The entrance to Adit Andrej at Kremnica’s mining museum.
Photos by James Thomson
Just over the ridge to the west of Banská Bystrica, the charming town of Kremnica is home to the world's oldest mint (680 years old, and still going strong), as well as another stunning Gothic and Renaissance main square.
Appropriately, there are several visitor attractions which allow you to go underground. Kremnica's new mining museum, which opened in 2008, is a good place to start. On the hillside just west of the town centre, it's based in an old mines building complete with pit lift. You don't get to go 'down' the pit - instead, a short walk away is the horizontal entrance to Adit Andrej.
It is an interesting reflection of how recently this area was actively mined that the adit (a horizontal passage, as opposed to a vertical shaft) was first dug only in 1982, in a fresh stab at accessing the gold seam which runs through the hill. Mining had been suspended in the 1970s; the adit was an attempt to revive it.
Many locals still have family who worked in the mines. One is Dušan Roob, who personally re-excavated the Adit Andrej (mines are deliberately blocked up after they become inactive) and now manages the museum. His assistant, Marianna Melcerová, speaks good English and also conducts tours.
The tunnel, though recent, cuts across some very old workings, including some hand-cut fourteenth century tunnels, which are presented in displays throughout the mine and supplemented by nuggets of information from Marianna.
For instance, she explains that - whatever Walt Disney might have had you believe - miners did not 'whistle while they worked', since rats fleeing a mine make a similar sound, which miners used to listen out for as an important danger signal. The museum's mine also has the remnants of a more recent safety system: ventilation pipes, down which a pungent gas could be released to warn people deep under ground of imminent danger.
There is no active mining in the area at the moment. But with gold prices rising in recent years, there are plans to begin (open-cast) mining again in these hills.
For enthusiasts, or as an alternative, there is another mining museum near Banská Štiavnica, which runs a similarly comprehensive tour through a slightly longer series of tunnels in a hillside outside the town. But, in terms of the enthusiasm of the staff and the standard of the equipment, the Kremnica mining museum now sets the standard.
Kremnica’s main square, featuring Slovakia’s largest plague column
Photos by James Thomson
Kremnica itself is one of the older Slovak towns, receiving its royal charter in 1328, along with mining and minting privileges. Even if you're just passing, the grass-covered, tree-lined main square, crowned with Slovakia's largest plague column, is worth a peek.
On the south side of the square, which is fairly steeply raked as it's built on the side of a hill, is the town's museum, housing an exhibition of mining and coins. In the north-west corner is the mint itself. And towering above them all is the Gothic St Catherine's church, part of the town's castle.
Atop the ridge of hills west of Kremnica, at 1232 metres, is the Skalka ski resort.
Currently being revamped with European Union assistance, it now boasts all manner of leisue facilities including squash courts, a gym and a small indoor swimming pool. The views from the top of the new ski lifts, across the Kremnica hills to the west and the Low Tatras to the north-east, are dramatic: Chopok peak, around 50 kilometres distant, is visible on a clear day.
Events in Kremnica
February: Biela stopa Kremnica
(The White Snow Track Race)
International cross country skiing competition
April: Cez sedem kremnických vrchov (Over the Seven Kremnica Hills)
For those who like hiking
May: Majstrovstvá EÚ v gulkách (EU Championship in Balls)
Competition for children and adults
July: Hudba pod diamantovou klenbou (Music under theDiamond Dome)
Festival of classical music
August: Kremnická bašta
Festival of folk music
August: Kremnické gagy (Festival of Humour and Satire)
Festival of satire and humour
September: Ľudový trh (Folk market)
Market connected with folk traditions and crafts
October: Kremnické jablko (Kremnica apple)
Exhibition of fruit and vegetables