Why go? Oldest towns and churches, mining heritage, ancient forests, traditional folk architecture, mountain scenery, ice cave.

Towns included:

Central European Connection: Takes you from Vienna, Austria (border crossing at Hainburg) or Hungary (border crossing at Gyor or Rajka or Komarom) to several possible destinations in Poland.

Day: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6

Day 1 — BRATISLAVA – take your pick of sights/activities in the capital city of Slovakia (Bratislava)

OR start in KOMARNO (http://www.komarno.sk), on the Hungarian border.

In the morning see:

* The fortification system (http://www.komarno.sk/fpages/default_eng.asp?prg=fortress) that kept the Turks at bay in the 16th c., comprising one of the largest fortresses in the world;
* The Courtyard of Europe – newly built in 2001, with buildings representing the architecture of every European country.

Then drive 1 hour north to Nitra.

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Day 2 – TRNAVA-NITRA – medieval religious centers, lovely old towns

From Bratislava, drive 40 minutes northeast to TRNAVA, the oldest free royal town in Slovakia. Granted a charter in 1238 and nicknamed “Little Rome”, the walled city of Trnava was the seat of the archbishop of Hungary in the 16th-17th centuries while the Turks occupied Hungary.

Top sights in the old town center:

* City tower (Mestska veza)
* The Theater (oldest in Slovakia)
* Main square with plague column (Trojicne nameste)
* Archbishop’s Palace (Arcibiskupsky palac)
* Sections of the 18 ft-thick city walls (built to keep out the Turks)
* The simple Gothic St. Helena’s church
* Cathedral of St. Nicholas (Dom Sv. Mikulas)
* University Church (Univerzitny kostol) on Holleho Street
* Synagogue (now gallery of Koniarek)
* Jesuit church (Jesuitsky kostol), especially the north chapel’s watery grotto with graffiti and plaques of thanks to Mary from people whose prayers were answered.

Relax with some beer at Hotel Barbakan www.barbakan-trnava.sk (they have their own brewery) or lunch at renovated Hotel Dream www.hoteldream.sk.

Optional visit to:

Beethoven Memorial (http://www.muzeum.sk/default.php?obj=pamiatka&ix=plb_hudm_snm) in DOLNA KRUPA. (20 minutes northwest of Trnava), where he composed the Moonlight Sonata.

Drive 40 minutes east from Trnava to NITRA, known as the “the mother” of Slovak cities because it was the capital of the first Slavic political entity (the Great Moravian Empire in the 9th c.) in what is now Slovakia, as well as the location of the first Christian church.

Top sights in the Old Town:

* Nitra Castle (Hrad) and Cathedral
* Classicist building of the Small and Great Seminar (Maly aVelky seminar)
* Bishop Kluch Palace (Kluchov palac)
* Franciscan Church and Monastery (Frantiskansky kostol a klastor)
* County House (Zupny dom).

Optional ride of the vintage narrow-gauge railway at the Slovak Agricultural Museum (http://www.muzeum.sk/default.php?obj=muzeum&ix=spm).

Have dinner at the new 4-star manor house-hotel Park Hotel Tartuf in BELADICE (10 miles east of Nitra) or at U Svateho Huberta Restaurant (http://www.restauraciahubert.sk) which is just outside the city and specializes in game dishes (venizon, bison, wild boar).

Overnight at Tartuf (http://www.tartuf.sk) or at 3-star Kastiel Mojmirovce manor house (http://www.duv.sk), 10 miles south of Nitra.
Additional Day Idea

Hiding from the Turks in cave dwellings

Drive south from BELADICE approximately 50 minutes via VRABLE to LEVICE and then turn at KALINCIAKOVO to BRHLOVCE (http://www.muzeum.sk/defaulte.php?obj=pamiatka&ix=sob), site of unique cave dwellings carved our of volcanic hills to hide from Turkish raiders in the 16th-17th centuries.

Note: a travel agent must arrange for your visit to BRHLOVICE

Head back to NITRA (follow the same directions back) and stop in TESARSKE MLYNANY to see the ARBORETUM MLYNANY (http://www.arboretum.sav.sk) – botanical gardens with over 2,300 different trees, bushes and flowers from the entire world.

Lunch at beautiful Chateau TOPOLCIANKY (http://www.muzeum.sk/defaulte.php?obj=hrad&ix=zt), summer home of the Hapsburgs and favorite retreat of former Czechoslovak presidents, now hotel, museum and horse breeding farm.

Or lunch at Gazdovsky dvor, 037/6301047, in downtown Topolcianky and visit the Chateau afterwards.

Return to your hotel.

