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.



Žilina and Northern Slovakia, the Malá Fatra Mountains

Žilina

Pop.: 85,500, area code: 041, info centre: Burianova medzierka 4, tel.: 562-0789

Žilina is Slovakia's fifth biggest city, and one of its major train hubs. Its centre has two impressive squares, a few decent museums, and plenty of good restaurants and pubs. But the best thing about Žilina is its proximity to numerous hiking and ski trails in the Malá Fatra Mountains, and to two beguiling folk villages - Čičmany and Vlkolínec.

    
 
 Photo: Eric Smillie

Slavs settled on the site of present-day Žilina, on the Váh River, in the sixth century. An important trading junction, the settlement was prosperous for hundreds of years, until the Thirty Years War devastated the area in the 17th century. The arrival of a railway in the 19th century marked a new beginning for the city.

On March 14, 1939, Catholic Priest Jozef Tiso declared Slovak independence at a convent in Žilina. A power-mad dictator to some, a pragmatic hero to others, Tiso remains a taboo figure in Slovakia as a whole.

Žilina mayor Ján Slota has been at the centre of other scandals, most involving his remarks about Roma (gypsies) or Hungarians. But Žilina inhabitants are quite friendly to visitors. And Slota deserves credit, too: during his tenure, Žilina's centre has been restored, an environmentally friendly trolleybus system unveiled, and millions of crowns loaned to local businessmen. And he's done it all without incurring heavy debts.

The latest good economic news for Žilina is that South Korean carmaker Hyundai/KIA is building a factory near the city. When finished in 2006, the plant will make Slovakia the world's biggest car producer per capita, and create thousands of new jobs in Žilina.

Coming and going

Žilina is on Slovakia's main Bratislava-Košice line, two-and-a-half hours east of Bratislava. There are also regular trains to Prague (six hours) and Krakow (five to ten hours, depending on the number of changes). Local bus lines connect Žilina to area towns and villages.

Layout

Most of Žilina lies south of the Váh, Slovakia's longest river. To get to the city centre, head straight (west) from the station, through Národná Street, to Hlinkovo nám, the first of Žilina's two impressive squares. Continue in the same direction, up a set of marble stairs, past the Church of the Holy Trinity, to Farská Street, which leads to Mariánske nám, Žilina's other big square. The information centre is at Burianova medzierka 4, a narrow side street just off Mariánske nám.

Places to visit

Behold Hlinka Square (Hlinkovo nám), which received a facelift, along with most of the Old Town, in the early 1990s. A priest and politician, Hlinka pushed for Slovak autonomy in interwar Czechoslovakia. He died shortly before Slovakia declared independence in 1939. After his death, a national police force was named after him. The Hlinka Guard participated in the Holocaust, soiling Hlinka's reputation forever, probably unfairly. The square is home to the Považská galéria, Štefánikova 2, which has regional exhibits. Open Tue-Fri, from 9:00 to 17:00, and Sat-Sun, from 10:00 to 17:00

The place where Jozef Tiso, Hlinka's successor in the Slovak People's Party, declared Slovak independence is a few blocks away. Take a right off Mariánske nám, onto Hodžova, to Hurbanova. The unremarkable balcony is on a building on the right, above a plaque.

Return to Mariánske Square (Mariánske nám), which has 106 arcade passages and 44 colorful burgher houses. The square is a great spot to have coffee or a meal, and watch people going about their daily business.

Žilina's best museum is north, across the Váh, in Budatin Chateau (Budatínsky zámok), open Tues-Sun from 8:00 to 15:30 during the winter and Mon-Sun from 8:00 to 16:30 in the summer. Walk there from the train station - it's about 20 minutes - or take a city bus. The Považské múzeum (www.povazske.muzeum.sk) has an exhibition on the tinker trade, the practice of creating objects out of wire. The museum's collection includes baskets, birdcages and human figures.

Places to eat

Restaurant and Snack bar Gold Wing, Mariánske námestie 30/5, in the historical centre has a wide selection of good food.

Slovenská koliba, Dolný val 40, traditional Slovak food in a Slovak country atmosphere.

Pizzeria Don Giovanni, Kuzmányho 6, classical Italian restaurant serving pasta and pizza.

Piváreň U nosorožca, Dolný val 44, undergroud pub, karaoke show every Saturday.

Entertainment

Klub 69, Mariánske námestie, the biggest disco in Žilina.

Mestské divadlo, Horný val 3, plays and concerts in a newly reconstructed building.

Bábkové divadlo, Kuzmányho 6, fairy tales adapted for the stage, by actors or puppets, not just for kids.

Štátny komorný orchester, Dom umenia Fatra, Dolný val 47, has classical concerts.

Verejná motokárová hala, Lietavská Lúčka, go-karts for adults, a couple of kilometres east of Žilina.

Stanica contemporary arts centre, housed in the Žilina-Záriečie train station, hosts concerts, films and open workshops every weekend, often in English.

Places to stay

Hotel Astoria, Národná 1. Tel: 041 562-4711. Fax: 041 562-3173. recepcia@astoria-zilina.sk. www.astoria-zilina.sk. Single: Sk1,400, Double: Sk2,500, Apartment: Sk2,900. Breakfast: included. CC. Luxury hotel in city centre with a good restaurant, snack bar and café; Iron Maiden stayed here when they visited Žilina in 2000.

