Like the Czech Republic minus the crowds, Slovakia may sit in the shadows of its neighbour, but the country quietly impresses with its epic alpine scenery, clifftop castles and exquisite capital.
Following the 'Velvet Divorce' of 1993, which saw Czechoslovakia split into two constituent parts (the Czech Republic and Slovakia), the nation set about reasserting its independent spirit, and today there's a humble, creative nature to Slovakia that wins over visitors of all stripes. Enthusiastic about art and music, the country is even home to a burgeoning hip-hop scene.
A small country of just five million odd inhabitants, Slovakia appeals to a broad range of travellers: from backpackers and businesspeople, to skiers and history buffs. It has one or two surprises up its sleeve. It is, for example, quietly gaining prestige as an alternative skiing destination. With its modern skiing infrastructure and new budget flights, Slovakia’s High Tatras mountains are becoming a tantalising destination for winter sports enthusiasts.
As for the capital, it may be compared unfavourably with its neighbour, Prague, but Bratislava is nevertheless an alluring option for a city break. With an air of glamorous Vienna, it is home to gorgeous churches dating back to the 15th century, countless cafes squeezed onto cobblestone streets, and a slew of terrific, sometimes quirky museums.
Part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire for centuries, Bratislava’s architecture is grand Central European in style. It was the Hungarian capital for nearly 300 years, with 11 monarchs crowned in the extraordinary 500-year-old St Martin’s Cathedral.
Beyond its stunning capital, Slovakia boasts some impressive natural landscapes, which remain relatively unspoiled and uncrowded. The country has 10 national parks to speak of, which offer sprawling forests, rolling hills and meandering rivers.
Though Bratislava and the High Tatras mountains remain the star attractions in Slovakia, beyond them lies a diverse and decidedly beautiful land, rich in rewards for those bold enough to explore it.