The former Czechoslovakia peacefully dissolved into Czech Republic and Slovakia in 1993. Despite this fact many brits still refer to the old sovereign state of Czechoslovakia. You would imagine that having once been connected the two countries would be similar and in many ways you’d be right. However, if you travel between the two countries you will feel a difference and it’s not always easy to describe. If I had to attempt to describe it, i’d go with: more rugged and raw than Czech; with a slightly worse service attitude!
Slovakia is a great destination if you like the great outdoors. We spent a lot of time biking and hiking here and you’ll meet a lot of locals doing the same. The outdoors is hard and rugged here and with little of the ‘cotton wool’ culture we see in the UK. For us this the pull of this country.
The locals themselves are like mountain goats when it comes to hiking. Although we did see some families attempting routes in completely inappropriate footwear at times; especially on the High Tatras. The mountain biking here was equally as raw. It reminded us of biking in Slovenia, where the terrain is straight up or straight down.
If you are more interested in a cultural trip then the capital: Bratislava, is a great place to start. We’d already visited on a previous trip so we gave it a miss this time. The town of Levoca and the nearby Spis Castle both UNESCO listed sites are also worth a visit. Slovakia is one of the most castled countries in Europe, so history fans will be in their element.
We choose Trencin for no other reason than it was on our way and in the Lonely Planet guide. You’d be forgiven for thinking that Trencin was a bit rough initially. Soviet flattops and industrial buildings dominate the outskirts as is common in many towns. Once in the centre though a beautiful historic town reveals itself.
Trencin has a campsite in the centre with great views of the castle. Autocamping Trencin is fairly typical of Slovakian campsites as it has camping ‘bungalows’ which is what most guests use. Those of you whimsically thinking of glamping pods, think again. These things are basic and kind of resemble a garden summer house. The facilities were clean but built and decorated in an era long gone by!
A clip of two mountain bikers being chased by a bear went viral in 2017. The video quickly received over 1.3 million views and left the rest of the world thinking ‘it’s fake’ or ‘sod that!’. Our reaction was: those routes look good! So Malino Brdo Bike Park was our next stop. The bike park sits in Ruzemberok which is a ski town in the winter. We are always a bit dubious of ski towns as the sudden influx of tourism can remove any culture that was once there. While there is a bit of that we managed to find a very traditional restaurant/farm ( Salaš Krajinka) where they made and sold their own produce. You could have sheep’s cheese with dumplings, chips, ham, traffic cones; anything really!
There are no campsites in Ruzemberok and we wanted to be close to the bike park. This is when we found how cheap accommodation could be in Slovakia and booked ourselves into the Western Hotel. This place was £25, comfortable and we received great service.
Tatranska Lomica is the smallest and apparently most unspoilt township in the High Tatras. It does indeed have a nice feel to it and is a pleasant place to be after a hike. There is a gondola here which can take you up to various different heights. Tourist information will be able to advise on day and through hikes around the area. We hiked to Chata pri Zelenom plese a mountain hut which offers food and accommodation. The views on this hike were fantastic but it is a challenging route; a fact which didn’t deter entire families attempting it in jelly shoes!
We stayed at Rijo Camping Stara Lesna and while basic this was actually our favourite campsite of Slovakia. The site was full of active people, disappearing at different times to go climb, walk or ride. Because of this the facilities were treated with respect and we saw no anti-social behaviour.
Levoca is a walled town fairly close to the Tatra’s. It is a UNESCO heritage site and boasts a renaissance church with the largest wooden alter in the world! The area around the town is also beautiful. We recommend taking a walk, ride or run up Mariánska hora to see a different view of the city. This hill is littered with forest walks and rides to keep the active tourist happy.
Autocamp Levoca is a short ride away from the town. The restaurant/bar on site looks good; although we didn’t eat there. The facilities were basic and reasonably well kept. When a college group arrived (doing the equivalent of the duke of Edinburgh award we guess) it’s fair to say the facilities struggled.
Slovakia and Romania are the only places on the trip that we occasionally resorted to using guesthouses or hotels. The reasons for this were the same for both places: a) the guesthouses were only marginally more expensive than the campsites and; b) the campsites facilities were often tired and sometimes unclean.
In Slovakia it’s a real shame as the country is just waiting to be discovered by outdoor enthusiasts; who will want to camp. The awakening for us was picking up a stomach bug in the campsite at Slovenský Raj National Park. This meant us missing out on a trek that we really wanted to do and having to spend out on two nights in hotels to recuperate.
We will be returning to Slovakia though (we need to do that Slovenský Raj trek). Our advice would be: a) scope the facilities thoroughly before checking into a campsite and; b) take bottled water. We saw drinking water signs on taps in the toilets. The same toilets being shared by a few 100 campers; you have been warned!