Bratislava day trips
One of the country’s most picturesque castle ruins, Devín is also one of its most accessible. At the confluence of the Danube and Morava rivers, these storied ruins have a long and rich history.
The castle was a major military fortress of the Great Moravian Empire and was never conquered until Napoleon took it over in 1809, then blew it up before moving on to further conquests. In 1836, Ľudovít Štúr led a group of students up to the ruins and announced the Slovak struggle for self-determination. During World War II, the Nazis occupied the ruin; when Slovakia reclaimed it after the war, the state established Devín as a national cultural monument.
To get to Devín from the Old Town, take bus #29 from under Nový most (New Bridge) to the end of the line. Devín can also be reached on foot. The yellow trail from Dúbravka leads hikers through forest for two hours, offering views of the ruin from the hills above.
They are neither as high nor spectacular as the country’s other mountain ranges, but the Malé Karpaty (Small Carpathians) have one major advantage for capital city dwellers: they are close.
Just ten minutes from the President’s Palace, the hills offer mile after mile of hiking, running and biking trails. Železná studienka park, past the Kramáre district, is a meandering valley popular in the summer with picnickers. In the winter, NHL dreams are lived out by young hockey enthusiasts on the park’s frozen lakes. The valley also provides jungle-gyms for kids, an outdoor theatre and several outdoor refreshment stands.
Then there is Kamzík, where the massive Koliba radio tower is visible for miles around. Below the tower is a bob-sled course with plastic carts. Visitors speed down the 700 metre course three times for 100 crowns.
Beyond these destinations are the trails, lots of them. Before heading out, pick up the Malé Karpaty-Bratislava hiking map (no. 127). The green map outlines trails throughout the region, including day trips into Austria and Hungary. Available in most book stores, they typically cost 89 crowns.
Depending on what you’re after, the Carpathians can provide a leisurely stroll and picnic, an exciting bike ride up and down wild mountain trails, a rigorous three-hour run, or an all-day hike. The Tatras they are not. But for outdoor enthusiasts in the city, they are an immediate and satisfying fix.
To get to Železná studienka take trolley bus 212 from the President’s Palace on Hodžovo námestie to the end of the line, then walk up into the valley or wait for bus 41 to take you higher up into the park. To get to Kamzík take trolley bus 203 from in front of the Hotel Fórum on Hodžovo námestie till the end of the line. The tower and park is a 20 minute walk up the hill.
The Pajštún castle ruin is best-known for its gargoyles. Above the village Borinka, the castle is reached after a hike of about 90 minutes through the Malé Karpaty forests. The front wall (some 25 to 30 metres high) is crowned by several of the fabled gargoyles, their sinister faces leering down at all comers. A few have fallen from their perches and can be investigated up close at ground level.
In the summer, Pajštún is a haven for picnickers and rock climbers who scale its presumably sturdy walls. Overnight campers and mountain bikers are also common.
To get there by car, drive north out of Bratislava in the direction of Brno. Take the Lamač exit and follow the winding road through Záhorská Bystrica to Borinka. Several buses leave the main bus station daily.
Abpve the vilage of Častá is the well-preserved 16th-century castle Červený Kameň (Red Rock). The castle was owned and maintained by the Thurzo and Fugger families - who in the 16th century operated the largest copper-mining company in all of Europe - until the end of World War II.
A tour of the interior reveals exhibits of finely carved furniture and various weapons. In the cellars beneath the castle one sees the red stone on which the castle is built, and which gave the white castle its seemingly contradictory name.
To get to Červený Kameň follow route 502 out of Bratislava. The village Častá is five to ten minutes past Modra.
Two small towns located on the eastern slopes of the Small Carpathian mountains, Pezinok and Modra are known for wine. Several locals make and sell stellar vintages of Rizling, Müller Thurgau, Pinot Blanc and more. Private tastings are easily arranged and bottles are relatively cheap.
Every September the two towns are home to some of the jolliest scenes in the country during the annual Burčiak festival. Burčiak is a golden grape cider that, although tasting like juice, is in fact a deceptively potent alcoholic beverage. Burčiak has a short life, occurring seven to ten days into the fermentation process when the sugary white grape juice turns cloudy and begins bubbling. But it does not keep for long and within hours, further fermentation turns burčiak into a drier cider.
The festival is jointly hosted by the two towns, held in one or the other in alternate years. Along the road connecting Pezinok and Modra locals sell two-litre plastic bottles of burčiak for less than 100 crowns.
Pezinok and Modra are found just outside Bratislava along route 502 heading north through Rača. There are also frequent bus and train connections.
The newest art museum in the country, Danubiana, is also its grandest.
Vincent Polakovič, the museum director and founder, opened Danubiana in September 2000. A passionate admirer of modern art, he says he was inspired to create the museum after a chance meeting with the ghost of Vincent Van Gogh in the French cemetery where the Dutch painter is buried.
“He was all alone, rocking back and forth. I went to him, took him into my arms, and we spoke,” says Polakovič. “I promised him that I would build the art centre he never finished.”
After starting one project in Poprad and meeting with constant financial problems, Polakovič sought to build a new museum in Bratislava. Thanks to a million dollar endowment from the Dutch businessman and art collector Gerhard Muelensteen, the museum exists today.
To get to the Danubiana Museum, take bus 91 or 191 from under Nový Most (New Bridge) to Eunovo. Then follow signs for the museum, a walk of about three kilometres.
- Chris Togneri, with Matthew J. Reynolds
These articles and related information were published in Spectacular Slovakia 2002.
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