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.


Taking the Waters on the River Váh

By Rachel Salaman

 Photo: Brian Jones

Straddling the River Váh 80 kilometres north of Bratislava, Piešťany is one of Slovakia's most appealing spa villages.

But the place is not without the more hard-to-fathom aspects of other Slovak spas, such as men in white coats and rows of stern sanatoria. The village's coat of arms, showing a revitalised man breaking his crutch over his knee in triumph, says it all: Slovaks go to spas to get well, not to enjoy themselves.

The Slovak medical practice of prescribing free spa treatment to certain patients could explain why the country's spas have such a medicinal air. After all, when insurance companies are footing the bill, it's better for everyone concerned if a few days spent taking the waters doesn't look too much like a holiday.

The village's growth as a destination for sick people seeking better health was largely driven by Alexander Winter, who saw Piešťany's potential more than 100 years ago. In 1889, he rented Spa Island, in the middle of the village, and invested everything he had in building and promoting a number of grandiose bathhouses.

Winter employed his two sons, František and Ľudovít, and the enterprise soon grew into a successful family business, which passed into German hands when World War II started. It was Ľudovít Winter who chose the image of the man breaking his crutch as the trademark for the company. It later became the coat of arms for the city, and now it's everywhere you look.

Nevertheless, Piešťany is an enjoyable place, for who does not enjoy basking in thermal water, or strolling through lovely, well-manicured grounds?

Practical Information

Most of the town is on the west bank of the river Váh, and the Colonnade Bridge links the town centre to Spa Island, which is in the middle of the river. Restaurants and pensions line Winterova, the main drag, named after Ľudovít Winter.

If you're not in Piešťany on doctor's orders, your visit could take a number of forms. The umbrella organisation Slovak Health Spa Piešťany (Slovenské Liečebné Kúpele Piešťany) runs a dozen spa hotels where you can choose the level of service you want, from hotel accommodation only to a "comprehensive spa stay", which includes such delights as lymph drainage and densitometry examinations.

Although they call themselves hotels - and are quite swanky - these institutions are first and foremost medical centres, full of doctors and people slumped in wheelchairs. For those looking for more familiar territory, there are several regular hotels and pensions offering decent accommodation at a good price.

If you're staying in a place that doesn't have its own thermal baths, there are always the public baths on Spa Island, where you can immerse yourself in the healing waters and contemplate life.

Tickets for the public baths are bought from a small kiosk in one of the freshly painted buildings on Spa Island, which is also home to several of the biggest spa hotels. Foreigners have to pay more than Slovaks for any of the services on offer, but the higher prices are still not very high. A 20-minute dip in a thermal pool costs foreigners Sk110 (Slovaks pay Sk50) and a massage costs Sk230 (Sk100 for Slovaks). The baths are open Tuesday to Saturday 13:00 to 18:30, and Sunday 7:00 to 12:30.

Immersion in Piešťany's waters is invigorating, and the town caters richly to newly energised visitors.

Diners can choose between plenty of restaurants, specialising in Chinese, Greek, Italian, and Slovak cuisines among others. The Art Jazz Café on Winterova has an English menu and a lot of space, and puts on live jazz shows on Monday and Friday at 20:00. The food's good too. Popular with locals is the Korzo sweet shop and café nearby, which offers a fine array of goodies.

Spa aficionados may want to head to the Balneological Museum, which explores the history of medicinal baths and displays several objects gleaned from archaeological excavations. It was founded by the Winter family in 1933 and is still housed in its original home, the old Spa Hall.

In amongst the exhibits you will find memorabilia of Milan Rastislav Štefánik, a leading Slovak politician and diplomat from the early 20th century and one of the founding fathers of the first Czechoslovak state in 1918.

The museum also gives a nod to various famous people who came to Piešťany spas, such as Czech painter Alfons Mucha.

Cultural events of every type take place in Piešťany throughout the year. You can also rent bikes and explore the town and its very pretty environs on two wheels.

Piešťany is an hour from Bratislava by train; about 15 run each day. There are frequent buses from the capital as well. Both the train and bus stations are about half an hour's walk or a 10-minute taxi ride from the town centre.

These articles and related information were published in Spectacular Slovakia 2003.

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