Around Bratislava – The North: Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Kamzík

Like the Tower of London, like the Eiffel Tower, the thing that puts you off wanting to go to Kamzík, the big TV tower/mast standing sentinel over the hills above Bratislava is that it is, perhaps, too obvious.  There is admittedly not much subtle about it: nigh-on 200m of steel and glass jutting out of an already prominent forested ridge that itself sticks up another 300m above the city, and visible from pretty much everywhere in Greater Bratislava – oh, and Eastern Austria too. And, sharing its name with a type of High Tatras sheep-goat… that’s just weird.

But engaging in the obvious never seemed to be a problem for the majority of people – and certainly not for the majority of tourists – before. And voila, the crowds do converge on mass to the Tower of London AND the Eiffel Tower, yet even on a clement weekend afternoon, Kamzík can hardly be described as a crowd-puller. No, not even by Bratislava’s standards (the castle grabs ten times the numbers of visitors and the viewing platforms there are about 300m lower).

But of course, I hear you shout, you can’t compare the Tower of London or the Eiffel Tower with Kamzík! Well watch me. I have. And it is genuinely perplexing to me that more visitors to Bratislava (or locals) don’t make it up here, because if you weight the attractions up in minutes of time you need to fully appreciate them,  Kamzík comes out on top out of the three. And even for those visitors that would not go quite so far in their commendation, heading up here is well and truly cemented in the top ten best things to do in the Slovak capital – quite possibly the top five.

I am a very recent Kamzík convert. For a full year of living under its steely gaze, I had known, pretty much, what there was to see and do there. I had jogged around it. I had embarked on some great hikes from it. But at best I had viewed it as, well, the way most people tolerate TV masts in beautiful forests, with reluctant tolerance and a faint wish that it had either not been constructed or at least been constructed in a nobler architectural style.

What’s the big deal then? Well, to be clear the area known as Kamzík is not just a TV mast. It’s one of Bratislava’s premier outdoor playgrounds: marking, most significantly, the start of the Bratislava Mestské Lesy, a 30 square kilometre expanse of forested leading directly onto the Malé Karpaty or Small Carpathians, beyond  (hundreds more kilometres of forested hills await). And – as outdoor playgrounds are often blessed with – so the Kamzík area has great places to eat, great places to picnic, great places to hike and bike, great viewpoints AND, whilst it’s conveniently close to the city centre, it’s also far enough away to feel that you have truly left the city behind, and are in fact embarking on an adrenalin rush of an outdoor adventure.

The Mast Itself – and its Views!

The TV mast stands on the highest natural point around: a tree-coated 439m-high hill which would not – were it not for the 196m-high tower on top of it – afford any views whatsoever. But 439m + 194m = 633m, meaning this mast’s crest is significantly higher than anything else around. And even the brasserie here – poised 100m up the tower – is at 539m without contest the best viewing point for a very, very long way.

You enter the Kamzík tower at a lobby bar, quite modern looking but nothing special, at ground level. A pretty waitress tries to tempt you to stay and have a drink here, but there is no real reason to succumb. You want to go to the lift (straight ahead). Press C to go to the Altitude Restaurant (which revolves, Goodamnit, brilliant!) or – one level further up again – D to go to the Brasserie, which is as high as the public can get in the Bratislava region without stepping onto a Ryanair Flight. That’s why we’re recommending it. Not because its food or drink are significantly better than at the Altitude Restaurant or the lobby bar. Once at the Brasserie, it is etiquette to order something, rather than just snap a couple of pictures and leave. But a hot chocolate or tea is only a couple of Euros (main meals are 14-19 Euros and a limited selection includes foie gras with bacon dumplings and wild boar). And this is a spectacular place to drink in the view…

The Brasserie gives views on three sides (although the glass could use a clean). East of here, the Bratislava Mestské Lesy/Malé Karpaty stretch into the distance enticingly. South, the entire sweep of Bratislava is visible across the woods and vineyards, from Rača in the northeast round to the city centre (look for the castle for orientation). Looking west, the view is dramatic too: western suburbs like Dubravka give way to the flat lands beyond the hills, and Austria. You can trace the silver ribbon of Danube from the southeast near the Danubiana Art Museum right across to Devínska Kobyla in the west and beyond to Hainburg in Austria. Even the Austrian Alps are visible in the distance.