Hotel Slovakia, Nám Ľ Štúra 2. Tel: 041 512-4111. Fax: 041 724-7975. hotelslovakiamanager@bb.telecom.sk. www.bb.telecom.sk/hotelslovakia/index.html. Single: Sk1,350, Double: Sk2,200, Apartment: Sk2,500-3,400. Breakfast: Sk110. CC.

Hotel Grand, Sládkovičova 1. Tel: 041 564-3265. Fax: 041 564-3266. recepcia@hotelgrand.sk. www.hotelgrand.sk. Single: Sk1,530-1,860, Double: Sk2,630-3,070, Apartment: Sk2,980-3,740. CC.

Internet café:

Varga Radovan, Mariánske námestie 28.

Around Žilina

Vlkolínec and Čičmany: Two of Slovakia's prettiest villages. A United Nations world heritage site, Vlkolínec is wedged in the Veľká Fatra Mountains just south of Ružomberok, 40 kilometres east of Žilina. Čičmany is 30 kilometres southwest. See Slovak folk architecture, pg 36, for more on both villages.

Strečno and Bojnice castles: Strečno is a half-ruin just east of Žilina, along the River Váh, and Bojnice, Slovakia's prettiest castle, 45 kilometres south.

Malá (small) Fatra Mountains

Area: 226.3 square kilometers
Highest peak:Veľký Kriváň (1,709 metres)

    
 
 Photo: Chris Togneri

Ten kilometres from Žilina lie the Malá Fatra Mountains, part of the mighty arc of the Carpathian Mountain chain, and the westernmost of Slovakia's big four mountain ranges. The Malá Fatra include friendly peaks, deep valleys, castles and ruins, folk architecture and the birthplace of Juraj Jánošík, Slovakia's Robin Hood, in the village of Terchová.

A national park since 1988, the Malá Fatra cover 52 kilometres end to end, in a southwest-to-northeast arc. The range is divided more or less in half by the River Váh. The southeast (Lučanská Fatra) is shorter, and its peaks are covered in plant life. The northeast (Kriváňska Fatra) has rocky peaks, strange and attractive rock formations and valleys sliced by canyons, waterfalls, and gorges.

Tourist Information

For hiking tips and trail information, call the Malá Fatra Mountain Rescue Service (Horská služba, 041/5695 232). Their head office is in Terchová village, building 514. Check out their website at www.horska-sluzba.sk. The Malá Fatra Mountains are covered by VKÚ maps no 120 and 110.

Coming and going:

The best bases for hiking in the Malá Fatra are Strečno village, just southeast of Žilina, or Vrátna Dolina, about 20 kilometres east. The valley, one of Slovakia's prettiest, offers the range's best skiing, and some of the best hiking, too. Buses run regularly from Žilina to Terchová, a village at the north end of the valley, and from there, about eight kilometres to Chata Vrátna. Halfway from Terchová to Vrátna, buses detour to Štefanová, a hospitable village surrounded by mountains.

Vrátna valley abuts Kriváň, a steep mountain. In the off-season, a ski lift takes hikers to a pass between Veľký Kriváň and Chleb peaks.

Recommended hikes

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Try all or part of this challenging three-day hike from Strečno to Štefanová:

Start in Strečno, where you'll want to take a look at the Strečno Castle (Hrad Strečno) ruins. Cross the Váh River, and pick up the red trail. A steep three-hour climb ends at Chata pod Suchým, where you can eat, drink and rest for the night.

Five hours of hiking along peaks next day finally leads to Veľký Kriváň, the Malá Fatra's highest point at 1,709 metres.

From there head down to Vrátna and find a room, or catch the bus to Terchová, which is packed with bed and breakfast inns. Or continue two more hours along the red trail to Štefanová village. Chata pod Grúňom, on the way to Štefanová, is another option.

On day three, hike to Diery Gorge, about 45 minutes east by foot, where a river has cut a beautiful and slippery trail through a limestone hill. Some of the gorge's awesome rocks are as big as cars. Ladders and railings aid hikers through steep and winding passages. The hike through the gorge, up the hill, and back around, takes about 90 minutes.

Zázrivá: Stop by this old-fashioned Slovak mountain village to see sheepherders at work. Sample fresh sheep milk and check out the village's 11 scattered homes, where life hasn't changed much in centuries. Zázrivá is approximately 60 kilometres from Žilina.

Places to stay

Strečno, Terchová and Štefanová have plenty of bed and breakfast inns (penzióny) and private rooms for rent (priváty). Mountain lodges mentioned above are accessible only on foot, except Chata Vrátna, (Tel: 041 569-5739, Fax: 041 569 5731) at the base of Kriváň Mountain, which has a bus stop out front. Its dorm-style rooms cost Sk130-180, Double Sk380-500. Apartment: Sk1150-1,300 a night.

A campground on the road to Terchová from Žilina, ATC Varín (041 569-2410) rents cabins and bungalows for Sk750-1000.


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

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