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.

Silica: Crazy caving

By James Thomson

Slovakia is full of wonderful natural sights. One of the more modest, but nonetheless strangest, is to be found near Rožňava.

High up on the Silická plateau south of the town - the road there climbs through the steep wooded hillside via a series of hairpin bends - is a very unusual cave.

It's a short walk from the quiet road (this is a fairly out-of-the-way part of Slovakia) across meadows and then through the forest. The cave has been extensively explored and has revealed evidence of early Neolithic human settlement, which the artefacts found indicate had a complex social structure.

But long after the ancient colony disappeared, the entrance to the cave collapsed. This created an odd effect: the cave entrance now channels northerly winds directly into the cavern, keeping it unusually cold.

On swelteringly hot days in July and August the cave entrance (where there is now a concrete viewing platform) stays pleasantly chilly, and in the gloom at the bottom a block of ice is clearly visible.

Slovakia's other ice caves are underground; this one is unusual in being more-or-less open to the elements. As a result of the cold, the plants growing around it flower about a month later than on the surrounding plateau, and it was used as a cold store for beer in the nineteenth century. At one point there was even a small brewery above it.

Don't go expecting a Himalayan glacier: despite being as thick as 1.5 metres in summer as recently as 20 years ago, the summer ice is now confined to one or two uneven patches. This retreat may be the result of global warming, or it could be because tree growth nearby has affected air flow into the cave.

Either way, it may disappear before long; while it remains, this undeniably weird place is worth a detour.

Also, if it puts you in the mood for a more conventional cave, back at the bottom of hairpin bends is the Gombasecká cave complex, which has 530 metres of caves open for guided tours.

These articles and related information were published in Spectacular Slovakia 2009, which you can obtain from our online shop.

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