MEDIEVAL CASTLES, HISTORIC TOWNS, TATRA MOUNTAINS AND NATURAL CAVES; REGIONS & BRATISLAVA, SLOVAKIA
Day 1 – Arrive Štrbské Pleso, Slovakia
Our Slovakia Itinerary follows a week-long journey to Poland (Kraków & Mountains, Poland Itinerary). After lunch, we depart our hotel in Bieszczady, in southern Poland and drive around 4 hours to Štrbské Pleso in Slovakia. After checking into our hotel in Štrbské Pleso, we spend our leisure time kayaking on the lake and relaxing at out hotel’s indoor swimming pool overlooking the mountains. In the evening, we walk 10 minutes along the lake to the Koliba Patria Restaurant for dinner.
Note: Our Slovakia Itinerary may be used separately or combined with our Kraków & Mountains, Poland Itinerary. Option 1: Fly to Kraków, Poland, then drive around 3 hours to Štrbské Pleso in Slovakia. Option 2: Following a week-long journey in Poland (Kraków & Mountains Itinerary), drive around 4 hours from Bieszczady in Poland to Štrbské Pleso in Slovakia.
Day 2 – Prešov, Spiš Castle, Žehra Village, Levoča
Today, we journey to Eastern Slovakia, exploring its historic towns, picturesque villages and medieval castle. In the morning, we drive 1.5 hours to Prešov where we visit its historic town center, explore the Church of St Nicholas and have lunch. Afterward, we drive 30 minutes toward Spiš Castle, the castle complex listed as a UNESCO Historic Site. We visit for an hour the ruins of this medieval fortress and castle and enjoy the views of the surrounding valley and villages. We depart Spiš Castle and drive few minutes to explore the nearby historic town of Spišská Kapitula and Žehra Village. Next, we drive a half an hour to Levoča to visit its beautiful Town Hall. After our visit, we drive an hour back to Štrbské Pleso and have dinner at our hotel.
Day 3 – Orava Castle, Bojnice Castle
A trip to Central Slovakia reveals the picturesque small towns and enchanting castles. We depart at 8:00am and drive 1.5 hours to visit the beautiful Orava Castle (Oravský Hrad). The Oravské Múzeum exhibits an impressive collection of medieval and Renaissance structures and artifacts. After few hours, we follow a 2 hour route to Bojnice Castle, a fairytale medieval castle with beautiful chambers and a natural cave situated underneath the castle. We get a quick lunch and spend few hours exploring the castle’s interiors and learning about its history. After our visit, we drive 3 hours to our hotel and have dinner at Koliba Patria, the restaurant within walking distance of our hotel. Note: Our journey takes place during the summer, and we recommend to check the castles’ visiting hours as they change with the seasons.
Day 4 – Lomnický Štít, Belianska Jaskyňa, Dunajec River Gorge
Our day in nature passes in the Tatra Mountains, spectacular caves and by a picturesque river gorge. We depart at 8:00am and drive approximately 50 minutes to Tatranská Lomnica, a town in the Tatra Mountains to take the cable car to Skalnaté Pleso and then take the ride to Lomnický Štít, offering splendid mountain views. Afterward, we come down to Tatranská Lomnica and drive half an hour to Belianska Jaskyňa to observe the magnificent cave formations in the Tatras. Next, we drive an hour to Červený Kláštor, to visit the ancient monastery and enjoy a rafting excursion on the Dunajec River Gorge, guided by the native highlanders, the “Gorals”. After the excursion, we go to the nearby bus station to transfer back to Červený Kláštor and then drive 1.5 hour back to our hotel.
Day 5 – Slovak Karst National Park
Today, we explore the Slovak Karst National Park and its magnificent underground caves. In the morning, we drive 2.5 hours to Ochtinská Aragonitová Jaskyňa, an extraordinary cave with rare aragonite formations. After the visit, we drive 40 minutes toward the Plešivec village and follow the route to the nearby Jaskyňa Domica, a beautiful limestone cave in the Slovak Karst National Park. We take a boat ride along the underground river to closely observe its spectacular cave formations. We depart the park and drive 2.5 hours back to our hotel.
