These articles were published in the Spectacular Slovakia travel guide, published annually by The Slovak Spectator since 1996. The latest editions can be obtained from our online shop.



The ultimate cycle

Pedalling Slovakia brings the sights at just the right pace

By John Sherwood and Roman Millan

    
 
 Photo: Ján Roháč, www.topbicycle.com

The bicycle may be the ultimate vehicle for taking in the sights, sounds and smells of Slovakia, all of which stream into your senses at just the right pace. I have cycled many places in the world but few rival Slovakia in terms of natural beauty, variety of terrain and tourist sights.

Pedalling my way through the Slovak Republic, I have witnessed a lone stork fishing on the shores of the Danube, miles of sunflower fields outside Nitra, storm clouds brewing over the Tatra Mountains and a heavenly sunset at Banská Štiavnica. I have pushed past terraced fields near the Poľana UNESCO Biosphere that looked transplanted from Tuscany; I have seen castles that rival those of France’s Loire Valley. Slovak grandmothers, kids eating ice cream, barking dogs of all shapes and sizes, and even a cow or two have met me along the road. I have breathed in the perfume of a spruce forest in the Low Tatras and felt a cool breeze on my brow riding through the folk architecture of Vlkolínec on a fine spring day. In the fall, the fruit from roadside pear, plum and walnut trees sustained me, while during other months I took refreshment from the many small restaurants and pubs that dotted my way. I can honestly say that nothing tastes better after a long day of cycling than Slovak sausage and a glass of Kofola at a neighbourhood pub.

This is not to imply that cycling does not have its lesser moments. Lots of traffic means that main roads in Slovakia must be avoided. Weather can be fickle and rain gear is mandatory for anyone contemplating a long ride. And did I forget to mention the hills? They don’t call Slovakia the “rooftop of Europe” for nothing.

Slovakia has hills that even Lance Armstrong would find appealing. Therefore, I encourage cyclists to study the cycle maps published by the Slovak Cycle Club (SCC) with care, paying great attention to contour lines. The SCC has sign-posted over 5,400 kilometres of roads and trails for cycling in Slovakia, making Slovakia one of Europe’s best-marked cycle destinations. In the SCC maps, one can find routes for every ability level - everything from flat trails along rivers to precipitous mountain biking trails. Whether your idea of cycling is a three-hour ride or a multi-day tour, you can find a route to suit your needs.

Slovakia’s most popular rides

    
 
 Photo: Ján Roháč, www.topbicycle.com

Danube Cycle Path is a network of paths that runs along the Danube River from Donaueschingen, Germany, to Budapest, Hungary. A 120-kilometre segment of the trail runs from Bratislava to Komárno. This stretch primarily follows the embankment and contains no major elevation changes. The trail leads through the agricultural heartland of Southern Slovakia, where many inhabitants are of Hungarian ethnicity. Along the trail one can also find interesting bird life, floodplain forests, the enormous Gabčíkovo waterworks and typical Hungarian architecture and cuisine. From Komárno, one can return to Bratislava by train for Sk145 (€3.60), including bike.

Several private outfitters offer longer, multi-country trips along the Danube trail, including Pedalo (www.pedalo.at) and Rad & Reisen (www.eurocycle.at) and Eurobike (www.eurobike.at). For a modest fee, they will transport your luggage from hotel to hotel, arrange an itinerary, book your lodging and provide rental bikes. Most trips that include Slovakia originate in Vienna and travel to Budapest. Rad & Reisen offers a unique bike and boat tour of the Danube that includes stops in Slovakia. Instead of hotels, you sleep on a river cruiser.

Záhorská Cycle Route is another convenient path for Bratislava-based bicycle enthusiasts. It starts in Devín and ends 110 kilometres later in Senica. The route passes Veľké Leváre, Šaštín-Stráže, Holíč and Skalica, and is suitable for road bikes.

Malokarpatská Cycle Route is also a good bet for Bratislava-area cyclists. This 128-kilometre route starts in Nové Mesto nad Váhom and ends in Vysoká pri Morave. It goes through Vrbové, Trstín, Buková and Rohožník.

Važská Cycle Route is a sign-posted bike route from the lovely spa town of Piešťany to the city of Žilina via Trenčín. The 250-kilometre route follows the Váh River and is mainly flat. It runs along a network of dedicated cycle paths on river dikes and asphalt roads. There are many fine castles and ruins along this route, including Beckov, Trenčín and Považský hrad.

    
 
 Photo: Ján Roháč, www.topbicycle.com

Spišská Cycle Route is a 100-kilometre-long route that runs from Pieniny to Levoča. It will eventually be part of an international cycle route running from Norway to Greece. Highlights of the Slovak part of this route include the Dunajec Gorge, the medieval town of Kežmarok, and of course, the ruins of Spišský hrad - a UNESCO heritage sight not far from Levoča. Those with more time may wish to cycle the 60-kilometre bike trail on the Polish side of the Dunajec Gorge, or try mountain biking one of the trails in the Slovak Paradise National Park.

The Bird Travel Agency of Poland (www.bird.pl/cycling/eng) will arrange a customized guided tour of this area for groups of six or more people. They also offer long-haul cycle trips that begin and end in Krakow, Poland, with stops at the Dunajec Gorge.

The Bojnický Circle is 146 kilometres long and runs along the Upper Nitra River. The highlight of the trail is Bojnice Castle - one of the most beautiful castles in Slovakia. There are many connector trails on this route that link to other long-haul routes such as the Váh River trail.

Slovak Karst Cycle Route runs a circular path 202 kilometres through the Slovak karst region. The route passes by the Domica and Gombasecká caves, the Betliar Castle and the Zádielská and Hájska Valleys.

The Polana Circle is a 130-kilometre mountain bike ride that starts and ends in Detva. The route takes cyclists around Poľana Mountain, showcasing the terraced fields and interesting farm settlements in the UNESCO Biosphere at Poľana. It is steep, so a mountain bike is a must.

Rudohorská Cycle Route is another sure bet for cyclists in Central and Eastern Slovakia. The route will eventually run from Zvolen to Košice, but is currently only sign-posted for 100 kilometres between Zvolen and Jelšava.

A note on outfitters

Currently, Slovakia is underserved by bike tour operators. This is unfortunate because the hilly nature of the country demands “sag” van support for intermediate riders. These vans carry tired cyclists over the highest mountains passes, find lost bikers, repair flat tires and provide shelter for groups during a rainstorm.

One company that offers a cycle tour with limited van support is Slovakia Green Tours (www.slovakiagreentours.com/tours/cycling_trail.html). Its 10-day tour runs from Budapest, Hungary, to Krakow, Poland, via Slovakia and stops at six UNESCO World Heritage sights, including Banská Štiavnica and Vlkolínec in Slovakia.

Another company, Topbicycle (www.topbicycle.com) in the Czech Republic, offers two excellent tours of Slovakia. Its “Romantic” tour begins in Bratislava and ends at the UNESCO World Heritage town of Banská Štiavnica. Moderately difficult, the route takes cyclists through many famous sites, including the spa town of Piešťany and the Bojnice Castle. Topbicycle’s other tour is a challenging ride from the Danube to the Tatras, which includes many difficult mountain ascents - and exhilarating descents! The ride begins in Bratislava and ends at the Low Tatras resort town of Liptovský Mikuláš. Topbicycle offers self-guided as well as guided, van-escorted tours. It also rents top quality, 27-speed touring hybrid bikes.


These articles and related information were published in Spectacular Slovakia 2005, which you can obtain from our online shop.

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