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.


Life savoured

 photo: Chris Togneri

An easily missable sign that is almost as small as the village it announces pointed us toward Vlkolínec from the main highway that streams between Ružomberok and Banská Bystrica. After a couple of winding kilometres on a narrow road that wends into the Veľká Fatra mountains, my companion and I decided to park and approach the tiny village and Unesco World Heritage Site on foot. Slowly, we decided. Savouring is best done slowly, and Vlkolínec is an achingly picturesque and architecturally unique Slovak site to savour.

A marked 25-minute footpath follows a stream. The soundtrack of running water, the easy ascent over a ridge, the forest canopy, the fecund smell of earth and green and summer - our senses were heightened when we finally saw Vlkolínec tucked into the mountainside.

Wooden houses crouch beside one another and radiate from one main road that is sliced by a stream carrying one of the village’s primary sources of water. Atop stone basements sit log houses painted lime green, pale blue and cream. Flower boxes spill their floral colours beneath windows trimmed in red and brown. The houses are capped with specially gabled and thatched roofs that look like rustic party hats. Vlkolínec is a series of postcard images that could have been taken decades ago. Or just yesterday.

The village was designated a skanzen 24 years ago, an open-air museum representing the country’s folk heritage. Forty five buildings - mostly houses - have been preserved (during the Slovak National Uprising the Nazis torched 20 of them). People continue to live and work here, and thankfully there are few signs of the kind of commerce that earmark a place as a tourist destination.

On the edge of the village a small car park for visitors sits beside placards that explain the village’s history in Slovak, English and German. A cluster of portable WCs on the village perimeter are awkward additions and anathema to what lies beyond. On the main street, which is covered in gravel, a small potraviny (grocery store) stocks the basics. At House no. 17, Rol’nícky Dom, a hand-painted sign offers the visitor all essentials: Múzeum. Suveníry. Espresso.

Nine years ago Unesco designated Vlkolínec as a World Heritage Site; like most museums, this is a place to behold rather than to participate in.

Historians have found references to the village as far back as 600 years ago. The quirkiest historical titbit may be that in the 16th century the town had the task of tending the royal cabbage garden.

Reportedly named after the Slovak word for wolf (vlk), Vlkolínec sits in a green amphitheatre of valley and mountain and can be walked through in 20 minutes. But to savour, sit on the benches in front of the cemetery, from where a tiny wooden church with a bell tower appears perched on the edge of the world. Mountains rise softly behind the Revúca Valley; footpaths criss-cross the fields. Or visit House 17 to see furnishings that date to 1910. A recording fills in the details and explains the tools, history and way of life of the village.

Vlkolínec is open Mon-Sat, 8:00-17:00. Donations are accepted to maintain the village.

By Laura Kelly

These articles and related information were published in Spectacular Slovakia 2002.

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