Below the Brasserie, the Altitude Restaurant yields similar views: with the neat difference that – let’s emphasise again – it rotates a full 360 degrees every 45 minutes. There are, these days, not so many fully rotating restaurants in Europe – and certainly not many with this vista out of the window(s).

It’s a great location for a business appointment – but not just because rotating restaurants invariably tend to attract the well-heeled. No: it’s a smart venue and knows it and to an extent tailors itself to attracting just that sort of crowd. It’s also right in the middle of Bratislava’s trump cards: its surrounding nature and its views. And there are conference rooms beneath.

Peruse your menu in either eating establishment and you can get the scoop on the Kamzík’s history. It was started, for example, in 1967; finished in 1975. Most hilariously, it details that the original design was intended to depict a wine bottle in homage to the Small Carpathians famous viticulture – with a disclaimer afterwards saying that it does not represent a wine bottle very faithfully and yet retains the nature of a wine bottle shape! In a word: cheers!

 Picnicking in the Meadow

Being able to drive up to Kamzík (and its proximity to Bratislava city centre) is certainly what makes it one of the very most popular places in the entire Malé Karpaty range of hills. And because you can drive up, it’s also a very frequented picnicking place. But all picnickers like a view, and the wide grassy meadow, or luka, at the top (where the road up through Koliba from the city branches into the TV Tower access road and the cable car access track) offers one of the rare opportunities within the hills to see the woods outside of the trees, as it were: with views the trees normally hide. It’s a sun trap when the sun is shining and has a few snack stalls at the top end: nothing special but hey, sausages with a view!! (or bring your own better food with you).

Kamzík’s Eats and Sleeps

In addition to the eating places mentioned thus far, there is also, at the topmost cable car station, the rather appealing Koliba Expo restaurant – a great, typically rustic slovak-style place to round off a spot of weekend hiking (so good it warrants its own post, but for now, open 11am-11pm daily). Want to bed down up in the hills here? Well it makes a fairly attractive proposition in some ways. You are properly immersed in the nature here, but at the same time within a 20-minute walk of the trolleybus terminus (trolleybus 203). So welcome to Kamzík’s own hotel: Hotel West. The setting is Hansel and Gretel-esque but the rooms and restaurant are a little short on atmosphere (something they have in common with almost every other Best Western). Still, you’re staying in the woods!  And yes, there is indeed a cable car up to Kamzík – that was not a mistake – which you can read more about in the How to Get There section below!

The Proper Outdoorsy Stuff

Views viewed, picnics picnicked and eateries eaten in, chances are you’ll want to get on with some of the great hiking, mountain biking and (in the winter) cross-country skiing hereabouts – numerous relatively deserted trails meander off through the forests seemingly tailored to these purposes.

The main hiking trail to know about from here is the red route, the Štefánikova magistrála***(trail of  Štefánik) that runs from Devínsky Hrad (Devín Castle) through Devínska Kobyla and Kamzík on northeast over 100km up the length of the Male Karpaty to the very end of the range at Bradlo, where Štefánik’s memorial sits (the whole walk will soon be featured on Englishmaninslovakia and Kamzík sits neatly at the finish of Stage One and the beginning of Stage Two of the walk).

OR follow the access road along the top of meadow we just told you was great for picnicking (hikers/bikers only, no cars) as it twists down to the cable car base, where you can pick up the Pilgrimage Route to Marianka***(turn right, following the yellow trail – and see here what Marianka actually is). A yellow trail also heads west from Hotel West at Kamzík to the Železná studnička (scroll on down below under the ‘How to Get There’ paragraph for what Železná studnička actually is) road and directly over to join the official pilgrimage trail to Marianka (yes, we admit it, our pilgrimage trail is not the official one for all of the route, but we’ll guarantee you it’ll take you through the best scenery).

