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.



Central Slovakia

Starý Hrad - Varín

You can reach Varín from Žilina if you follow the road on the right side of the River Váh (13 kilometres) or take a ferry across the Váh to Strečno. Varín is close to Nezbudská Lúčka, the starting point for a 30-minute walk to the castle (follow red signs).

The castle was built before 1300 near a ford of the river, its purpose being to protect the trade route and collect tolls. The name Starý Hrad (it means Old Castle) was given after Strečno Castle was built onlythree kilometres from Starý Hrad and took over its functions. The first record of this name comes from 1384.

The Pongrácz family completed the complex with a late Gothic palace and rebuilt the fortifications in the second half of the 15th century.

In the 18th century the castle lost its defensive function, was abandoned, and fell into disrepair.

The castle offers a fine view of the Domašínsky meander - one of the natural highlights of the Malá Fatra national park.

The 13th-century Gothic church in the village of Varín is also well worth seeing.

Hrad Muráň

The village of Muráňske Podhradie, situated 46 kilometres north of Rimavská Sobota, is the starting point for the hike up to the castle.

Follow the blue or red-signed tourist path - The Path of Mária Széchy (it takes around 90 minutes). Another route starts at Muránska Huta. Follow the red signs up to Veľká Lúka (Big Meadow) - 90 minutes. Veľká Lúka is renowned for horse breeding and its Western Riding & Rodeo that takes place in summer. From Veľká Lúka continue along the blue-signed path (passing a cottage and the Coburg memorial) - 40 minutes.

The castle was built at the end of the 13th century on a limestone rock named Cigánka (Gipsy girl). It defended the road from Gemer to Liptov and Zvolen. With gradual enlargements, it came to cover the whole hill, gaining its final shape after reconstruction carried out in the 1620s by the Széchy family.

In 1644 František Wesselény conquered the castle with the aid of Mária Széchy who lived there with her sister and who later became his wife. Mária was known as "the Muráň Venus" because of her beauty. Wesselény was appointed Hungarian palatinus (viceroy) and Mária the second lady of Hungary. In 1666 Wesselény joined rebel forces and died the following year. Mária bravely defended the castle till 1670 when imperial soldiers conquered it.

The castle burned down twice and was abandoned in the 18th century.

For more information visit www.muran.sk.

Sitno

    Sitno
 Sitno
 Photo: Igor Ďurič

Three kilometres to the southwest of Banská Štiavnica is Lake Počúvadlo, a delightful spot for a swim offering perfect refreshment on hot summer days. The green-signed tourist path leads from the camping site to Tatárska Lúka (Tatar Meadow), which, according to legend, was the site of a battle with the Tatars. The walk takes around 30 minutes. Nearby you can find Jubilejný Les (Jubilee Forest) planted on the 10th anniversary of the signing of the Czechoslovak Constitution in 1928. Stone rifts make a hiding place for legendary sleeping Sitno knights who, it is said, will wake up and fight when Slovakia 'goes bad'.

The summit of Sitno can be reached in 15 minutes. The first observation tower was built here in 1727 on the order of Mikuláš Koháry. After climbing the hill, you will receive a nice certificate proving that you have managed to climb this 1,009-meter-high legendary hill. You can visit a small exhibition and enjoy a view of the Štiavnické Vrchy - the cradle of European tourism.

If you follow the educational path for 15 minutes you will get to the castle. Built in the second half of the 13th century, it carried out a defensive function for medieval mining towns during the war against the Turks. From 1629 it belonged to the Kohár family. The Kuruc armies of František Rákoczy II conquered the castle in 1703 and destroyed it in 1710.

Also recommended is a visit to the grand hunting lodge (site of a silvicultural and hunting museum) in Sv. Anton, 6 rest area southeast of Banská Štiavnica.

Zvolen

This fascinating town in central Slovakia is home to two castles.

On a hill at the confluence of the rivers Hron and Slatina, two kilometres southeast of the town stands Pustý Hrad (Abandoned Castle). Following blue signs along the road E 571 from the bottom of the hill you will get to the castle in 90 minutes. During the walk, you can enjoy two fine views of the confluence. There was a castle there before the Hungarian invasion but the largest construction took place during the reign of Béla IV when it was enlarged to eight hectares and became one of the biggest castles in Europe. It was the centre of Zvolen Župa (region), spreading from Hont to Liptov and Orava, as well as a favourite hunting place for Hungarian kings.

In later years, new long-distance highways no longer went past the castle. In the 15th century, after a new castle was built right in the centre of the town and the Hussite wars had ended, the castle started to deteriorate. It was revived for a short time during the war with the Turks in the 16th century before falling into total disrepair.

Zvolen Castle, situated in the centre of the town, is one of the most splendid castles of its kind. It was built by Ľudovit I the Great in 1360-1382, the Anjous having invited European architects to take part in its construction. The influence of Italian urban architecture is evident.

Converted into a Renaissance fortress in 1528, the castle lost its purpose when the seat of the župa was moved to Banská Bystrica. The state bought it in 1805 and established their barracks, offices and schools. During the Slovak National Uprising in 1944, it served as a headquarters of the Slovak partisan army.

Today you can find a branch of the Slovak National Gallery there with lapidaries of Gothic and old European art, and an exhibition related to the history of the town. Chamber concerts and other performances take place here during the year.

For more information visit www.zvolen.sk.


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

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