Slovakia – a country of castles and tasty wine

18 July 2018

We departed Bratislava early Sunday morning, with the usual feeling of apprehension that we get when starting off in a new country.  Waking up thinking “we have no idea where we will sleep tonight”can be equally exciting and nerve-wrecking, but it does give us the freedom to decide our day as it develops, which we like.

Getting out of Bratislava itself was a on long straight fairly boring road, through long thin towns that seemed to just merge into each other.  The road was surprisingly busy for a Sunday morning so we decided to cut through the mountains at Pezinok and and we were soon in the foothills of the Little Carpathian mountains, which span 100kms north of the city.  This meant going into a steep climb 8km long, but it was through lovely forest roads, so it made sweating in the heat well worth it.  As has been usual in all of the countries we have visited so far, there were loads of motor bikes out for the day, with plenty of cyclists as well, so we were in good company.

After the up we had an 8km descent after which we turned north and continues skirting the Little Carpathins from the western side, which gave us some amazing views, including one of the ruins of Plavedky Hrad (castle) on the top of a hill.

…and a lovely spot for lunch a little bit later.

We then cut back through the mountains, and fortunately the climb this time wasn’t as steep or as long and when we reached Trstin, decided that wild camping was probably the best option for accommodation.  After a week of city dwelling we had pretty much decided that camping was our preferred choice of accommodation when we left in the morning, and in this rural area wild camping was likely to be the only option. And after meeting Friedbert the German cyclist a few days prior we felt braver asking for permission to wild camp, so we asked (with the help of Google translate!) a family in a tiny village called Nahac if there was somewhere we could pitch our tent for the night.  They told us the local football pitch was no problem and it was just down the road so off we went and it was ideal.  So as France was picking up the World Cup trophy in Moscow we were putting up our tent on a football pitch in small-town Slovakia!

We were later joined by some “yoofs” who came along to practice some football,  but they left us alone and obviously had a 10pm curfew, so we had a very chilled camping experience where we caught up on more Peaky Blinders on Netflix.

Woke up in baking sunshine at 7am with a panting dog around the tent, so we were up and out fairly sharpish, to have what I can only describe as one of our most chilled cycling days for a while….and we still managed 70km.  We stopped for an early coffee in a small one-horse town called Vrbove, where the pub a few doors away was surprisingly busy for 10.30 on a Monday morning (not the earliest beer drinkers we have seen so far I hasten to add…which was actually in Austria at 8.30 while we were having breakfast!).  Moved on from here and decided to try a Denne Menu (daily menu generally available from 11-2 most days) in a smallish town Nave Mesto nad Vahom.  The chef/owner spoke brilliant English so could talk us through the menu.  We had soup, followed by 2 amazing dishes of baked Camembert and roast beef – and he gave us 2 complimentary glasses of some ice cold Rose to try.  Yum!  If anyone reading this gets the chance to try some Zweigelt rose, do it.  Neither of us are huge Rose fans, but this was really good.  Hard to resist having a second one,  but we managed to get back on the bikes and headed towards Trencin, which is recommended as a place to visit.  The less busy route took us off-road for a bit on some lumpy tracks, but we also passed the most spectacular ruins of Bekov Castle.

We got to Trencin around 5pm and decided to bed down in a central riverside camping site with this great view of yet another castle. Ed Sheehan would be spoiled for choice in choosing his Castle on the Hill in this country!

We opted for a cabin here….and it was big enough to keep our bikes in, so that we were free to wander into town in the knowledge that our bikes were locked up safe.  After some well-earned showers, we wandered the 10 minutes into town for some pre-dinner beers watching the sun go down – and an early night.

Monday morning and we headed out in pretty sweltering heat for 9.30 and quite quickly into some challenging climbs that sweated our suncream off.  At the top of our climb we came across a church at Mala Skalka with lots of people gathered outside praying.  As it’s turns out this is the oldest pilgrimage site in Slovakia dedicated to two hermit monks who lived there. As far as we can make out, they didn’t do anything particularly special there other than one being thrown into the river by bandits and his body was still intact a year later!

We continued on and had a glamorous morning break at a bus stop, before our journey took us along the river Vah with spectacular views of the river and hills.

It was around midday when we felt the first spots of rain, but we decided against putting on the wet gear until we really had to. Another bus stop break for lunch (because not every day can be nice lunches with chilled Rose) and about 5 minutes on our way, the rain properly started for the afternoon….and boy did it rain.  The English writer and walker Alfred Wainright said,  “there is no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothing” and we definitely have the kit to keep us dry, but it didn’t make it any less miserable unfortunately.  The rain was absolutely relentless for about 4 hours until we arrived in Zilina.  We did pass another stunning castle en route that was surrounded in mist and rain clouds, making it look very magical, but most of the journey was just heads down and get to destination.  A bit of faffing to find accommodation which wasn’t fun standing under a tree googling on a very wet phone…but we got there and found a place to stay in the centre of town.  The town of Zilina appears to be full of casinos and our pension accommodation was no different – it had a betting shop and 24-hour bar downstairs, but thankfully we were on the very top floor where it was quiet and away from it all…the downside being that we had to traipse upstairs with our bikes and all our luggage.

All in all it was a 94km cycle today and pedalling in the rain really took it out of me and I was completely shattered. I considered just staying in our room and eating breadrolls for dinner, but decided to pull myself together and go out to see the town, as it is on the list of places to visit.  It’s a lovely little place and the restaurants in the main square are all under arches, like wide cloisters.

Bizarrely, most of the pubs in the square were neon-lit, dark cocktail bars, which seemed really out of place in such an old square.  We chose a restaurant with outside seating that was covered to protect us from the rain as it continued to pour and had another successful meal…although similar to Austria and Czech Republic its bizarre to see people smoking inside and out.  Something we have to get used to I guess

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