Reasonably seasoned mountain bikers could manage any of the afore-mentioned trails on two wheels, but to link up with the prettiest of the nearby dedicated biking trails, take the red Štefánikova magistrála trail northeast for 25 minutes where you’ll hit a yellow trail. The route from here, both east (through to Bratislava’s northeasterly suburb of Rača) and west (down to the cable car base just beyond Železná studnička and then on towards Marianka) is a beautiful biking trail and it’s also our recommended Pilgrimage to Marianka route. When the snow falls up to 1.5 metres thick here in the winter this same trail is a great cross-country snow-shoeing or skiing route. Oh – and there are a whole network of special running routes around Kamzík too – on a mix of paved and stony paths/tracks.

The bottom line is that from Kamzík, the whole of the Small Carpathians are at your fingertips.

How to Get Here (Perhaps the Most Fun of All!)

We’ll list the ways to get up to Kamzík in order, from least interesting to most.

Driving…

From just east of Bratislava Hlavna Stanica mainline railway station (MAP) a road (named Karpatska) goes up under the rail tracks through the neighbourhood of Koliba to the afore-mentioned picnicking meadow and a couple of car parks.

Public Transport…

Trolleybus 203 heads up to the Koliba terminus. From here, keep heading uphill on the road and join a path on the right of the road which leads up through woods in 20 minutes or so to reach Kamzík.

Hiking…

A number of possibilities from the city centre: the red Štefánikova magistrála trail runs up from the western neighbourhood of Patronka (at Vojenská Nemocnica, on the Bus 212 route); a green trail leads up from Bratislava Hlavna Stanica mainline railway station (on several of the city’s major public bus and tram routes); a blue trail leads up from Mladá Garda in Nove Mesto (on the Tram 3 and Tram 5 routes); a yellow trail leads up from Krasňany in northeastern Bratislava (near Rača, on the Tram 3 and Tram 5 routes). None take more than an hour to get to Kamzík.

Cable Car!

It should be noted, before visitors get too excited, that the cable car is more akin to a chair lift but, even so, it is Bratislava’s very own, and not commonly known about. That’s because the route it takes is far from the most direct way up from where most foreign visitors. You get there from Bratislava Železná studnička mainline railway station (trains towards Kúty from Bratislava Hlavna Stanica stop here every couple of hours; otherwise hop on bus 212 from Hodžovo Námestie and get off at the last stop, the hospital Vojenská Nemocnica). Now EITHER

a) walk up say from the main road on Cesta Mládeže, which quickly rises into the Bratislava Mestské Lesy and the start of the series of lakes known as Železná studnička. 2km up this road and you’ll reach the cable car base (behind a wide meadow with a small playground in)

b) Change directly at Vojenská Nemocnica to bus 43 (1-2 buses hourly) and stay on until the Lanovka stop, where you’ll see the cable car base just above you.

The Cable Car, also known as Lanovky, costs 4 Euros/3 Euros adult/child one way. It runs Thursday through Sunday between 10am and 6pm, with the last departures being at 5:45pm. The journey whooshes you up, quite thrillingly, through the forest to Kamzík – right by the Koliba Expo restaurant we were mentioning.

And finally, why is Kamzík so called, after the quirky breed of sheep that inhabit the Slovakian High Tatras? We don’t know. Answers on a postcard, please!

MAP LINK: Also see Kamzík on our specially annotated GREATER BRATISLAVA MAP

GETTING THERE: Detailed right above!

NEXT ON THE JOURNEY: From Kamzík, it’s a one-hour walk down to Krasňany and one of the best typical Slovak restaurants in Bratislava, Krasňanska Kúria – and a two-hour walk north to Marianka, Slovakia’s main pilgrimage destination.

