It is not Slovenia or Czechoslovakia, just Slovakia. Be careful, Slovaks hate when someone gets their country mistakenly or says Slovakia is part of Eastern Europe. No, Slovakia is right in the heart of Europe, literally, in the geographical center of Europe. So, if you really want to get an idea, what Europe is about, I suggest you come here. Slovakia might be a new country (established in 1993) but with rich history, breath-taking nature and delicious cuisine. Unfortunately, it is often overlooked destination off the beaten path. But I promise, once you are here, you will fall in love with this little country.
There are many castles in Slovakia, which creates a unique landscape. Many of them are in ruins, but they are not less attractive than the newer ones. The most popular ruin castle is Spišký Hrad, listed by UNESCO as the biggest castle in Central Europe (Yes, Central Europe!). But the real hidden gem is village Spišské Podhradie, right under the castle, with its preserved renaissance houses and several old-fashioned restaurants. If you are looking for something slightly fancier, no doubt that Bojnice should be your next destination. It’s a fairy-tale castle, which you can actually recognize from some of your favourite movies, as it is often used as a shooting location. It is surrounded by parks and Slovakian oldest ZOO, and it looks absolutely magical in any season of the year.
Slovakia is a great country for all outdoor fans and nature lovers. Due to its mountainous surface, there are not too many cities, and all the constructions need to respect the difficult conditions, which means that the green area covers approximately 40% of the land. Slovakia has in total nine national parks and numerous caves. The biggest pride of Slovakia is, for sure, the mountain range High Tatras, and even our national anthem sings about the High Tatras, so it is really a thing here. The highest peak Gerlachovský štít is situated 2600 meters above the sea level, but in order to go there, you need to have some hiking experience and the right equipment. But don’t worry, we got you covered. There are plenty of easier routes, and you can even get to almost any mountain peak with a cable car, which makes it also a perfect destination for winter sports. And if you are not that much into sports, you can still enjoy beautiful sceneries from the terrace of your wellness hotel.
Slovak gastronomy you either love or hate. There is usually nothing in between. The roots go to Eastern Europe, so there are visible influences from Russia, Ukraine, Poland or even Hungary. That means a lot of fat, meat, dairy and potatoes. Our cuisine is not the healthiest one, but it is so good, we can’t resist it. Our national food is called "halušky", which are potato dumplings with sheep cheese and bacon. You can find a lot of dairy products from sheep, especially in the countryside. It is indeed an experience to stop by and buy something directly from the farmers, as they usually preserve a typical folk lifestyle. Slovakia is also famous for its hard liquors made from fruits, herbs or pine, which are believed to have healing powers, and some grandmothers still make you drink this alcohol when you feel the flu is coming. If you are not a fan of hard liquors, there are plenty of vineyards in the southern part of Slovakia, with great locally produced wine. And Slovak wine goes great with sheep cheese!
Most tourists visit only Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia, usually as a part of one day trip from our more popular neighbour – Vienna. But there is much more to explore off the beaten path. Slovakia might be a small country, but big in diversity. And yes, Bratislava is great, but there are still hidden gems all over the country that wait to be discovered. Nevertheless, there is a reason we call it the heart of Europe, and I can give you a hint, it is not just a geographical location.
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