What I didn’t know before watching Slovakia: Treasures in the Heart of Europe, I know now. Slovakia is a traveler’s paradise with something for practically everyone.
With gorgeous footage from across the country, and enough fun facts for a Slovak-themed pub trivia night, Slovakia: Treasures in the Heart of Europe is a wanderlust kicker-upper.
Whether you’re big into nature, deep into history, a castle buff, or a festival goer, this hour-long video postcard takes you on an exploration of Slovakia, from the medieval to the modern, alongside host Pat Uskert (UFO Hunters) and Slovak guide Mila Kissova.
The journey begins in Bratislava, Slovakia’s capital and largest city. Located on the Danube River, Bratislava was the home of Celtic and Roman settlements in ancient times, and centuries later, with Vienna and Budapest, “formed a triangle of Austro-Hungarian power.”
Historic sights are all around you here, including the 1000-plus-year-old Bratislava Castle, where visitors have one of the best views of the city, and St. Martin’s Cathedral, the coronation church where 19 sovereigns were crowned and Beethoven premiered his “Missa Solemnis.”
From the quaint and charming Old Town of Bratislava, Uskert and Kissova then take you to Braslava Corso, the contemporary part of the city, “complete with bars, cafés, and giant cushions” and the New Bridge, perhaps better known as the UFO Bridge.
Popular with locals and tourists alike are Slovakia’s folk music festivals, and a musician you get to meet through Uskert is Drahoš Daloš. A Master Fujara Maker, he handcrafts the traditional Slovak flute, which is on the UNESCO list of Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.
Then there are the castle festivals, annual events in which these magnificent structures are celebrated for their place in Slovak history and culture. Devin Castle, “one of the greatest cultural monuments of Slovakia and Slavic history,” dates back to the 9th century and was a major seat of Great Moravia, one of history’s first Slavic kingdoms. In Slovakia’s oldest city of Nitra is Nitra Castle, whose museum houses the legacies of Saint Cyril, creator of the first Slavic writing system, and Saint Methodius, the first Archbishop of Great Moravia.
Bojnice Castle, “the castle of fairy tales,” boasts ghost stories and the Legend of the Black Lady, and hosts the International Festival of Ghosts and Spirits every May. A ghost called “the White Lady” haunts Orava Castle, which is where Nosferatu, the first vampire film, was made in 1922. And Spiš Castle, “one of the largest and most astonishing castles in Central Europe,” is one of Slovakia’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Other UNESCO World Heritage Sites visited in Slovakia: Treasures in the Heart of Europe include the “almost perfectly preserved medieval town” of Bardejov, the wooden churches in the Sub-Carpathian Ruthenia historic region of Eastern Slovakia, and the mining town of Banská Štiavnica. The latter, situated in the hills of a collapsed volcano, was “the most important mining town of the Hapsburg Empire.” Today you can take guided tours of the mines, which are now museums.
Uskert says of Slovakia, “It has been described as a fairy land, with its forests and mountains and villages tucked into rolling hills. It is here, in this landscape, that Slovakia works its magic.” And one place that could be straight out of a fairy tale is Čičmany Village. The exteriors of homes here feature unique, ornamental paintings whose “designs reflect motifs seen in traditional tapestry and needlework.”
For contemporary art, there’s the Andy Warhol Museum in Medzilaborce. Warhol’s parents emigrated to his birth city of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, from what is now northeastern Slovakia, and the museum houses the second largest collection of the renowned artist’s works outside of Pittsburgh.
But really, all around you in Slovakia is art by Mother Nature, which you can play in. Water buffs can go rafting on the Dunajec River before visiting the nearby medieval monastery of Červený Kláštor, aka the Red Monastery. For cave enthusiasts, subterranean adventures await you. According to Uskert, “new caves are still being discovered” in Slovakia, and many have not been fully explored. Of the 44 caves that are national treasures, 12 are open to the public, including the spectacular Ochtinská Aragonite Cave.
Hikers can trek through history as well as nature. Not far from Nitra, in the Tribeč Mountain Range, are the Hrušov Ruins, which were built in response to the Mongol invasions of the 13th century and were part of a guardian castle’s system that stretched throughout the region. Slovakia also offers an extensive network of hiking trails across the country, including the Slovensky Raj (Slovak Paradise), an incredible trail of ladders, iron chains, and steps in the midst of waterfalls.
If you prefer nature with a bit more altitude, the High Tatras are for you. Just know that getting to them from the city of Poprad, “the gateway to the Tatra Mountains,” is not for the faint of heart. And if strolling, people watching, and relaxing in a thermal spa are on your travel agenda, you can do plenty of each in Slovakia, too.
Throughout Slovakia: Treasures in the Heart of Europe, Usker offers travel tips and assurances, from how to say hello (debry den) and thank you (dakujem), to letting you know there are “accommodations for every taste and budget, from 5-star resorts to charming inns,” and that “no matter what season you travel, the trains and buses are safe, on time, and will take you to almost anywhere in the country, from big city to tiny village.”
Slovakia: Treasures in the Heart of Europe airs on the public TV stations listed below starting March 2016. Check your local listings or contact the station that serves your area for broadcast dates and times. (For information regarding carriage, contact American Public Television.)
(By the way, the stations cover more than 70% of the US, but if you live outside their broadcast areas, you don’t have to miss out on this terrific travel doc. The film is available for streaming/download at Amazon Video.)