Sunday, September 24, 2006

Heading North - April 2006

View from a room near Cadca - the big melt This post is a bit of a red herring actually, as it takes us away from Myjava and the Greenhouse to Northwest and Central Slovakia. But, it touches on 2 other areas of the country, one of which is well worth mentioning, so I shall.
We followed the highway north from Nove Mesto nad Vahom (New Town on the Vah rver) through Zilina towards Cadca which is nestled in a corner near both the Czech and Polish borders. I'd liked the idea of a place near 2 frontiers like this, and the area is well known for skiing and hiking. However, there is still quite a bit of industry in this area, and although there are some stunning drives, you really have to get off the main roads to find your forest idyll. It was here that I made a fundamental decision on where we would buy. We'd come from the Southwest which was basking in 20 degrees of beautiful spring sunshine, to the North with low mountains and maybe 5 degrees if you're lucky. Low clouds obscured the views, snow was still banked at the sides of the roads and the rivers were in full flood.
Having previously holidayed in the Tatras in high summer - 26 degrees to the 40 degrees down in Bratislava- I'd loved the cooler contrast. However, shivering at Easter was definitely not part of my plans. A cute wooden cottage hidden in the forest on a mountainside is wonderful if you're a ski-buff or hiking fanatic and don't mind wearing a woolly hat in May, but this mountain climate is just not for me. For a short visit fine, we'll rent. But to buy, no thanks; I want a summer holiday with sun. A walk in DemanovkaSo having had my eureka moment, we didn't bother visiting any properties in the area, and as time was short we packed up after one night and headed East to the Lipto region; famous for excellent skiing and Liptovska Mara, the largest body of water in the country.
We stopped in the Demanovka Dolina (valley), partly because of it's natural beauty and partly because of the Demanovske Jaskyne (caves) which are world famous and a stunning place to visit. This area is designated a National Park (Nizke Tatry) and at the top of the valley is the ski resort of Jasna at just over 2,000m altitude. During our stay there was a ski competition being held in Jasna, but with a rear-wheel drive car and no winter tyres or chains we decided to stay a little further down the hill ! View from the Tri Studnicky HotelAgain, I'll get into this area in detail later on, but it was a wonderful mountain break - bracing walks (only 1
degree celcius here!) in beautiful scenery and all creature comforts at the excellent Tri Studnicky hotel. And FYI that means '3 wells'. The story goes that, once upon a time a good burgher was so disappointed with his (3) daughters' lewd behaviour that in desparation he threw them each into a well . No this story hasn't been researched in depth -but elaborations are very welcome- and how considerate is that..? giving them each their own well ... new man.
View from the village of Vlkolinec
After an excellent visit to the caves (just up the road) and to the Unesco heritage 'living museum' village of Vlkolinec (website only in Slovak, but the fotogaleria is excellent), we again moved on - south this time, towards Banska Bystrica.Bansksa Bystrica main square Now this is a must-see town in central Slovakia. Dating from the 13th century, BB is a small (population +/- 90,000) but buzzing university town surrounded by the Low Tatras, and with a charming main square. More info in English at BBK.sk.
While many historical town centres in Slovakia fell victim to the communist-era 'functional' tendency, BB has come out very well, as has Banska Stiavnica - yet another UNESCO Heritage site, and rather special. The whole area around BB and BS profited from the mining of precious metals in the 14th (gold and silver) and 15th (copper, lead etc) centuries and obviously the wealth that came with it.Banska Stiavnica Banska Stiavnica is currently (2006) still undergoing a serious facelift, with many terribly neglected historical buildings
under renovation. But this visitor has never visited anywhere quite like it. You can see the architectural heritage in various stages of decay / reconstruction / glory, but there is (or was at Easter) hardly any tourism. You will find guest houses (Penzion) and hotels in the heart of the old town, but there are no queues, parking problems, or rip-off restaurants. Many atmospheric and hidden bars and cafes, but no souvenir shops that I could see. The locals (this goes generally for Slovakia, but was remarkable here) were very welcoming - to the extent of buying me more than 1 Slivovice ~ na zdravie!Another view - Banska Stiavnica

The impression I left with was of a former tiger of the Hungarian empire slowly re-awakening to the new reality of 21st century tourism and the new future that can bring. Still very small-town and bohemian in flavour and atmosphere -so get there quick- but destined no doubt to change. BS was one of the great finds on this trip. The surrounding countryside was equally impressive, and more rural than other areas - deer shying in the woods along the road and not another car for miles. The drive down from BB was also a joy. Good roads snaking through low mountains and valleys, with lakes (maybe quarries previously?) dotted around; a pleasure to drive and heaven for Spitfires, MGs and anyone with a bike!
We had 2 places to see in the area. The first one I won't bother mentioning as it was 'sprung' on us by the estate agent and didn't qualify. The 2nd though was something else I'd found on the web, an old mill by a stream - and very charming.New Mill Not only charming but also huge. On the ground the building area was 200m2, so 400m2 with the 1st floor. It would mean strengthening
the walls though as Slovaks (and most of the rest of us probably) only live/d in the ground floor, and upstairs was storage. The stream formed a natural barrier between the property and the very unfrequented road, and was fringed with willows - so total privacy in summer. The living room boasted the waterwheel which was complete and very impressive, high ceilings with huge beams, and plenty of light despite the small windows.Living room with mill wheel The place came with 1,600m2 of land and the option to buy more (as usual), and one of my 1st thoughts was 'Liberty's would buy the waterwheel for the price of the whole place!' ... 12,000 Euros. Very tempting indeed, and if we were living in Bratislava I'd probably have gone for it, but 2 renovations at a distance...? Forget it.
That's enough househunting for now ... time for decisions.



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