Independence:from Czechoslovakia: January 1, 1993
Accession to EU:May 1, 2004
GDP:2005 estimate: 87.32 billion US dollars; per capita: 16.041 US dollars
Currency:Slovak crown (SKK)
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.
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