*** = Denotes where, on our separate hiking posts incorporating Kamzík, you have to scroll down to to in the linked post to pick up the hike

img_1350

The Old Town: Bratislava Clock Museum

Back in the 19th century, it turns out, Bratislava (aka Pressburg to German speakers or Pozsony to Hungarian speakers) was one of Europe’s foremost manufacturers of clocks – and the Hungarian Empire’s go-to destination for purchasing high-quality timepieces. It was a proud legacy the city had built up over the preceding three centuries, with one of Europe’s first and finest clock-makers’ guilds in action here since the mid-16th.

It would be wrong to say that there is palpable evidence in the city today of this tradition.   There are no clocks to compare to the workmanship of Prague’s Astronomical Clock, for example – at least not on display on key city buildings. But there is a reason for that. Bratislava’s colourful clockmaking past is wrapped up and preserved in one rather tucked-away building in the shadow of the castle, on the other side of the dual carriageway from the main part of the Old Town in the small but fascinating remnants of the Jewish Quarter.

The clock I decided I want on the wall of my house… ©www.englishmaninslovakia.co.uk

The Jewish Quarter, tragically, was largely decimated by the construction of the dual carriageway that leads over the bridge of Most SNP to Petržalka, but a few steep, corkscrewing streets on the slopes leading up to the castle have stayed in tact – enough to maintain an atmospheric reminder of how this district must have looked pre-raze (pre-1950s in other words). It would have been a web of tiny alleys so intertwined (and sufficiently removed from the main part of the Old Town) that it would have assumed the air of a mini-city within a city – a neighbourhood unto itself – and been a spirited hub of city trade. Wander Beblavého or Mikulášska streets today and there are plenty of erstwhile signs of the district’s glory days, but none, perhaps, as striking as the yellow-and-cream facade of the Dom U  dobrého pastiera (House of the Good Shepherd) in which Bratislava’s clock museum is located. It’s one of a few precious examples of 18th-century Burghers Houses remaining in the city centre (heralding from the 1760s) – with a crenelated exterior forming the junction between two streets and a tiny three-floor interior that would once have sufficed for the workspace and living quarters of a city tradesman and is now packed to the gills with clocks crafted by Bratislava’s greatest clockmakers.

The two old babičky (grandmothers) on duty seemed surprised by us entering at all; more so by us wanting to stay beyond the five minutes which, they tell us sadly, most visitors stay. “We much prefer visitors like you”, they lamented, “but we don’t get so many of them.”

I found it hard to see why. Granted, to spend much time in a clock museum you have to possess at least a passing interest in clocks (which presumably you have if you have read the post thus far). But if clocks make you tick – even temporarily – then you are never going to experience a more magical journey into the talismanic days of the clockmaking industry, when clocks were first being produced and commissioned on a large scale for families, than in this dinky museum.

Like all good museums, the best exhibits are saved until last (the topmost of the three floors).

Starting downstairs, there is an overview of the clockmaking industry in general. You get a sense of the pride that would have been involved in being a clockmaker – never, in the industry’s 18th- and 19th-century heyday, was there a day-to-day example of a more highly-skilled trade. Not only were clocks indispensable practical parts of daily life (a typical day had by this point come to depend on accurate timekeeping for many city dwellers) but they were simultaneously works of art. Painters even painted clockmakers in action…

The noble clockmaking profession in Bratislava back in the day ©englishmaninslovakia.com

The noble clockmaking profession in Bratislava back in the day ©www.englishmaninslovakia.co.uk

On the ground floor you will find the entire workings of an 18th century church clock, but mainly this is a world of exquisite small detail that you have to peer very closely at to truly appreciate (check the intricacy of the hunter pursuing the deer on one of the downstairs clocks, for example).

But it was the timepieces commissioned for private houses – mantelpiece clocks and wall clocks – where the prowess of the Bratislava clockmakers is best exemplified, and for these you have to ascend up the steep staircase to the top of the house.

