska Bela and imprisoned the inventor for life.
Return to KEZMAROK for lunch at Hotel Club Restaurant 052/4524051
Drive 40 minutes from Kezmarok, via SPISSKA BELA (for the most scenic route), back to the TATRA MOUNTAINS to STRBSKE PLESO to walk around one of the pristine glacial lakes (http://www.vysoketatry.com/ciele/jspleso/en.html) from here you can go by cable car (15 minutes) to another pretty spot, Solisko Lake. Bring good walking shoes to hike back. Stop in at the spa Liecebny Dom Solisko for a massage. Then have dinner at Hotel Patria or the spa.
Drive back to your hotel in Tatra Lomnica.
Additional Day Idea #2
In good weather – Go hiking in paradise
If hiking is your idea of heaven, you should visit Slovak Paradise National Park (Slovensky raj) with ravines, gorges and waterfalls. It’s been called “Hiker’s Heaven on Earth”. To get there, drive 50 minutes southeast to SPISKA NOVA VES (http://www.spis.sk/regiony/snves/snves.html), turn west to CINGOV. Get out of the car and start walking!
Bring good hiking boots
The most beautiful places are more challenging to get to. Ladders and chains have been installed in places to make it easier to explore. Don’t miss Tomasovsky vyhlad (fantastic view), Klastorisko canyon and Sucha Bela canyon, both very picturesque.
Drive back to SPISKA NOVA VES for a late lunch at Nostalgie Restaurant on the main square.
In bad weather or as an alternative to hiking – Open-air museum, castle, icons
One hour southeast of Pieniny National Park is the town of STARA L’UBOVNA (http://www.royaltowns.sk) which has an open-air museum of folk architecture from the surrounding area. One exceptional building in this museum is a Greek-Catholic church with 18th century iconostasis and elaborately decorated interior. Stara L’ubovna castle (largely in ruins) was the home (15-18th c.) of the Polish nobleman who ruled 13 Spis towns that Hungary gave to the Polish king. In the 20th century, the castle served a more sinister purpose; a museum now commemorates those tortured there by the Nazis during World War II.
Return to your hotel.
Day 2 – SPIS & LEVOCA – Ice cave and walled 15th century town
Start driving at 8 a.m. to POPRAD (60 minutes south via TATRANSKA LOMNICA) and DOBSINA to visit the fascinating DOBSINSKA ICE CAVE (http://www.ssj.sk) a UNESCO World Heritage Site*. Bring warm clothing and non-slip sole shoes – it’s cold in the ice cave.
For lunch, stop in SPISSKA SOBOTA (http://www.vysoketatry.com/obce/ssobota/en.html – Village within Poprad) and admire the exceptionally well restored main square with cozy cafes, small restaurants, pensions and antique shops. Choose either Sabato Restaurant or the restaurant at Penzion Fortuna, both on the main square.
* Sabato restaurant: http://www.sabato.sk
* Penzion Fortuna: http://www.penzionfortuna.sk
Drive 20 minutes east to the perfectly-preserved 15th-16th century walled town of LEVOCA (http://www.royaltowns.sk – http://www.slovenskyraj.sk/vylety/levoca/en.html) .
* St. James’s Parish Church (http://www.chramsvjakuba.sk) with the highest wooden gothic altar in the world
* The town hall (Radnica)
* Cage of Shame (Klietka hanby)
* Lutheran Church (Evanjelicky kostol)
* Thurzo House (Thurzov dom)
* Polygonal Bastion (Basta)
* Gatehouses from the town fortifications.
For dinner, try Restaurant Three Apostles on the main square or eat in the hotel’s restaurant.
Stay at 4-star Hotel Satel. (http://www.satel-slovakia.sk)
Day 3 – SPIS CASTLE, PRESOV & BARDEJOV – Largest medieval castle, beautiful wooden churches, lovely old town square
Start early (8 a.m.) going 20 minutes east to SPISSKE PODHRADIE to admire the ruins of one of the largest medieval castles in Europe.
SPISSKY HRAD (Castle – http://www.spisskyhrad.sk/en.html), designated a UNESCO World Heritage site*, former royal castle. This is where Dragonheart (Dennis Quaid) and Kull the Conqueror (Kevin Sorbo) were filmed. Take 30 minutes to visit the castle museum.
