Banská Stiavnica

Travel after the pandemic #8: By road in Slovakia

National treasures along the highways and byways

Today’s trip involves a moderate drive from Budapest to Slovakia’s High Tatras mountains, taking in World Heritage sites, scenic roads, old mining towns, extra special wooden villages, a castle, lake and skiing centre along the way.

The route is offered by the Kempinski Hotel Corvinus Budapest, which is the starting out point at Erzsébet tér in downtown District V, home of the Budapest Eye, and that wends its way to Štrbské Pleso, the highest village in the High Tatras and home of a sister hotel, Grand Hotel Kempinski High Tatras, in neighbouring Slovakia.

Hit the road in your car or on your motorbike and drive along impressive Andrássy út, often described as the “Hungarian Champs-Élysées”. While the French avenue is topped by the Arc de Triomphe, Budapest’s equivalent culminates in Heroes Square, home of the Millennium Monument with its statues of Hungarian kings and heroes, and the Archangel Gabriel column holding aloft St Stephen’s crown.

Along Andrássy enjoy the views of the State Opera House, the Dreschler Palace, the Párizsi Nagyáruház and other notable buildings, a number of embassies, the Museum of Fine Arts and the Hall of Art (Műcsarnok) facing each other at Heroes Square, and City Park (Városliget) with its Vajdahunyad Castle and Széchenyi Baths.
Next, drive onto the M3 motorway and merge onto the M0 ring road towards E77, Slovakia. Take Exit 71 towards E77/the M2 towards Slovakia. Enter Slovakia, then continue on Route 66/E77.

Change to Road 51 towards Banská Stiavnica. On this road at Svätý Anton village you will find Chateau Saint Anton, a 15th-century baroque manor, and its English Garden. This was a former hunting residence and contains traditional furniture and paintings and the trophies of hunters from long ago. The first mention of Svätý Anton in written sources dates to 1266.

Next comes Banská Stiavnica, which is an old historical town and UNESCO Heritage site. Population 10,900, it is one of the most beautiful and in historical terms one of the most interesting towns in Slovakia. The old medieval mining centre grew into a town with Renaissance palaces, 16th-century churches, elegant squares and castles. “Banska” translates as “mining” in English.

Continue to Zvolen and visit Zvolen Castle, which is a medieval, well-preserved gothic castle located on a hill dominating the centre of town and built by Louis I of Hungary in 1382 as his hunting lodge. Since then it has also served as a prison and a school, before being restored for its present use containing a large portion of the works belonging to the Slovak National Gallery.

Leaving Zvolen, continue on Route 66/E77 and drive through Banská Bystrica. This is the fifth-largest city in Slovakia (population 79,000) and is relatively modern, with just a small but beautiful historical centre, the attractive Old Town.

Banska Bystrica

It too was an important mining centre from the 13th century, when it was chartered. Gothic and Renaissance-style buildings, including burghers’ houses and the castle group (in the heart of town), date from the 15th and 16th centuries, when the silver and copper mines supplied much of the European market.

On August 29, 1944, Banská Bystrica was the scene of the Slovak national uprising against the Germans. The Old Town Hall (1479) contains a museum commemorating that event. The town’s proximity to the Lower Tatra Mountains makes it a draw for hikers and skiers.

After leaving Banská Bystrica, you will enter Low Tatras National Park, with breathtaking views, especially in the autumn and winter months. This is the largest national park in Slovakia, 728 square kilometres with a buffer zone of 1102 square kilometres, covering the whole Low Tatras mountain range and established in 1978.

The park has excellent conditions for many sports activities. Some of the resorts include Jasna Low Tatras, Tále, Demänovská dolina and Čertovica. Caves open to the public include Demänovská jaskyňa Slobody (Demänovská Cave of Freedom), Demänovská ľadová jaskyňa (Demänovská Ice Cave), Bystrá Cave, Važecká Cave and the Cave of Dead Bats.

Stop at Donovaly village, the prominent Slovakian ski paradise and mountain pass at 960 metres above sea level, and enjoy the view of the surrounding peaks. For skiing and snowboarding, there are a potential 11 kilometres of slopes available with snow-making capabilities and 16 lifts to transport the visitors. The Riders Park has lots of rails, jumps and obstacle elements for board fans and there is a toboggan run.

Continue on Route 66/E77. Just a stone’s throw before Ruzomberok, there is a picturesque village called Vlkolinec, which is another UNESCO World Heritage site. It shows the traditional architecture and lifestyle of 19th-century Slovakians. It is a remarkably intact settlement of some 45 buildings with the traditional features of a Central European village. It is the best preserved and most comprehensive unit of its kind in the whole region.

The traditional log houses are sited on narrow lots with stables, barns and smaller outbuildings in the rear. A canalized stream flows through the centre of the village. The layout of the settlement has remained virtually unchanged and the architectural style has been fully retained.

Enter Ruzomberok, which has a goodly share of similar log buildings, and continue towards Tatranska Cesta on Route 18, then follow the E50 Highway. On this highway, you can enjoy views of Liptovska Mara, which is the largest reservoir of Slovakia and lies at the foot of the High Tatras Mountains. It is often called the “Slovakian Sea”. It was built in 1965-1975 and covers 22 square kilometres. The name comes from one of the inundated villages.

Liptovská Mara

Here, Liptovsky Trnovec village is a popular destination for water sports lovers – there is a campsite, beach, marina, sporting goods rental, mini golf and a windsurfing school. During the summer sightseeing boats operate from here.

Take the Vazec exit for Route 18, and from Route 18 turn left to Horská. Continue onto Route 538, turn right onto Route 537, then turn left to Szentiványho and follow the signs to Štrbské Pleso and Grand Hotel Kempinski High Tatras.

The luxurious complex is located in the Tatra National Park, under the strictest degrees of protection. It is also a Grade II listed building, making it a national monument. The hotel opened in 2009 after extensive reconstruction of three adjoining interlinked historical buildings built over 34 years: Jánošík (1893), Kriváň (1906) and Hviezdoslav (1923). They are distinguished by their varied architectural forms, which range from historicist design to the modern style of the 1920s. Immediately at the rear of the hotel is an alpine lake.

Kempinski Hotel Corvinus Budapest and Grand Hotel Kempinski High Tatras are two of the currently 79 luxury hotels operating under the Kempinski brand name worldwide.

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