©englishmaninslovakia.com

©www.englishmaninslovakia.co.uk

Take this one above, a picture clock where a detailed oil painting representing a journey through life from infancy to old age is transposed upon a typical Central European alpine scene – with the pensioners in the picture crossing a bridge across a river to a grand castellated gatehouse: one of the more inviting depictions of the beckoning afterlife you’ll come across! Then there is a fine gold filigree clock, on the interlocking branches of which perch two lovebirds. *

But the very best clocks often included aspects of Bratislava itself – such a hallmark of clockmaking did it become. On one, with the passing of every hour a new scene from a Central European city appears at the bottom of an elaborate painting (now stuck perpetually on the image of Bratislava Castle). In another, in a classic 19th-century Castle-from-across-the-Danube image, a clock tower on what is now the Petržalka side of the river rises out of nothing (it does not exist now; one wonders if it ever did) to provide the clock face (see the lead image).

Perhaps of all the city’s museums, this is most suited to a place on Englishmaninslovakia: quirky, eyeopening, an undiscovered gem as deserving of your time (if not more so) as any of the bigger museums you will have read about in your pre-trip research. It also best illustrates what Bratislava’s attractions are above all: not blockbuster sights, like Vienna or Budapest – but more a series of serendipitous small discoveries that will guarantee you walk away from them pleasantly surprised, because you never really expected them to be much in the first place.

Even so, five minutes to look round is not enough, by any means (allow the best part of an hour). Remember, time stands still in a museum of old clocks.

* = Many of the clocks are being digitalised as part of an ongoing preservation project (meaning not that they are getting luminous digit displays inserted in the handiwork, but that their images are being digitalised).

MAP LINK:

LOCATION: Dom U dobrého pastiera (House of the Good Shepherd), Židovská 1.

ADMISSION: Adults 2.50 Euros, Children 1.50 Euros

OPENING: 10am-5pm Tuesday to Friday, 11am-6pm Saturday and Sunday

NEXT ON THE JOURNEY: A 200m stroll north is one of the city’s best little cafes, Kava.Bar

LAST UPDATED: April 2017

woodpecker-1186209_1280 - kopie

Bratislava – A Birdwatching Haven

For our 150th post on Englishmaninslovakia.com we are honoured to have a guest article on birdwatching in and around Bratislava from one of the city’s most experienced birdwatchers, Tomáš Novák. A keen birdwatcher, nature lover, and “bike birder”, his particular passion is urban birding (spotting the birdlife that inhabits urban areas) and owing to the variety of terrains around Bratislava, there is rather a large amount of bird diversity…

Birdwatchers… ©Tomas Novak

Birdwatchers near Bratislava ©Tomáš Novák

It may be that birdwatching in Slovakia is not as popular a pastime as it is in the UK or U.S. Yet Bratislava definitely offers great opportunities to explore the world of birds. There are various habitats on offer: from open fields in the Pannonian lowlands to the forests of the Small Carpathians; from the Danube and its wet floodplain meadows to vineyards and forest steppe. We should not omit, in the city itself, urban parks, bodies of water or high-rise buildings. So where in Bratislava is best to enjoy birdwatching?

Danube

Hrušovská zdrž water reservoir below Bratislava is a large water body that attracts plenty of bird species. It is one of the most important wintering site for some species of waterbirds in Central Europe. Beside thousands of wintering Tufted Ducks, Goldeneyes, Pochards or Mallards, you can spot some more unusual species such as the Pygmy Cormorant, Greater Scaup, Velvet Scoter, Long-tailed Duck, Smew or Red-breasted Merganser. During migration season it is possible to observe various species of waders and Marsh Terns as well – and, to name just some of the others – the Dunlin, Ringed Plover, Curlew or Black Tern. It is one of the last refuges of breeding Mediterranean Gulls in Slovakia. And last but not least I need to mention the uncrowned king of the Danube’s sky. The majestic White-tailed Eagle breeds here and the numbers swell every winter with birds that come from Northern Europe to spend the winter months by the Danube.