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Day 3 – BANSKA STIAVNICA – UNESCO World Heritage site, picturesque old town, fascinating open-air mining museum

From BELADICE drive northeast via ZARNOVICA to the former gold and silver mining city BANSKA STIAVNICA (http://www.uakom.sk/bs/bans_hist.html – http://www.banskastiavnica.sk) (70 minutes to get there), a UNESCO World Heritage Site*. Hidden in a beautiful natural setting and once the third largest city in the Hungarian kingdom, this picturesque town has more monuments, churches and other sights to see than there are days in a year. First tour the Open-Air Mining Museum (Banicke muzeum) , then the city itself.

Top sights:

* Town hall (Radnica)
* Old Castle(Stary zamok)
* Trinity Square (main square) with Holy Trinity plague column (Susosie sv. Trojice)
* St. Catherine gothic Church (Kostol sv. Katariny)
* Hellenbach’s house (Hellensbachov dom)
* Mining & Forestry College (Banicka a lesnicka skola), the first mining univeristy in the world-Miner’s Clapper (Klopacka)
* Piarska Gate (Piarska brana)
* New Castle (Novy zamok).

Lunch/dinner and accomodations at 3-star Hotel Restaurant Grand Matej (http://www.grandmatej.sk) in central Banska Stiavnica.

Optional visit:

In the afternoon to SVATY ANTON (www.muzeum.sk/defaulte.php?obj=muzeum&ix=msa) mansion with hunting exhibit, period furniture and majolica in a beautiful English park setting, just 5 minutes from BANSKA STIAVNICA (arrive before 4 pm).

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Day 4 – KREMNICA-BANSKA BYSTRICA – Royal mint and memorial to anti-Nazi uprising

Drive 60 minutes north from BANSKA STIAVNICA to the geographical center of Europe, KREMNICA. This town has the oldest continually operating mint in the world (800 years), and still produces commemorative coins. Visit the Museum of Coins and Medals (Muzeum minci a medajli – http://www.muzeum.sk/defaulte.php?obj=muzeum&ix=mmm), Mint house (Mincovna, formerly the Royal Mint of Hungary – http://www.mint.sk) , Town Castle (Mestsky zamok – http://www.muzeum.sk/defaulte.php?obj=muzeum&ix=elkr), Town hall (Radnica) and quirky exhibit on the history of skiing.

Lunch at Hotel Golfer (http://www.golfer.sk) or Hotel Central (http://www.isternet.sk/central).

Drive east for 20 minutes to BANSKA BYTRICA (http://www.bbb.sk – http://www.nizketatry.sk/obce/bbystrica/en.html), the third largest city and considered the heart of Slovakia because it was the center of the Slovaks’ anti-Nazi resistance.

Top sights:

* Town Castle (Zamok)
* Baroque Clock Tower (Veza)
* St. Francis Xavier Church (Kostol Fr. Xaviera)
* Thurzo House (Thurzov dom)
* Bishop’s Palace (Biskupsky palac)
* Monument to the Slovak National Uprising (Pamatnik SNP – http://www.muzeumsnp.sk/english/index.htm) with nice view-Butcher’ s Bastion (Masiarska Basta)

Optional visit:

The Slovak National Gallery (http://www.isternet.sk/sgbb) with modern Slovak and foreign artists.

Dinner at Cerveny Rak Restaurant (http://www.cervenyrak.sk) , Hotel Lux Restaurant or Zlaty Bazant Restaurant in the heart of the central city.

Other restaurants:

* Kuria Penzion Restaurant (http://www.kuria.sk)
* Starobystricka Restauracia 048-4154326
* Stay in Banska Bystrica at 3-star Hotel Arcade, Hotel Lux (http://www.hotellux.sk) or Hotel Dixon (http://www.dixon.sk)

Additional Day Idea

Wooden church, ancient forest, spa, castle, ecological village

Drive 5 miles south from BANSKA BYSTRICA to the village of HRONSEK, where you can see a wooden church that seats 1,000.

Hiding in a nearby valley are the magnificent elm, fir and beech trees of BADINSKY ANCIENT FOREST (Badinsky prales – http://www.prales.szm.sk). Follow in the footsteps of Prince Charles (who has traveled twice to Slovakia), and walk through this awesome old-growth forest.

Break for coffee/tea, a set of tennis or even a massage at the Kongress Hotel in Hronsek (http://www.kongreshotel.sk).

Drive 2 miles south to SLIAC Spa (http://www.spa-sliac.sk), whose waters are considered beneficial for your heart.

Go further south to ZVOLEN, have a quick look at the Old Town main square and the castle, originally built in the 14th century as a chateau but fortified when the Turkish threat appeared 200 years later.

Lunch at Hotel Academy (http://www.hotel-academic.sk) or Penzion Franko (http://www.pension-franko.sk) in Zvolen.

