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 quiet Strážov hills

By Zuzana Habšudová

If the swarms of tourists in the country's fabled High Tatras mountains give you a headache, consider taking a trip to the Strážovské vrchy (Strážov hills) near Považská Bystrica. The beauty of the mountain range, which frames the western part of central Slovakia, remains hidden from the outside world, meaning more privacy on the trails, but fewer amenities at day's end.

    The Ghotic Gate in the Súľovské skaly (rock) is an example of nature´s playfulness.
 The Ghotic Gate in the Súľovské skaly (rock) is an example of nature´s playfulness.
 Photo Zuzana Habšudová

Attractions include the hypnotic rock formations of the Súľovské skaly (Súľov rocks), as well as the caves on the two Manín peaks rising above Považská Bystrica, divided by a gorgeous canyon. Your view of the landscape from the highest peak in the mountains, Strážov (1,213 metres), is not likely to be disturbed by other tourists, just as you can pick blueberries or take a shower in the waterfall underneath the peak in perfect solitude.

This solitude increases your chances of spotting wild sheep or "goat antelopes" known in Slovakia as moufflon, deer and wild boars. Bears will tend to avoid you, but colorful butterflies and rare, glistening beetles will be frequent companions.

The Strážovské vrchy were proclaimed a protected area the year communism fell, in 1989. They spread over 30,000 hectares from Žilina district in the north through Považská Bystrica to Prievidza on the south-east, and contain the gingerbread houses of the village of Čičmany, a famed folk-architecture reservation.

To get an overview of the mountains from the Strážov peak, take the Ilava turn-off on the Bratislava-Žilina highway. North of Ilava lies Košeca, where you turn right for Zliechov. At the end of the Zliechovská Valley, where the buses turn, lies the path to the peak.

When the weather is clear, you can see the ridge of the Malá Fatra to the east and the Javorníky and Vršatec parts of the Biele Karpaty (White Carpathians) to the north. Closer on the north side are the Súľovské skaly and the two Manín peaks, and to the west Homôlka and Vápeč.

The trail to Strážov is an undemanding path, like most of the hikes in this protected forest. You can take several hikes from the village of Zliechov; the most beautiful is the one that leads to Mojtín, a ski resort, over the Javorina peak (1,012m). However, be careful when leaving Mojtín, as the mountain village has problems with falling rocks. The region's authorities have erected screens along the road, but they do not always prove effective.

Another peak worth climbing in Ilava district is Vápeč (965 meters). Its rocky summit offers a magnificent view in all directions. From Vápeč you can walk to the Homôlka chata (chalet), from where you can take several hikes or ski in winter.

    Participants in the Jilemnického 25
 Participants in the Jilemnického 25 "tourist march" receive a stamp in their passports at one of the stops as part of completing the 25-kilometer hike.
 Photo Zuzana Habšudová

Advancing to the north and following the Váh River, you will find the two Manín peaks on the right bank and the ruins of Považský castle on the left. Where the Veľký (Greater) and Malý (Lesser) Manín meet, the river has created a dazzling canyon (Manínska tiesňava). Its steep sides are popular among climbers, and the campsite is the starting point for hikes to the two peaks. The serpentine trail to Veľký Manín (891 meters) is also gorgeous, offering views in various directions, and luring you to further exertions.

The rocky cylinders in the distance are the magical Súľovské skaly. The rocks end the Strážov hills to the north, and the limestone from which they were formed gave rise to all kinds of bizarre natural formations. Take the educational trip from the Súľov chata, which leads you around the Gothic Gate, the Súľov Castle ruins, the Giant Gate and Šarkania diera (Dragon's Hole, which is in fact a cave).

While the Strážovské vrchy range is only now being discovered by tourists, during the second half of April the hills around Považská Bystrica and Dubnica fill with hikers. At this time of year the local towns organize their traditional "tourist marches" when masses of people hike the 25- and 30-kilometer trails. Shorter hikes are also available, as well as bike routes. At the end, each participant receives a token of their participation.

The Považská Bystrica's Jilemnického 25 march is organized in memory of writer Peter Jilemnický, who used to teach at a school in the village of Kostolec through which the march passes. The Dubnická 30 is named after the town of Dubnica, which itself was named after the oak trees (duby) that used to grow in thick surrounding forests.

The April marches are traditional family events. They are held in the spring, when the countryside begins to wake from the winter and to call people to experience it. Although these are still largely local affairs, they are starting to attract foreign tourists as well.

These articles and related information were published in Spectacular Slovakia 2006, which you can obtain from our online shop.

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