© Tomas Novak

© Tomáš Novák

 

How to get there: Bus 91 to Čunovo, bus 90 to Areál vodných športov or by bike from Petržalka along the seepage canal MAP

 

 

Železná studnička Area

Bratislava lies in the foothills of Small Carpathians. You can dive into the 1500 km long arc of Carpathian beech forests, which begins right above the city. At the entrance to the Bratislava Mestske Lesy (which leads you up into the Small Carpathians from Železná studnička railway station in western Bratislava) the proximity of these forests brings a handful of interesting bird species. I’ll start with woodpeckers. In Slovakia you can find all ten species that live in Europe. Nine of them can be spotted in or next to the forests around Bratislava – the Middle Spotted, Great Spotted, Syrian, White-backed, Green, Grey-headed, Black, Lesser Spotted Woodpecker and Wryneck. For all save the last two, you have to go a little way into the forests, for the Lesser Spotted Woodpecker you’ll find them on the edge of forest vegetation and for the Wryneck focus your attentions on the border between the forest and vineyard-covered slopes – where it might breed in old orchards or small clumps of trees. The Wood Warbler, Collared and Red-breasted Flycatchers breed in the Bratislava forests as well. Have you tried birding during the night? You need to try it – and one of the rewards is the call of the Tawny Owl, which can also be found here.

How to get there: Bus 43 from Patrónka (once you’re up in the forests, any stop will do to get out and start exploring) MAP

Sandberg and Devínska Kobyla

The old sandstone quarry in Devínska Nová Ves, easily accessible by walk, is one of the top natural sites in Bratislava. From early May you can find here colony of breeding European Bee-eaters, the most colourful Slovak bird. A stunning surrounding landscape

Sandberg, above Devínska Nová Ves ©englishmaninslovakia.com

Sandberg, above Devínska Nová Ves ©englishmaninslovakia.com

comprising Marchfeld, the Morava River and iconic Devín castle is a good motive for a walk. The hunting Red-backed Shrike, the singing Chiffchaff, soaring Red Kites, White Storks and, if you are lucky, the Imperial Eagle could be spotted. This is a forgotten world of steppe habitats, orchid meadows, rare insects, endemic animal and plant species, and high diversity of snakes, butterflies and flowers. Need more be said? Definitely a must if you are a nature lover.

How to get there: Buses 21 or 28 to Devínska Nová Ves MAP

Morava River floodplain

A classic (and, by foreigners, rarely visited) natural treasure is the greenbelt of the Morava River, the former “iron curtain” area. You can find here a mosaic of wet meadows, oxbow lakes, alluvial forests and agricultural land. This beautiful landscape is a shelter for the breeding of water birds and a roosting site for migrating geese. Various birds of prey – the Marsh Harrier, Red Kite, White-tailed Eagle or Imperial Eagle – could be observed here. Even Black Storks are searching for the food in the moist meadows. Not enough? The Barred Warbler, Corncrake or Golden Oriole may convince you. In addition the bike path is lined with the old military bunkers. Discover a green paradise no further away than the northern outskirts of a Capital city!

How to get there: Train to Devínske Jazero, by bike from Devínska Nová Ves following the marked trail to Vysoká pro Morave MAP

Cycling out to the River Morava floodplain on a birding trip © Tomáš Novák.

Cycling out to the River Morava floodplain on a birding trip © Tomáš Novák.

Urban Bratislava

One could complain that busy people do not have enough time to explore the nature around the city. But when you take a closer look at the fine birding spots right in the city centre, you have to concede that nature is so close in Bratislava, you barely have to do more than glance up to see it! During a lunch break, a walk in the Medická záhrada public garden and nearby Ondrejský cintorín cemetery could reveal a Green Woodpecker, Nuthatch, Wood Pigeon, Chaffinch, Greenfinch, Spotted Flycatcher or Icterine Warbler. Similar and more diverse list can be observed in Sad Janka Kráľa public park, across the other side of the Danube from Most SNP. The water bodies of Štrkovec, Kuchajda and Zlaté Piesky offer you a nice walk after work with good views of Black-headed Gulls, Common Terns, Coots, Mute Swans or just lovely Mallards. So does the Chorvátske rameno canal and Veľký Draždiak in Petržalka. Kingfishers in Bratislava? Yes, at Karloveské rameno – an arm of the Danube next to Karlová Ves. And the very fortunate can spot Beavers as well. Large flocks of wintering Rooks and Jackdaws can be spied flying over the city center around sunset. And did you know that Peregrine Falcon use to roost on the top of the Incheba Exhibition Centre highrise building in the winter?

