Small range big on beauty
By Chris Togneri
Pining for a mountain getaway, yet shackled to Bratislava by the constraints of a light wallet, I trained my hiking sights on some tracks a bit closer to home, in the Malé Karpaty (Small Carpathians) mountain range. Often overlooked in favour of the country's more famous mountains, the relatively small range nevertheless provides beautiful (and convenient) hiking opportunities for capital city residents and visitors.
Beginning just north-east of Bratislava, the range peaks at over 750 metres above sea level and extends some 70 kilometres to the forests south of Čachtice. Ruins of castles and churches, mountain meadows and forests of beech, oak, ash and maple await visitors. At lower elevations, small towns dot the sloping hillsides, and vineyards produce white wines for which local regions have become famous.
From the city centre, the Malé Karpaty can be reached by taking trolley-bus 203 from Hodžovo námestie (from in front of the Hotel Forum) to the end of the line near the top of Kamzík, the 439 metre hill above the city's Kramáre and Koliba districts. Hike up the road towards the television tower where a few outdoor pubs stand alongside a dry bob-sled course, which can be run in the warmer months for less than 50 crowns a ride.
For a lovely day-hike ending in the wine-making town of Pezinok, take the Štefánikova magistrála trail (marked by a red paint stripe sandwiched between two white stripes). The trail is named after Milan Rastislav Štefánik, who with Czech Tomáš Garyk Masaryk carved the first Czechoslovakia out of the Austro-Hungarian Empire after World War I. (The trail actually begins near the Austrian border at Devín, and continues across the entire length of the Small Carpathians.)
For an hour, the trail winds through the forest, passing a natural spring signified by a red painted square set against a white rectangle. Potable water sources are marked thus throughout the park, although hikers are well-advised to bring at least two litres of their own water as some stretches between water sources are quite long.
The trail cuts across Pekná cesta (Pretty Path), which to the right leads down to the Bratislava suburb of Rača and, to the left, meanders into the Železná studnička valley. In the wintertime, the valley's small lakes freeze, attracting pick-up hockey matches; in the spring they are overrun with so many frogs that walkers have to tread cautiously; in the summer, they are converged upon by hordes of local picnickers.
Back up on Štefánikova magistrála, follow the (paved) red path east into the forest for an hour and 15 minutes to the Biely kríž (White Cross) recreational area. From here, hikers can follow the yellow path down two hours into the town of Svätý Jur.
For those sticking with the red trail, the way winds up and down the gentle Carpathian hills, peaking some two hours and twenty minutes later at the Somár (Donkey) summit (649.7 metres). Higher than most of the peaks to the south-west, the walk leading up to Somár offers hikers a view of the Kamzík tower far off in the distance, giving an idea of how much ground has been covered (about 18 kilometres so far).
The mountain resort of Pezinská baba sits less than two hours further along the Štefánikova magistrála. The resort town offers skiing in the winter months; camping, hiking and motocross events in the summer. The motocross is quite popular, evidenced by some of the locals who on this day were tearing up and down the so-called 'hiking' trails on their motorcycles. Watch out.
After six plus hours of hiking, Pezinská baba is a good place to head down from the mountains. From Baba pass, the blue trail to the left descends 90 minutes into the small town of Pernek. To the right, the trail winds two and half hours down into Pezinok.
The descent into Pezinok slowly leads hikers into a different world. Starting in thick forests with sprawling mountain meadows, the trees begin to thin out and the soil takes on a dustier character. After an hour and a half or so, I stumbled upon the first vineyard, the grapes roasting in the arid micro-climate of the range's south-eastern slopes. Walking by the manicured rows, I passed several bee hives, a couple on horseback, and nearly stepped on two black snakes.
Pezinok is well known for its Rizling vlašský (Weischriesling), Veltlínske zelené (Green Veltliner), Müller Thurgau, and Rulandské biele (Pinot Blanc) wines. Local wine-makers say that the village produces such tasty vintages because conditions in this region are absolutely ideal (please see story, below)
Winding through the vineyards, the blue trail then flattens out, passes a reservoir on the town's outskirts, and leads into the heart of Pezinok, finally finishing at the train station. Trains back to Bratislava - a 20 minute journey - leave every hour or two and cost 19 crowns (38 cents). If you have time, stop for dinner at a local restaurant and try a glass of the town's delicious white wine.
A final note: Before hitting the trails, be sure to pick up the Malé Karpaty-Bratislava hiking map (number 127). The map outlines hiking and biking trails throughout the region, including trips into Hungary and Austria, and trails in the Carpathians to castle ruins such as Pajštún and the Červený kameň castle north of Modra. The maps cost 89 Slovak crowns ($1.78) and can be purchased at most information centres and book stores; they can definitely be bought in Bratislava at Danubia Print on the corner of Jesenského and Štúrova streets.
These articles and related information were published in Spectacular Slovakia 2001.
EURO CALCULATOR (Sk30.1260 = €1)