Nearby 13th c. Sv Duch Church in the village of ZEHRA (http://www.slovenskyraj.sk/vylety/zehra/en.html). Picturesque church has an onion dome and frescos painted around 1400.
Drive 40 minutes east to the cultural center of the Rusyns/Ruthenians and vibrant university town, PRESOV (http://www.presov.sk).
* The beautifully restored main square.
* St. Nicholas’ Church with altar carved by workshop of Master Pavol of Levoca.
* Neptune Fountain (Neptunova fontana) built by the first Jew allowed to live within the city walls,
* Greek Catholic Church of St. John Baptist (Kostol sv. Jana Krstitela) with richly decorated iconostasis and the preserved body of a Greek Catholic bishop who refused to convert to the Russian Orthodox faith during the Soviet years.
If you have more time, explore the ancient cellars of the Wine Museum.
Have an early lunch in the old town: Carpe Diem Restaurant (http://www.pis.sk/carpediem), Leonardo restaurant (http://www.presov.sk/leonardo), or the new Melodia restaurant.
After lunch, visit the Salt Mine Museum (Solna bana) in SOLIVAR, now part of PRESOV. You can see how salt was mined 400 years ago. Salt has been the source of the town’s wealth from medieval times through today.
Drive north for 40 minutes, then turn west towards HERVARTOV to see the oldest wooden church in Slovakia – built in 1490, and unlike most of the churches in Eastern Slovakia (which are primarily Greek Catholic), this one is Roman Catholic. Check out the amazing 17th c. murals.
Continue driving to BARDEJOV (http://www.e-bardejov.sk – http://www.royaltowns.sk), another UNESCO World Heritage* walled medieval town, and stroll around the beautifully preserved Old Town with gothic-renaissance burgher houses and Saint Giles (sv Egida) church. If you love icons, don’t miss the Saris Regional Museum (excellent icon collection).
Stay at 3-star Hotel Bellevue (http://www.bellevuebardejov.sk), just 2 miles from the old town, with a wonderful view. Have dinner at the hotel.
Additional Day Idea
Greek Catholic wooden churches and 20th c. pop art
Only a few minutes from BADEJOV is BARDEJOVSKE KUPELE – or spa (http://www.kupele-bj.sk). The SARIS open air museum is the main attraction – a collection of traditional peasant buildings.
Drive 40 minutes north and east to SVIDNIK (http://www.svidnik.sk/indexie.htm – http://www.svidnik.sk/indexie.htm which every year mid-June hosts the largest festival of the Rusyn minority). Strategically located, Svidnik has been the scene of military struggles for centuries. One of the largest battles in WWII took place near here (Dukla Pass), killing more than 85,000 soldiers in 2 months. The town has interesting Communist-era architecture.
Be sure to spend some time in the Museum of Ukranian-Rusyn Culture.
Drive around to see more enchanting wooden Greek Catholic churches (http://www.museum.sk/dostol/defaulte.php?co=e_dostol) in LADOMIROVA and SEMETKOVCE (with optional visits to HUNKOVCE, KRAJNE CIERNO, MIROLA, and ZBOROV).
Drive south to STROPKOV and have a quick lunch at the White Horse Hotel (optional horseriding) 054/7424200.
Head northeast to the Andy Warhol Modern Art Museum (http://www.muzeum.sk/default.php?obj=galeria&ix=mmuawm) in MEDZILABORCE, which has 23 originals of this famous pop artist, whose parents came from the adjacent village Mikova.
Return to your hotel in BARDEJOV.
Day 4 – KOSICE – Slovakia’s largest historic city center
Drive 90 minutes south from BARDEJOV to get to KOSICE (http://www.kosice.sk) the second largest city in Slovakia with recently restored downtown main square and many historical sights Unlike Bratislava, Kosice was largely left intact by the Communist regime, and the city now has the largest preserved urban center in the country.
* Gothic St. Elisabeth’s Cathedral (Dom sv.Alzbety)
* Medieval Belfry (Zvonica)
* St. Michael’s Chapel (Kaplnka sv. Michala) with medieval frescos
* Singing Fountain – Jakab Palace (Jakabov palac)
For lunch in the center of town:
* 12 apostolov (12 apostles) Restaurant 055/7295105 (http://www.restaurant3apostoli.sk)
* Le Colonial or Monte Bianco restaurant. Close to the center is the Golden Royal Restaurant. A bit further but worth trying:
* Restaurants at Bankov hotel (http://www.hotelbankov.sk)
* Pension Barca (http://www.pensionbarca.sk)
In the afternoon, visit the East-Slovakian gallery, and see the Golden Treasure of Kosice (3,000 golden coins from 15-17th century), outstanding paintings and the Museum of Aviation (http://www.muzeum.sk/default.php?obj=muzeum&ix=ml_stm).