This is not, by any means, a complete list of birdwatching spots in Bratislava. Many more posts would be needed to fully showcase them all. I just tried to provide here a taster of the natural diversity of the Slovak capital. Would you like to have a birdwatching guided walk or bike trip? Feel free to contact me on e-mail (tomas.novak@ymail.com) or Twitter (@titodaking). It’s easy. Just grab your binoculars, camera and backpack and let’s go exploring the nature of Bratislava.

 

Around Bratislava – the North: The Mestské Lesy (Local City Forest)

IT IS BY NO MEANS the first time I have raved about, nor the last time I will write about, Bratislava’s Mestské Lesy: the wonderful forest that rises up above the city on its northern side. If people ask me what’s so great about living in Bratislava, this is one of the first things I say. A wild tract of hilly forest that begins right on the edge of the city (only a few km from the Old Town) and continues – well – pretty much all the way across Slovakia, actually.

The most popular part of the forest is around the Kamzik, or TV Mast, that sticks up like a sore thumb out of the greenery that frames Bratislava’s northern edge. But venture beyond this, or indeed approach the forest from another entrance, and you’ll have it much more to yourself. What’s exciting, in a nutshell, about the gorgeous deciduous and conifer woods here is that they continue, unfettered, beyond the limits of the city forest into the Malé Karpaty (Small Carpathians) which feed into the Carpathians themselves. Embark on a walk here and you know that nature stretches before you, should you be game, right the way into Romania, and with literally a handful of roads to cross during that time.

As blog followers know, I lived for three years+ in Rača, a large neighbourhood in Bratislava’s northeast, so my main entry point into the forest was always via Pekná Cesta. From the tram stop (on the No.3 or No.5 line out to Rača you walk straight up the “nice road” (as Pekná Cesta translates into English) passing two supermarkets and then following straight uphill out of the city. After 30 minutes’ walk or a few minutes’ drive you reach a car park with some barbecue grills, a small, invariably closed booth selling warm soft drinks, the nexus of several mapped-out running routes and, most importantly, the start of an intriguing forest-themed hiking adventure.

I was lucky enough to live on the fringes of this forest and go for runs in the lower echelons (and the vineyards below them) all the time but on my first serious hiking exploration – as it happened, on the 6th of January, Monday, Traja Králi or Three Kings’ Day as it is known in Slovakia – myself and my girlfriend were for several days prior in the frame of mind for a longer adventure… a much longer adventure. The day we chose was beautiful, with temperatures reaching 12 degrees C (when we started out I didn’t even need to wear a coat) and Bratislava folk were out for a spot of post-Christmas fresh air. It was an amazing advert for the city, with the smoke of venison wafting over from the barbecues, young families merrily embarking on the myriad trails and Bratislava’s large contingent of hardcore cyclists toiling up on the steep climbs out of the car park into the forest…

…In this part of the forest there are no refreshments (in fact there’s probably scope for some enterprising young individual to open a cafe/ restaurant like the abundance there are around Kamzik) but that’s hardly the point: you are getting straight out into a forest wilderness here where (seriously) there are wild pigs and bears abroad after night fall (either of which could easily kill people, meaning the wildlife here is nothing to be taken lightly. The Czechs (probably because they come more often to Slovakia than any other nation but also because they’re Czechs) have a reputation here for coming to Slovakia’s wildernesses, setting off into the blue yonder and getting into difficulties because they underestimate just how wild it is here.

It all adds an extra sense of adventure to any hike you do (provided you come prepared and aren’t out after dark). And isolated as it becomes in these forests, you are always accompanied by great signage, good noticeboards indicating where on the forest map you are and as already inferred, shelters/fire pits for typical Slovak opekačka (cooking meat on an outdoor fire in the woods, basically). It’s not for nothing hiking is one of Englishmaninslovakia’s top things about living in Slovakia.

