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.

Liptov: A perfect picture postcard

By Stephanie MacLellan

    The hills north of Liptovský Mikuláš offer unbelievable views of the Western Tatras and the surrounding countryside.
 The hills north of Liptovský Mikuláš offer unbelievable views of the Western Tatras and the surrounding countryside.
 Photo Stephanie MacLellan

You can't get much more scenic than the Liptov region of north-central Slovakia.

The area is literally surrounded by mountains. To the north are the Western Tatras (Západné Tatry) and the Choč hills. To the south are the Low Tatras (Nízke Tatry). To the west are the Veľká Fatra. There's also the picturesque Liptovská Mara man-made lake.

You should probably give yourself at least three or four days to truly enjoy Liptov: depending on your interests, budget a day or two to see some of the area's historic attractions or enjoy the water parks, and the rest to hike and enjoy the natural surroundings. Anything less and you could leave disappointed.

This is a region where you need a car to get around. There are lots of worthwhile attractions, but bus connections are extremely limited and buses run infrequently.

If you're relying on public transportation to get to Liptov, take the train and make sure you travel during the day. The scenery on the way into the region is breathtaking.

The major centre in Liptov is Liptovský Mikuláš. The town's claim to fame is that national folk hero Juraj Jánošík was executed there in 1713. A museum in town recreates the scene of his torture. There is also a museum dedicated to revolutionary poet Janko Kráľ and the town's history, particularly its role in the revolutionary nationalist events of 1848.

From Liptovský Mikuláš, you can catch a bus heading Demänovská dolina, where you can find the area's two major caves: Demänovská ľadová jaskyňa and Demänovská jaskyňa slobody.

The Demänovská ľadová jaskyňa is the region's ice cave. There are historical references of the cave dating back to 1672, when what was believed to be dragon's bones were found there. (In fact, they belonged to cave bears, according to the Slovak Speleological Society's book on the topic.) The ice formations were created when openings to the cave were buried, locking in cold air that froze the precipitation that seeps in. The result is columns, stalactites and stalagmites made entirely of ice. The cave opens to the public in mid-May.

    Demänovská jaskyňa slobody has intricate rock formations in many colours and underground lakes.
 Demänovská jaskyňa slobody has intricate rock formations in many colours and underground lakes.
 Photo Ing. Michal Rengevič

A few kilometres further south, the Demänovská jaskyňa slobody, or Cave of Liberty, got its name from the partisans who used it for storage during the Second World War. The tour there is in Slovak, but you don't need to understand everything that's being described to enjoy the raw natural beauty of the cave. There are rock formations that look like melted wax, icicles, folds of fabric or snow drifts. They come in colours like frosty white, ivory, pink, rust, and deep red. In between you can see some mirror-still underground lakes and babbling streams.

Going back in time

The Liptov region is like a live open-air museum of folk architecture, and one that recalls the times when Celts lived here. It is also another Slovak region with a site on the UNESCO heritage list: the village of Vlkolínec.

Nestled below the Sidorovo hill, Vlkolínec is in fact a living open-air museum. It is a remarkably intact settlement of more than 50 log houses with the traditional features of a mountainous central European village. The layout of the village has remained virtually unchanged and the architectural style has been fully preserved.

    The village of Vlkolínec is a living open-air museum.
 The village of Vlkolínec is a living open-air museum.
 Photo Jana Liptáková

Wooden houses crouch beside one another, radiating from one main road that is sliced by a stream - the village's primary source of water. The present settlement consists almost entirely of buildings from the 19th century. Logs on stone foundations form the house walls, which are coated with clay and whitewashed or painted blue. Most have three rooms, with preserved interiors and historic furniture. One peasant's house is run as a museum to provide an image of the lives of the house's residents, as well as the whole village, during the first decades of the 20th century.

Though it was declared a national heritage site and put under the strict control of conservationists, life in the village has not halted. The Vlkolínec website says the village has 35 permanent citizens living in 18 of the 55 houses in the village. Others are used as weekend houses, enabling their temporary dwellers to enjoy the idyllic surroundings and the calm, slow village life. Only cars parking on the main street and tourists with cameras prove that it is already the 21st century.

Vlkolínec is not the only site of folk architecture in the region. When the hydro power station on the Váh river near Liptovský Mikuláš was being built, some villages had to be flooded. Before they were, some of the houses were moved to the open-air Museum of the Liptov Village in Pribylina.

 Photo Ján Lacika

Apart from wooden folk architecture, visitors will also find two re-built medieval stone constructions: the early Gothic Church of the Virgin Mary, taken from the flooded village of Liptovská Mara, and the Gothic-Renaissance manor house from Parížovce. The museum depicts the lifestyles of people from different socio-economic levels, from the poorest to the richest.

One of five wooden Protestant churches, in Palúdza, also faced flooding during the construction of the Liptovská Mara dam. To rescue it, conservationists dismantled it, reconstructed it and re-assembled it at the edge of the village of Svätý Kríž, a few kilometres from Liptovský Mikuláš. The re-erected church was consecrated in 1982.

The church comes from 1729 and it is one of the biggest wooden constructions not only in Slovakia, but all of Central Europe.

These so-called articular Protestant churches show how religious law influenced the shape of Slovak buildings. Named after the list of articles constraining their construction, they are a memento of the "re-Catholization" of Slovaks in the 16th and 17th centuries. This was when Slovak Protestants gained some freedoms, including the right to build churches as long as they didn't have a belfry with a bell. This church only got its wooden belfry in 1781.

    The archaeological museum in Havránok features a reconstructed Celtic village.
 The archaeological museum in Havránok features a reconstructed Celtic village.
 Photo Ján Lacika

The Liptov region also offers a visit to the time when Celts lived here. The open-air Archaeological Museum Liptovská Mara- Havránok, sitting on the Havránok hill above Liptovská Mara, brings the life of the Celts to its visitors with a reconstructed Celtic settlement.

There are many ways to get to the Celtic oppidum, but probably the easiest one leads from the village of Bobrovník. In the museum there are reconstructed fortifications, a gate, a shrine, a medieval moat, a bridge and other features.

Archaeological explorations have uncovered that this territory was settled from the 3rd century BC until the 2nd century AD. The Celtic tribe of Cotini settled here at the end of the 2nd century BC. Celts brought to this territory the kick wheel for making pottery, but also knowledge about smithery, iron metallurgy, and the production of jewels. After Germanic tribes destroyed the oppidum and pushed the Celts away, their knowledge disappeared along with them.

Jana Liptáková

These articles and related information were published in Spectacular Slovakia 2007, which you can obtain from our online shop.

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