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Travel & Holidays in later life


A restaurant and winery in the wine village of PezinokThere's great holiday potential in Slovakia, winter or summer. The mountains offer great scenery, well-established ski slopes, charming villages, dramatic castles and classic spa towns. 

That half of former Czechoslovakia may sound very distant. Yet the Slovak capital, Bratislava, is only 40 miles from Vienna, with plentiful links by train or bus. Bratislava itself is an excellent short-break destination in itself. It has good sightseeing, quality hotels, and lively cafes, bars and nightlife. 

Central Bratislava has all the attractions of Prague in miniature. A party atmosphere takes over at weekends. In fact stag parties are now targeting the city, with the added attraction that drink bills are even lower than in the Czech capital. 

Travel Facts


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There are low-cost flights from several UK airports to Bratislava all year round.

No visas needed for UK  passports.

Currency is the euro. Exchange rate with the pound.

More information: Slovak Tourist Office web site 

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The entire heart of the Old Town is pedestrianised, with only the English- and German-speaking tourist trolleys rolling around. Paved and cobbled streets are lined with buildings carefully maintained and painted in rainbow colours. 

The city has a complicated history. Under its former name of Pressburg, it was the coronation capital of Hungary from 1536 until 1784. Eleven kings and eight queens were crowned in St Martin's Minster. 

The surrounding streets of aristocratic palaces and public buildings have all been restored to sparkling condition. Typical is the 18th-century Zichy Palace on Venturska Street, built by Hungary's richest landowner in the centre of political action. 

On Venturska Street, with former mansions converted to tourism. Decorative street sculptures add humour in summertime. The neo-Classic building was taken over by the city council in 1948, and is used for ceremonies and feasts. At street level is the very helpful information office, with Zichy cafe and restaurant on the corner. Menu prices are quite modest.

The elegant main square facing the City Hall is lined with wooden kiosks selling handicrafts. But shops in the area have more pricey window displays. 

Bratislava's river is the Danube. A hilltop rectangular castle has towers at each corner, making it look like a table upside down. The panoramic views are worth a cab-ride, up through a diplomatic zone of ultra-modern embassy buildings. 

A curiosity is that the Slovak capital is located at the most south- westerly tip of the country, with a tail stretching 270 miles east. In fact part of Bratislava's boundary doubles as the frontier with Austria, and vineyards reach into the city.

Most of that tail comprises two mountain ranges - the High Tatra which borders Poland, and the Low Tatra.

Both ranges make good use of their winter sport potential, with easy access especially from the town of Poprad. Any ski enthusiast will find that accommodation, transport, lifts and equipment rental come much cheaper than in Austria.

In summertime the resort hotels and cable cars can open up a wide range of mountain trips. There are well-marked hiking trails, and bikes can be rented. Fast-flowing rivers are used for water-sports and rafting. 

Slovakia also takes good care of its spa towns. They boomed in the 19th and early 20th centuries as ritual health-cure playgrounds of European gentry.

In those days, Slovakia was just a small corner of the Austro- Hungarian Empire. But Emperor Franz Josef enjoyed the social life of spa towns and the potential for hunting in the mountains. The courtiers and hangers-on developed similar tastes, all helping the development of resorts amid glorious mountain  scenery.

In the spa hotel grounds at PiestanySince those glittering days, spa hotels during the post-war Communist days were mostly filled with Czech and Slovak citizens who got a 21-day or 28-day cure for free, on National Health. Today these establishments form the basis of a thriving tourist industry. The old-time spa palaces have been totally refurbished, combining elegance with all modern comforts. 

Hot spring therapy is taken very seriously, with specialist doctors to examine patients and advise on courses of treatment. There is wide choice available, at far lower prices than any equivalent spas in western Europe.

Current policy is to convert spas into all-purpose tourist centres with added emphasis on sport and entertainment. Many new spa hotels have been built, which likewise focus on leisure and activity holidays.

No obligation to take the cure! Most short-stay visitors are content to take one drink of the gruesome-tasting waters. Enough is enough! 

Several dozen spa resorts are located in idyllic woodland or mountain settings, and make a good base for a touring motorist.

Scattered around the country are ten open-air museums that aim to preserve Slovakia's great diversity in mountain and rural life-styles and folk architecture. 

A typical painted house in the village of CicmanyLiptov Village, for instance, was relocated when a dam was built that flooded the original site. All the main buildings - farmhouses, cottages, barns, workshops, a church, school and a manor house - are furnished in authentic style. Craftsmen in old-time costume demonstrate their traditional skills.

There are a number of tour operators organising trips to Slovakia for general tourism or more specialised skiing or cycling.

Meanwhile the greatest number of visitors come from Poland and the Czech Republic, and prices are tuned to their budgets.


Where else to visit in Central and Eastern Europe

BUDAPEST - Try a short break

KRAKOW - the pub capital of Poland

MOSCOW - See the transformation for yourself

PRAGUE - Pulling back the Czech curtain

"Books to read - click on cover pictures" or click on the links below

Bratislava (Bradt City Guide S.)  by Lucy Mallons - a thoroughly up-to-date guide to the Slovak capital, also featuring the cuisine and the cafe culture, with a selection of day trip.

Czech and Slovak Republics (Lonely Planet Country Guides S.) - Ideal for anyone planning to visit both countries.

The Czech and Slovak Republics (Rough Guide Travel Guides S.) - at alternative choice for anyone visiting both countries.

High Tatra: The Finest Valley and Mountain Walks (Rother Walking Guides - Europe)

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