Optional visit:

ZAJEZOVA, Slovakia’s first ecological village (http://www.zajezka.sk) 9 miles southeast of ZVOLEN. Residents are incorporating the native wisdom of peasant ways to create a sustainable way of life for the future.

Overnight at Hotel Sachticky (http://www.sachticky.sk) in SACHTICKY (3 miles north of BANSKA BYSTRICA), or return to your hotel in BANSKA BYSTRICA.

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Day 5 –VLKOLINEC –DEMANOVSKA DOLINA– traditional architecture, scenic mountains

About 30 minutes north of BANSKA BYSTRICA you’ll pass close to a small spa, KORYTNICA KUPELE (optional visit) – take a drink of the cool, healing mineral water.

Proceed north through beautiful mountain scenery and 3 miles before coming to RUZOMBEROK turn at BIELY POTOK village towards VLKOLINEC (http://www.liptov.sk/lauko/vlkolinec_en.html – For photos: http://www.liptov.sk/vlkolinec/foto.html) In this remarkable settlement, villagers live in log houses, in much the same way that people have for centuries throughout the Carpathian region.

Have lunch at Vlci Dvor Motel in the village of BIELY POTOK.

Detour for folk art and picturesque castle:

At this point you can drive directly to Poland either through LIPTOVSKY MIKULAS or turn north to DOLNY KUBIN and the TRSTENA border crossing.

DOLNY KUBIN has three outstanding attractions:

Oravska Gallery (http://www.oravskagaleria.sk) and Slanicky Art Island for traditional folk art and crafts as well as contemporary works and nearby Oravsky Podzamok with its picturesque castle (http://www.oravamuzeum.sk), just 30 minutes from RUZOMBEROK.

Also try two fun rides:

Grandfather’s raft below the cliff of the Castle (http://www.plte-orava.sk) and on a reconstructed narrow-gauge forest railway built in early 20th century.

Two of Slovakia’s 4 surviving Protestant wooden churches – both with lovely folk art pantings inside — can be found very close to DOLNY KUBIN. One in ISTEBNE a little to the west and another in LESTINY to the southeast.

From Ruzomberok drive east about 20 minutes on the highway in the direction LIPTOVSKY MIKULAS, you will see LIPTOVSKA MARA Dam on the left side and watch for a sign for SVATY KRIZ (http://www.liptovtravel.com/artikularny/index.html) – the largest Protestant wooden church – built without using nails — in Slovakia. This church was moved piece by piece from its original location, which was flooded by the dam.

Go to LIPTOVSKY MIKULAS to see its beautiful, recently restored Synagogue (www.slovak-jewish-heritage.org).
Then follow the sign to DEMANOVSKA DOLINA valley (http://www.nizketatry.sk/ciele/ddolina/en.html), part of the Low Tatras National Park. DEMANOVSKA DOLINA was recently nominated as a site for the Winter Olympic Games.

Have dinner and stay at 4-star Hotel Fim (excellent wine list) or the 4-star Hotel Tri Studnicky. Be sure to spend plenty of time outside in the refreshing mountain air.

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Day 6 – LOW TATRA MOUNTAINS www.nizketatry.sk – ice cave, hiking, open-air museum of folk architecture

Bring warm clothes (No matter what month you come!) and head to the ice cave, DEMANOVSKA LADOVA JASKYNA with spectacular ice formations on the ground and dripping from the ceiling into fantastic columns. (The most interesting formations are in the spring.)

Warning: Temperatures are below freezing inside the cave.

Take the chairlift to CHOPOK (http://www.nizketatry.sk/ciele/chopok/en.html), the highest mountain in the Low Tatras. DEMANOVSKA DOLINA valley (http://www.liptovtravel.com/demanovska/a/demanovska.html) has hiking trails galore, with signs posted in different colors to indicate difficulty (blue is easiest, red most challenging).

Lunch at your hotel.

Choose from Hotel Fim (http://www.hotelfim.sk) or Hotel Tri studnicky (http://www.tatry.net/jasna/tristudnicky/rates.html)

In the afternoon drive 40 minutes northeast from JASNA (via LIPTOVSKY MIKULAS – http://www.nizketatry.sk/obce/lmikulas/en.html) to PRIBYLINA to wander around the wonderful open air museum of Liptov village (http://www.lhradok.sk/muzeum – http://www.vysoketatry.com/ciele/mldediny/en.html), with traditional buildings.

If time permits, drive east for 20 minutes, via VAVRISOVO to VYCHODNA, venue of the biggest annual folk festival held late June early July. See the folk amphitheater with carved wooden statues. You can also visit this on your way to the High Tatras (on suggested route 1, above).


From LIPTOVSKY MIKULAS you can easily connect to the High Tatras segment of the Best of East Slovakia (Route 1) tour.