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Slovakia, the little big country

Slovakia is a small, landlocked country in Central Europe, but its medieval castles and stunning landscapes belies its size

It was by sheer chance that I discovered this little country of big surprises. Slovakia is a magical place down the Danube in Central Europe. The small, landlocked country is bordered by the Czech Republic and Austria to the west, Poland to the north, Ukraine to the east and Hungary to the south.


Red Tuk Tuks are fashioned after old cars and they take tourists around in the historic Old Town Square in Bratislava. Pic/Vijaya Pratap.

Beauty in Bratislava
Fairytale buildings, charming squares, a medieval castle looming over the city — Bratislava is one of the youngest capitals in the world, but its rich history was chronicled over 2,000 years ago. The city spreads out along the base of the Mala Karpaty (th'e small Carpathians mountain range) sitting astride the longest river in Europe, the Danube. The beauty on the Dunaj (Danube) river, is one of the titles given to Bratislava.


The city spreads out along the base of the Mala Karpaty (the small Carpathians mountain range), astride the longest river in Europe, the Danube. Pics/ Thinkstock

The most attractive part of Bratislava is surely Stara Mesto (Old Town), where you can wander through the narrow streets and admire impressive historical monuments. The most visited and popular sites in the city are also its most dominant monuments, namely, Bratislava Castle, St Martin's Cathedral, the Primates Palace, St. Michael's Gate, the Old Town Hall, Grassalkovich and Mir Bach Palaces, and Slavin War Memorial. The city centre is full of gorgeous hidden spots, countless cosy cafes and excellent restaurants.


The Michael Tower (Michalska Brana) at Bratislava

I am told that, throughout the year, the city is the venue for a diverse range of cultural, sporting and gastronomic events, which compliment the memorable atmosphere of this picturesque city. The coronation celebrations, the Bratislava Music Festival and the Christmas market are some examples.


The Bojnice Castle

Next, I tour the enchanting castle Cerveny Kamen, a few kilometres from Bratislava, which is also a popular filming location. The castle cellars are the most extensive underground areas in Central Europe. This imposing 13th century Red Stone Castle, was given to many noble families who supported the king. Rebuilt several times, catering to the individual needs of occupants, undergoing different styles of architecture, today it is a museum. Beautiful Baroque interiors, Rococo, Empire style and Renaissance furniture, made of mahogany, walnut and poplar veneer, European and Turkish weapons are worth a visit.


Sauerkraut soup, a must-try delicacy when in Slovakia

Art and history
History lovers and incurable romantics will be in seventh heaven at the enchanted Bojnice Castle, which hosts an annual international festival of ghosts and spirits, when the castle is the meeting place for ghouls, witches and vampires from all over the world.

Slovakia has hundreds of caves and caverns under its mountains, out of which 15 are open to the public. Most of the caves have stalagmites rising from the ground and stalactites hanging from above. There are currently five Slovak caves under UNESCO's World Heritage Site status.

In Slovakia, say cheese
Slovakia satisfies even the most demanding culinary connoisseur. Traditional Slovak cuisine appeals especially to lovers of cheeses and dairy products. The most typical Slovak national dish is Bryndza Gnocchi with diced bacon which can be complemented with a carved wooden mug of thick zincica (fermented sheep whey, like sour butter milk). The highlight for me was the typical bean or garlic soup served in a bowl made from a large bread roll called a Bosniac.

The ever-popular Sauerkraut soup with smoked meat, sausage and mushrooms was equally exotic. A culinary feast is best topped off with a fine Slovak wine from any of the Slovak wine districts, from the Tokaj region in East Slovakia to the Small Carpathian winemaking province in the west. Wine tasting in the ancient wine cellars is a unique experience. Don't ever miss it!

On the road
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Historical
Best time to visit: May-September
You need: 3-5 days

Fact File 
Bratislava is at the centre of Europe, with excellent transport connections. Can be reached from Vienna (60 km); Budapest (200 km), Prague ( 350km) by road or train. 

Visa: Shengen visa applicable

Stay: Lindner Hotels and Resorts are a good option. Some good places to eat include Flowers, Matysak, Staroslovenska Krcma. Check out Beer Palace near the opera house and Kolkovna in the new, riverside Eurovea complex.

Don’t Miss: Take a boat down to the futuristic Danubiana Meulensteen Art Museum, situated on a peninsula near the borders with Austria and Hungary Return Ticket: Adults-10 euros; children, students, retired people-6 euros. Free admission to the museum.

Buy: Lovely amber neckpieces abound. Typical souvenirs from Slovakia are dolls dressed in folk costumes, ceramic objects, crystal glass, carved wooden figures, wooden pitchers, fujaras (a folk instrument on the UNESCO list) and valaskas (a decorated folk hatchet) and above all, products made from corn husks and wire, notably human figures. Souvenirs can be bought in the shops run by the state organisation. Dielo shop chain sells works of Slovak artists and craftsmen.

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