Day 6 – Čičmany Village, Beckov Castle, Trnava, Nitra, Arrive Bratislava
We depart our hotel in Štrbské Pleso at 8:00am and drive to Bratislava, visiting historic sites along the way. We drive 3 hours to Čičmany Village to view its timber houses decorated with folk motifs. After a short visit, we drive 1 hour to the Beckov Castle to explore the ruins of this 12th century castle. We drive an hour to Trnava, a medieval city with a splendid architecture, beautiful cathedral and old city walls. Half an hour away, we visit the historic town of Nitra and its medieval castle. We depart Nitra and drive approximately 1 hour to our hotel in Bratislava.
Day 7 – Bratislava
Pretty cobblestone streets guide us to the Bratislava’s Old Town and its historic castle. We walk 15 minutes from our hotel to the Hlavné Námestie, the Main Square to visit the Old Town Hall. We photograph the Roland Fountain and walk to the Primate’s Palace to visit its historic Hall of Mirrors. We have lunch at the Prasna Basta Restaurant, then stop at the Kaffee Meyer for dessert. A short walk away, St. Martin’s Cathedral is a historic place where the Hungarian Kings were crowned. We follow the pathway to the Bratislava Castle, historic landmark overlooking Danube River and the city. After visiting the castle, we walk few minutes to the nearby Modrá Hviezda, a charming restaurant serving an excellent Slovak cuisine. After dinner, we walk back to our hotel.
Day 8 – Bratislava Departure
After breakfast, we drive approximately 20 minutes to Bratislava Airport to return our rental car and take our international flight home.
The Slovak Republic is a country in Europe, bordered by the Czech Republic, Austria, Hungary, Ukraine and Poland. In 1993, Czechoslovakia dissolved into two separate nations: the Czech Republic and the Slovak Republic. Slovakia is an enticing destination with medieval history, beautiful nature, distinctive folklore and wonderful cuisine. It is a land of ancient castles, beautiful towns, stunning Tatra Mountains, thermal hot springs and picturesque countryside. The Slovak folklore is on display in the country’s architecture, music, literature and crafts. Our itinerary coalesces our favorite places in Slovakia.
Eastern Slovakia – The picturesque villages, historic towns, majestic castles and mountainous terrain define the landscape of Eastern Slovakia. Situated between the High Tatra Mountains and the Slovak Ore Mountains (Slovenské Rudohorie), Levoča is a lovely town with a historic Town Hall designed in Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque and Neo-Classical styles, and the defining structure of the Church of St. James. A short drive away, the majestic Spiš Castle shows the preserved remnants of the fortress and castle complex that served as the regional administrative center. Overlooking the castle, the town of Spišská Kapitula reveals its medieval history and the religious symbol of St. Martin’s Cathedral. The nearby Žehra Village stands out with its Church of the Holy Spirit. The historic town of Levoča, the Spiš Castle complex and Žehra Village are listed as UNESCO Heritage Sites. The half an hour drive from the Žehra Village guides us to Prešov, a historic salt mining town with a picturesque town center and the Gothic structure of the Church of St. Nicholas. In the Slovenské Rudohorie mountain range along the Hungary border, the UNESCO protected Slovenský Kras encompasses the Slovak Karst National Park and beautiful limestone caves displaying prehistoric writings. Situated a short drive from Plešivec village, the beautiful cave of Jaskyňa Domica (Domica Cave) offers boat rides along the underground river, enabling us to observe its spectacular cave formations. The nearby Ochtinská Aragonitová Jaskyňa exhibits rare underground aragonite formations, defined by white colored clusters with unusual shapes.
Central Slovakia – Mountain peaks, mountain glacial lake, stunning river gorge and folk traditions define Central Slovakia. The Tatra Mountains, mountain ranges that are part of the Carpathian Mountains, define the natural landscape of the central north of Slovakia and of the south of Poland. On the Slovak side, visitors to the Tatra National Park may explore its mountain peaks, impressive caves, mountain lakes and diverse wildlife. The Gerlachovský Štít, the highest peak of the Tatra Mountains in Slovakia, is best explored with a guide, while the cable car ride to Lomnický Štít offers another option to enjoy the splendid mountain views. The Belianska Jaskyňa (Belianska Cave) is a wonderful destination to observe cave formations in the Tatras and learn about their history. Nature-lovers venture to Štrbské Pleso, a scenic glacier lake surrounded by the Tatra Mountains. In the summer, the Dunajec River Gorge becomes a preferred destination for river rafting, starting in the village of Červený Kláštor and finishing in the village of Leśnica in Poland. Visitors to Central Slovakia shall not miss the Bojnice Castle, a medieval castle with a surrounding park and beautifully decorated chambers such as the Golden Hall. Underneath the castle is a travertine cave, naturally created by rainfall washing away the travertine. The Banská Bystrica, ancient gold, silver and copper town, has a very pretty old town square, Námestie SNP, and inviting pedestrian pathways. The lush vegetation and the Orava River create a lovely setting for the Oravský Hrad (Orava Castle). Its preserved structure exhibits multi-architectural styles and is a beautiful tourist attraction. The Slovak folklore is on display in the Čičmany Village, an artistic village with timber houses decorated with folk motifs.