Stay in Kosice at the small cozy 3-star Hotel Alessandria (http://www.alessandria.sk), Hotel Golden Royal Pension (http://www.goldenroyal.sk) or Hotel Dalia (http://www.hoteldalia.sk/).
Or the biggest hotel in the city center, the 4-star Hotel Slovan (http://www.hotelslovan.sk)
For dinner – any of the restaurants mentioned for lunch.
Day 5 – ROZNAVA – 14th c. paintings, rare aragonite cave
Go 1 hour west from Kosice to ROZNAVA and then turn west and drive another 9 miles to STITNIK (optional visit of STITNIK’s Lutheran church, with 14th c. paintings).
Proceed northwest for 15 minutes to the OCHTINSKA ARAGONITOVA JASKYNA cave, a UNESCO Natural Heritage Site* (http://www.ssj.sk). There are only 3 aragonite caves open to the public in the entire world. Aragonite formations look like masses of flowers or sea urchins. The cave tour takes aproximately 30 minutes.
On the way back to ROZNAVA drive northeast 30 minutes to KASTIEL BETLIAR manor house (http:// www.snm.sk) or (http://www.muzeum.sk/muzeum/default.php?co=mbe_snm) which won international recognition for its recent reconstruction. Tour takes 40 minutes.
Stay in Roznava at the small cozy 2-star Hotel Cierny Orol (http://www.ciernyorol.sk). Be sure to see the view from the Watchtower (Strazna veza – (http://www.muzeum.sk/default.php?obj=pamiatka&ix=svrv), within easy walking distance of your hotel.
Lunch and dinner at your hotel.
Additional Day Idea #1
Impregnable castle, bi-national cave
10 minutes west of Roznava, see the dramatically-sited KRASNA HORKA castle (http://www.muzeum.sk/hrad/default.php?co=hkh_mbe_snm) with its collection of historic weapons, paintings, furniture. The nearby MAUSOLEUM (http://www.muzeum.sk/default.php?obj=pamiatka&ix=ma_mbe_snm) is also worth seeing, as is the ANDRASSY GALLERY (http://www.muzeum.sk/galeria/default.php?co=aokp), considered the finest example of Art Nouveau (or Secessionist, as it was called by Austrians) in Slovakia.
Stop for lunch at the restaurant on your way from the Mausoleum, as you drive southwest.
Drive 30 minutes southwest from Roznava to tour the bi-national cave Domica-Aggtelek (UNESCO Natural Heritage Site*) located partly in Slovakia, partly in Hungary. You can walk 1 mile within the cave and take a boat trip on the subterranean river Styx.
Stay in 3-star Zamocek Szigety (http://www.tourist-site.com/www.hotelsite.sk/system/trace-hotel.php?hotel_id=38&s_from=45), a small chateau in Gemerska Panica, a 25 minute drive southwest of Roznava.
Dinner at your hotel in Roznava.
Additional Day Idea #2
Crystal factory, marionettes and toys
Drive 30 minutes southwest via RIMAVSKA SOBOTA and in OZDANY turn northwest to POLTAR, home of Slovakia’s best known glass factory. Beautiful handmade crystal glasses, vases and other articles are mostly exported, but the lowest prices are at the factory store.
Drive 15 minutes southwest to LUCENEC and stroll through the Old Town’s charming main square, neo-gothic Calvinist church topped by a rooster on the steeple, and synagogue with oriental decorations.
Have lunch on the main square.
Go southwest 40 minutes via VELKY KRTIS to MODRY KAMEN Castle (http://www.snm.sk), which houses a delightful museum of marionettes and toys.
It’s only 1 hr to SAHY, a city on the Hungarian border city.
Stay at 3-star Villa Romaine Hotel (http://www.romaine.sk) in SAHY.
Have dinner in the restaurant at the hotel.
WHERE TO FROM HERE?
Drive from ROZNAVA 40 minutes south (via TORNALA) to the border with Hungary and then proceed (via OZD) to the historic Hungarian city of EGER.