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Name:Slovak Republic
Capital: Bratislava
Government:Parliamentary democracy
Independence:from Czechoslovakia: January 1, 1993
Accession to EU:May 1, 2004
Area:49,037 km2
GDP:2005 estimate: 87.32 billion US dollars; per capita: 16.041 US dollars
Currency:Slovak crown (SKK)
Time zone:CET
Calling code: +421

Slovakia is a landlocked country in Central Europe and borders the Czech Republic and Austria in the west, Poland in the north, the Ukraine in the east and Hungary in the south. The largest city is its capital, Bratislava.


Because it is in Central Europe and has been inhabited for a relatively long time, Slovakia features interesting natural landscapes, mountains, deep caves, medieval castles and cities, folk architecture and ski resorts. If you are a keen hitchhiker or skier, your absolute ‘must’ is the High and Low Tatra region! Like their more famous cousins, the Alps, the Tatras have their particular charm for every season of the year, but for most people they are most beautiful in winter. In some places snow fields survive throughout the whole year, which probably will not be the case of this year’s winter… At Strbske Pleso ideal snow conditions sometimes last for more than 200 days! The Tatras are a real winter jewel and indeed have something to offer for every sports enthusiast. The Slovak Tatra National Park (TANAP), was founded in 1949 and together with The Polish Tatra National Park was added to the UNESCO Biosphere Reserve List in 1993. Winter sports tours can be arranged through the tourist office, all you need to do is check for details. The many and varied rivers and lakes provide excellent opportunities for water sports – canoeing, sailing, water-skiing, fishing, white water rafting and many others. In terms of tourism, Slovakia is an up-and-coming European country. Tourism and food here remains relatively cheap as compared to Western Europe, but prices are currently adapting very quickly to the continental market. Apart from the Tatra regions, Slovakia is particularly noted for its numerous mountain ski resorts such as The Veľká Rača, The Veľká and Malá Fatra Mountain Ranges and many others, as well as for its historic cities (Banská Štiavnica, Kremnica, Levoča, Banská Bystrica…), caves, wooden churches, national parks and other natural features. The Tatras feature many rare plant and animal species: some forested areas are home to brown bears, wolves, foxes, wild boars, rabbits, squirrels, weasels, and muskrats. Chamois and lynx can be seen in high mountain areas. Slovakia has also become world known for its numerous mineral springs and spas, the most famous being those of Piešťany, Bardejov, Bojnice, Brusno, Sliač, Trenčianske Teplice (balneological spas), Nový Smokovec, Štós, Štrbské Pleso (climatic spas), Číž, Nimnica, Rajecké Teplice and Vyšné Ružbachy (mixed spas). New water parks are mushrooming throughout the country, e. g. Tatralandia in Liptovský Mikuláš, Aquacity in Poprad and Aquathermal in Senec.

Slovakia’s karst areas offer an extremely high number of caves, many of them are open to the public and some of them have been proclaimed UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites, among them Ochtinská Aragonite Cave which is one of the three aragonite caves in the world.

Slovakia is also reputed to be one of the countries with the highest number of fortified castles, the best known are those of Bratislava, Bojnice, Spiš Castle, Devín Castle, Trenčín Castle and many others. Ancient stone churches can be found in virtually any village and town in Slovakia, most of them are built in the Baroque style, but there are also many examples of fine Romanesque and Gothic architecture (e. g. in Banská Bystrica, Bardejov, and Spišská Kapitula). The St. James Church in Levoča, with the highest wood-carved altar in the world, and the Church of the Holy Spirit in Žehra with precious medieval frescos are UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites. Other highlight is St. Martin’s Cathedral in Bratislava which served as the coronation church of the ancient Kingdom of Austro-Hungary. The oldest sacral buildings in Slovakia stem from the Great Moravian period (9th century).

Slovakia is also rich in songs, dances, folk art, folk costumes and folk architecture which is well preserved for example in the villages of Čičmany and Vlkolinec (these have also been preserved as UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites).

If you are interested in buying some nice souvenirs, the Centres of Folk Art (ÚĽUV), sell typical souvenirs from Slovakia such as dolls dressed in folk costumes, ceramic objects, crystal glass, carved wooden figures, črpáky (wooden pitchers), fujaras (folk instruments which are also on the UNESCO list) and valaškas (decorated folk hatchets), and, above all, products made from corn husks and wire, notably human figures which are very popular among foreign tourists.