Western Slovakia – The beauty of Western Slovakia is found in its historic castles, picturesque towns and Bratislava, capital city of Slovakia. Perched atop the limestone hill are the ruins of Beckov Hrad (Beckov Castle), national cultural monument dating back to the 12th century. Seekers of thermal baths visit Slovakia’s famous spa town of Piešťany, situated on the banks of the Vah River. The medieval city of Trnava has a pretty architecture, a scenic pedestrian main street, old city walls and beautiful cathedrals. The charming town of Nitra has a historic Old Town and medieval Nitra Castle rising above the Nitra River. The Nitra Castle hosts various cultural events, including medieval music spectacles and dance performances. Bratislava, situated on the banks of the Danube River, is the capital city and cultural center of Slovakia. Bratislava’s Old Town stands out with its historic palaces, ancient architecture, religious treasures and plentiful cafes. The Hlavné Námestie (Main Square) is the symbol of Slovakia’s medieval past and a perfect people gathering place. The Bratislava City Museum, housed in the Old Town Hall, exhibits an original 15th century Gothic style architecture as well as multi-architectural styles resulting from subsequent renovations. The Roland Fountain, originally created to provide water, is a charming people watching place. The Neo-Classical structure of the Primate’s Palace serves as the seat of the Mayor of Bratislava. The Hall of Mirrors is an opulent chamber in the Primate’s Palace and a historic site where the Peace Treaty of Pressburg was signed by Napoleon and Francis I. Mirbach Palace is a Rococo style palace that serves today as an art gallery. A visit to the famous Kaffee Mayer overlooking the main square, takes us back to its 19th century Viennese confectionary traditions. A pathway bordering the Old Town guides us to St. Martin’s Cathedral, a magnificent Roman Catholic Cathedral and historic site where the Hungarian Kings were crowned. Atop the hill, the Bratislava Castle is a historic landmark overlooking the ancient trading routes along the Danube River. The Bratislava Castle offers stunning views of the city and educates visitors about Bratislava’s culture, history and folklore.
Dunajec River Gorge – Pieniny is a mountain range situated in the north of Slovakia and the south of Poland. The Dunajec River Gorge runs through the Pieniny Mountains and is a natural boarder between Slovakia and Poland. The Pieniny National Park, a protected nature site in the middle of the Pieniny Mountains, is known for its riverside biking routes, hiking trails, folklore architecture and river rafting excursions. On both sides of the border, the native highlanders called “Gorals” offer tranquil rafting trips in traditional wooden rafts along a scenery of mountains, steep cliffs, lush forests and wooden houses. The Gorals dressed in traditional costumes, sing folklore music as they steer the wooden rafts along the Dunajec River Gorge. The village of Červený Kláštor, situated an hour and a half from our hotel at Štrbské Pleso, is the starting point for the river rafting excursions. We visit first the 14th century Červený Kláštor Monastery set in a picturesque valley overlooking the Three Crowns, a summit of the Pieniny Mountains. Next, we buy tickets on the bank of the river, and enjoy tranquil excursion on the wooden rafts through the Dunajec River Gorge. After the excursion, gorals with horse-drawn carriages transfer us to the nearby bus station to return to Červený Kláštor.
