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SLOVAKIA

Inhabited for more than 270,000 years, Slovakia is a land both timeless and contemporary. As the country with the highest number of castles and chateaux per capita, there is ample evidence of past periods of Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian rule. Its own rich culture rose to the fore in the 20th century, during the era when the land was half of Czechoslovakia. After the Communist period ended in the Velvet Revolution of 1989, Slovaks began to call for full independence, but on friendly terms. In 1993, the so-called Velvet Divorce made Slovakia its own democratic nation—and it has never looked back.

With one of the world’s highest standards of living and a thriving economy, Slovakia has become a major player in the European Union. Visitors to its capital, Bratislava, find world-class dining, nightlife, and culture. And beyond the city, Slovakia is a natural wonderland, with two stunning mountain ranges—the sweeping Carpathians and jagged High Tatras—as well as hundreds of tarns (glacier-cut mountain pools) and epic underground cave systems (five of which are UNESCO World Heritage Sites). Forty percent of the country is forested, a landscape punctuated with fairytale villages and stone castles from times gone by, as well as young vineyards supporting the growing wine industry. No wonder so many Europeans flock here every year to indulge in its charms. Just over a quarter-century since independence, Slovakia is the model of what life after the Iron Curtain should look like.

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Immerse yourself in Slovakia with this selection of articles, recipes, and more

ARTICLE

Discover Bratislava’s realistic sculptures that add an artistic—and humorous—aspect to the city.

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15 DAYS FROM $3,495 • $ 233 / DAY
Small Group Adventure

Jewels of Bohemia: Czech Republic, Slovakia & Hungary

89% Traveler Excellence Rating
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Days in Slovakia
2

Adventure Details

Find the Adventure That’s Right for You

Our Activity Level rating system ranks adventures on a scale of 1 to 5 to help you determine if a trip is right for you. See the descriptions below for more information about the physical requirements associated with each rating.

Activity Level 1:

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Easy

Travelers should be able to climb 25 stairs consecutively, plus walk at least 1-2 miles over some uneven surfaces without difficulty. Walks typically last at least 1-2 hours at a time. Altitude can range from zero to 5,000 feet.

Activity Level 2:

1 2 3 4 5

Moderately Easy

Travelers should be able to climb 40 stairs consecutively, plus walk at least 2-3 miles over some uneven surfaces without difficulty. Walks typically last for at least 2-3 hours at a time. Altitude can range from zero to 5,000 feet.

Activity Level 3:

1 2 3 4 5

Moderate

Travelers should be able to climb 60 stairs consecutively, plus walk at least 3 miles over some steep slopes and loose or uneven surfaces without difficulty. Walks typically last for 3 or more hours at a time. Altitude can range from 5,000 to 7,000 feet.

Activity Level 4:

1 2 3 4 5

Moderately Strenuous

Travelers should be able to climb 80 stairs consecutively, plus walk at least 4 miles over some steep slopes and loose or uneven surfaces without difficulty. Walks typically last for 4 or more hours at a time. Altitude can range from 7,000 to 9,000 feet.

Activity Level 5:

1 2 3 4 5

Strenuous

Travelers should be able to climb 100 or more stairs consecutively, plus walk at least 8 miles over some steep slopes and loose or uneven surfaces without difficulty. Walks typically last for 4 or more hours at a time. Altitude can range from 10,000 feet or more.

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The Sculptures of Bratislava

New public art in an old city

for O.A.T.

Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia, is a city on the Danube River whose centuries-old buildings attest to its long history. But several more recent works of art are also likely to catch your eye as you stroll along the cobblestone streets of the Old Town, thanks to local sculptors who have made the city exceptionally rich in public art with modern sensibilities—often with a touch of humor.

It takes an upward glance to view the typical historic monument to some past ruler or general mounted high on his horse. But you have to look downward at the intersection of Panská and Laurinská streets in Bratislava to see one of the most popular local sculptures: Cumil the sewer worker, portrayed in bronze as he emerges from a manhole wearing his hard hat. Created by sculptor Viktor Hulik in 1997 in the spirit of “low art,” Cumil seems unperturbed by the fact that all of his many admirers are looking down on him.

Cumil’s popularity has pleasantly surprised his creator, who worked with fellow artist Juraj Melis to create several works of public art when improvements were being made to Bratislava’s pedestrian-only zone in the Old Town. With a grin on his face, Cumil rests his chin on his hands and seems to be contentedly viewing the world from his low perspective. He has even occasionally inspired imitation from “living sculpture” posers who put on metallic face paint and mimic his position.

Modern art reflects the city’s past

Two other sculptures of life-sized figures created as part of Melis and Hulik’s project are nearby and offer a contemporary perspective on people from Bratislava’s history. Not far from Cumil on the street named Rybárska brána, a statue of a smiling man greets passers-by with a tip of his top hat. He’s known as Schöne Náci, a term of endearment meaning “beautiful Ignác,” reflecting the full name of Ignác Lamár, who was a beloved figure on the streets of the Old Town during the first half of the 20th century.

The original Schöne Náci had aspired to become a comedian and follow in the footsteps of his grandfather. But he ultimately found his calling in the heart of Bratislava, where for decades he strolled from cafe to cafe in top hat and tails brightening everyone’s day with cheerful, elegantly presented salutations. In particular, he was known for greeting women with the phrase “I kiss your hand” in three languages: Slovak, German, and Hungarian.

Another notable sculpture is found in the city’s Main Square. A life-sized Napoleonic soldier leans in a casual pose on a park bench facing the Roland Fountain and Old Town Hall, always ready to look over the shoulder of any visitor who takes a seat. While the relaxed pose is a modern twist, the soldier’s long coat and hat portray a uniform from the early 19th century, when Napoleon’s troops occupied the city—then called Pressburg—twice, in 1805 and 1809.

An abundance of work from Slovak sculptors

Slovak sculptor Tibor Bártfay has also created many works that contribute to Bratislava’s wealth of public art, including a statue of Hans Christian Anderson in Hviezdoslavovo Square in honor of the Danish author’s 1841 visit to the city. A versatile artist, Bártfay’s work ranges from the fanciful “Witch near the castle” (also called “Girl with ravens”) next to Bratislava Castle to the more abstract, spherical Peace Fountain at Hodzovo Square.

Many other public artworks grace Bratislava’s streets and parks, from a statue of a paparazzi-like photographer sneaking a shot around the corner of a building to a street-level figure pointing upward to direct your gaze to a giant ear on the side of another building. With its exceptional number of outdoor sculptures in both traditional and contemporary styles, the city is a virtual gallery of public art, much of which adds a contemporary flair to its many-layered history.

New public art in an old city

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