Food and drinks

Any hungry and thirsty tourist would probably be very eager to taste some typical local products. Traditional Slovak eating and drinking habits date back to the old Slavic period influenced later by Hungarian, Austrian and German cooking. Slovak food is based on many different kinds of soups, gruels, boiled and stewed vegetables, mainly cabbage and sauerkraut, roast and smoked meats and dairy – especially sheep – products. The style of cooking varies from region to region. Slovak specialties include salted and sweetened dishes made with flour, including dumplings. One such dish is the popular “bryndzové halušky” – small potato dumplings served with sheep cheese and fried bacon chunks. Maybe not to everyone’s taste, but certainly worth trying!!!

Slovakia is also known for its high quality wines and popular beer brands. The most popular wines are those from the Tokai, Little Carpathians, Nitra, Topoľčany and Záhorie regions. Hubert is a highly rated Slovak sparkling wine brand and Demänovka and Horec are traditional herbal liqueurs. Other popular Slovak aperitifs include slivovica (plump brandy) and borovička (a liquor made of juniper berries). Some popular beer brands are Topvar, Zlatý Bažant, Šariš, Corgoň, Gemer and many others…

Bratislava - the little big city

However eager a tourist might be to see the most picturesque sites of the country, he/she will certainly not miss the capital – Bratislava, not only due to its favourable location on the Danube River but also because of its unique character and flair! It is the capital of Slovakia and the country’s largest city, with a population of some 450,000 and is the political, cultural and economic centre of the country, the seat of the Slovak presidency, parliament and government as well as home to several universities, museums, theatres, galleries and other cultural and educational institutions. Most of Slovakia’s and multinational large business and financial institutions have their headquarters here. Nothing unusual for any metropolis, indeed… But as the city’s past has been characterized by the strong influence of various peoples, including Slovaks, Germans, Hungarians, Czechs, Austrians and Jews, the city still retains its cosmopolitan spirit contrasted to its homely and cosy atmosphere, especially in the beautifully reconstructed centre of the city which is a real hub of the little Slovak and tourist ‘commonwealth’! Bratislava hosts many festivals and trade shows and it is famous for its nightlife and leisure facilities. For a tourist or a native inhabitant, there are many noteworthy buildings to see and many nice places to go to: The Bratislava Castle, The Devin Castle, St. Martin’s Cathedral, Bratislava’s Town Hall, Franciscan Church, the Primate’s Palace, the Slovak National Theatre, Michael’s Gate, Johann Nepomuk Hummel’s house of birth, Kamzík TV Tower or the New Bridge Tower Café, baroque palaces in the historic centre (The Grassalkovich Palace – the presidential residence, the former Archiepiscopal Palace – the summer residence of the archbishop of Esztergom, the Pálffy Palace, the Mirbach Palace and many, many others) which are really worth spending some time in.

After having seen at least some of them you can have some beer tasting at the Old Brewery or a glass of good Slovak wine in many downtown restaurants and cafes. If you wish for more, you can go for the Old Town tram tour which is a two-hour drive in an old tram criss-crossing the city and offering a lot of fun and new unexpected view of the scenic beauty of the capital or zou may watch the knighting ceremony at Zichy Palace following the pattern of the medieval ceremony with ‘historical documents of knighthood of the Golden spur’ handed out to visitors at the end of the show. If your visitor is fond of pleasure cruises, the Danube White Fleet will take him to the labyrinths of the Danube branches between Bratislava and Komárno to discover a genuine beauty of the Danube landscape and its rare flora and fauna, or he can cruise ‘up the stream’ and enjoy one of the most beautiful parts of the Danube landscape between Devin and Hainburg castles. Summer evening cruises with music in a sailing café will certainly be a unique opportunity for your host students to enjoy all kinds of music and dance with refreshment available on board….

Young or not so very young, any visitor of yours to this country at the very heart of Europe will certainly be enchanted by its unique beauty, friendly inhabitants and unforgettable experiences and – last but not least – by your qualities of an experienced insider! BON VOYAGE!

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