Slovak Cuisine – A journey across Slovakia’s countryside reveals picturesque villages, pretty valleys and fertile lowlands. Country cooking is at the root of the traditional Slovak cuisine, varying slightly from region to region. Over the years, the Slovak cuisine embraced culinary influences from its neighbors: Austria, Hungary, Czech Republic and Poland. The culinary menu consistently features staple foods, such as potatoes, wheat, pork meat, dairy products and cabbage. In Slovakia’s mountainous regions, sheep’s milk is used to produce Bryndza, the creamy Slovak cheese and an irreplaceable ingredient in the Slovak cuisine. Bryndzové Halušky, considered a national Slovak dish, are potato dumplings mixed with strong-flavored Bryndza and topped with fatty bacon cubes. This hearty dish is an acquired taste for us but is worth sampling. The slightly sweet Slivkové Gule are potato dumplings filled with plums and topped with crumbled walnuts. The Slovak cuisine also includes a variety of smoked meats, typically served with pickles, mustard and horseradish. In Slovakia, the widely cultivated cabbage is often served as raw salad or as sauerkraut. The fermented cabbage supplements many Slovak dishes, including soups, stews and potato dumplings. Visitors to Slovakia shall sample Kofola, a non-alcoholic carbonated drink originally produced in Czechoslovakia, and widely distributed in Slovakia and Czech Republic. Kofola’s main ingredient is the kofo syrup made from a mixture of herb and fruit extracts. Kofola has a unique flavor and a sweet and sour flavor.
Šúľance S Makom – In the 16th century, Spanish explorers brought the potato from South America to Europe, inaugurating the invention of many delicious potato-based dishes in Europe. Halušky are Slovakian potato dumplings, similar to the Italian “gnocchi” or the Polish “kopytka”. The potato-dough is made of boiled and mashed potatoes, flour, eggs and salt. The potato dumplings are formed into small oval pieces or small balls stuffed with different fillings. Our selected potato dumplings are boiled and topped with butter and poppy seeds. These dumplings are delicate and flavorful. Koliba Patria, located near the Hotel Patria in Štrbské Pleso, serves an excellent Slovak cuisine.
Pork Meat – In Slovakia, traditional food preservation techniques are being practiced since centuries. Pork meat, a popular menu item, is often served roasted, smoked or cured with salt. The Slovak cuisine features a wide variety of meats, such as roasted pork shanks, meat stews, cured bacon and smoked sausages. Smoked pork meats enhance the aromas and flavors of many traditional Slovak dishes. In Bratislava, the pathway leading to the Bratislava Castle passes near Modrá Hviezda (modrahviezda.sk), a charming restaurant set in a cave, serving outstanding Slovak cuisine, including delicious pork ribs.
Kapustnica – The cabbage is an important vegetable in the Eastern European cuisine, featured in fresh salads, soups, stews and dumplings. Kapustnica is a hearty soup made with fermented cabbage, smoked meat, herbs and spices. Different regional recipes instruct how to make this delicious sour flavored soup. The Prasna Basta Restaurant (prasnabasta.sk), situated in Bratislava’s Old Town, serves a very good Slovak cuisine in its lovely garden patio, open during the summer. During our visit, the soup of the day is a delicious Kapustnica.
Grand Hotel Kempinski High Tatras – The Tatra Mountains and the glacial mountain lake serve as a beautiful backdrop for the Grand Hotel Kempinski High Tatras. At the shoreline of the Štrbské Pleso Lake, Grand Hotel Kempinski High Tatras is an ideal destination for seekers of luxury in a natural setting. Our selected Junior Suite with Lake View has an elegant décor, spacious lounge and panoramic views of the lake and the mountains. In the morning, an amazing breakfast buffet is served in the stylish Grand Restaurant. The Grand Restaurant also serves a regional and international cuisine for lunch and dinner. The heated indoor swimming pool is a relaxation paradise with breathtaking views of the lake and the mountains. The Grand Hotel Kempinski High Tatras is situated a short distance from the Tatra National Park, providing a convenient access to the beautiful nature.
Sheraton Bratislava Hotel – The visitors to Bratislava shall stay at the Sheraton Bratislava Hotel, modern hotel situated near the riverside boulevard lined with shops, restaurants and cafes. Our selected Club Deluxe Room has a stylish modern décor and offers access to the Sheraton Club Lounge with a complimentary breakfast buffet and afternoon hors d'oeuvres. The Zion Spa Premium invites guests to its heated swimming pool, steam bath and Finnish sauna. The hotel is located within walking distance to Bratislava’s Old Town, enabling an easy access to its historic and cultural sites.