Monday, June 8, 2009

Slovakian Road Trip

We spent Saturday driving through the Slovakian countryside along the Little Carpathians. Route 502 took us along the Eastern slopes northwards from Bratislava to Trstn where we turned left on 51 to Jablonica where we turned south on the 501 to catch the Western slopes on the return trip to Bratislava.

Once you get used to the total absence of ditches, the roads in Western Slovakia are well maintained and, for the most part, newly paved. Once out of Bratislava, the road is 2 lanes and very busy for the first 40 km. The eastern slopes are low rolling hills and an endless stream of vineyards, punctuated by a drive through a village every 2 minutes or so. We spent some time at Červený Kameň (red rock castle) and drove up to Smolenice castle (which is only open to the public in July and August).

The narrow section between Trstn and Jablonica was deeply forested with the trees overhanging the roadway in many sections. Before turning southwards, we passed a mountain lake dotted with rental cottages and fisherman.

The western slopes were higher and more defined. The ruins of Plavecký hrad (castle) are quite impressive. Before heading into Bratislava, we took a side trip to Devin castle, making it the fourth castle we had visited within the space of an afternoon.

Some notes if you're planning a road trip:

  • book your car online about a week ahead of time

  • the most reliable rent-a-cars are at the Bratislava or Vienna airports

  • double-check that the car has a first aid kit and emergency triangle as these are mandatory in Slovakia

  • Slovakia has a 0% blood alcohol policy so forego drinks on the days you're driving

  • don't expect roads or streets to be marked--you may drive for some time before you're sure you're on the right road. Take a map, use instinct, and stick to what looks like the main road as it's probably the one you want

Gas is easy to find and every village has a pizzeria and a place to buy pop or ice cream. Outside of the city, few speak English but Slovakians are friendly and can usually figure out what you want. Tourist areas are well marked, but expect any tour guides to be given in Slovakian only.

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