This time out, we didn’t come prepared. Or rather, we didn’t realise how long the circuit we did would take. There we were, enjoying the sun slowly sinking over the treetops and then we were suddenly thinking: “ah, yes, when that goes down fully it will be dark – and isn’t that the hour when those wild pigs emerge?” I tried planning one of my legendary shortcuts back to the starting point. It would have been an amazing moment for a shortcut of mine to pay off. But it didn’t. We had to backtrack. By now it was getting seriously dusky. We couldn’t read our map (the green 1: 25000 Malé Karpaty Juh – available in all good bookstores; see our post on buying hiking apps & maps for more if you want a good map on either local hiking or hiking in Slovakia generally). The mythical stories of those wild pigs and bears seemed much closer.

Then a serendipitous short, portly bearded man (oh, such a classic Slovak, and with that absolutely essential hiking companion – a huge hip flask of the very, very strong stuff) tramped by and asked us if we were lost. It turned out we weren’t so off-the-beaten-path after all and he was able to direct us back to Pekna Cestá. Because despite all this tree-coated wilderness, we were only a few kilometres from the edge of Bratislava.

The man bid us farewell, and when he had guided us to the edge of recognisable territory, he turned off on some darker, far wilder looking path that was going in the opposite direction to civilisation.

“Where are you going now?” we cried, for it was almost pitch black by this point.

“Oh, I’ve got another 1 1/2 hours of walking yet” he replied. “I’m going to Marianka.”

Marianka, famous for being Slovakia’s main pilgrimage site, was a good 10km off. And indeed this man was a pilgrim. He was going to pray to the Panna Mária  (Virgin Mary); he did it every year on Traja Králi and, in the true style of pilgrims of old, by foot through these very forests. He took a long swig of strong-smelling alcohol. Whether that was a good idea if he was going to be contending with wild pigs and bears, I am sure he knew best.

NB: to the best of my knowledge, the forests around Bratislava contain no bears (there’s plenty in the High Tatras and Eastern Slovakia) but lots of wild pigs.

THREE TIPS FOR MESTSKÉ LESY HIKES!

On the blue trail from here to the edge of the city forest somewhere near Malinovsky Vrch (the point where it borders the Malé Karpaty proper) a number of exciting hikes are possible…

1: In fact, you could easily embark on what would be one of the classic Mestské Lesy hikes, on blue and red trails, from the Pekná Cesta car park: on all the way to Pajštún Castle (a total of 4.5 to 5 hours’  hiking) via Pánova Lúka and Drači Hrádok (thus encompassing three of our very favourite hiking destinations near Bratislava). Beyond Pajštún, should you so choose, you can continue hiking into the Malé Karpaty in Western Slovakia).

2: For something a little easier (and more or less what we did on the above mentioned day), follow blue to begin with from the car park and then, where the trail heads off on a more minor path, circle back (staying on the metalled lane) to a ruined sanatorium where a beautiful and rarely-used trail then climbs back up through woods, and eventually descends again to join the blue trail at a noticeboard/firepit on Pekná Cesta about a km uphill from the starting point. It’s an excellent round-trip foray into these woods, with loads of smaller tracks branching off to explore.

3: Our third featured possibility for hiking from Pekná Cesta is indeed our top recommended Bratislava Mestské Lesy hike, the Pilgrimage to Marianka.

OUR FAVOURITE RANDOM LITTLE PLACES TO GO IN THE MESTSKÉ LESY:

Pánova Lúka – An idyllic, verdant little meadow a 3-hour hike from Central Bratislava via Kamzik. A great place for Slovak opycačka (barbecue) or a game of frisbee! MAP (although you need a better hiking map to find the place). It’s off the red Štefanokova Magistrala trail (stage two) before Biely Križ…

The Yellow Trail from Pekna Cesta – A beautiful stretch of woodland close to the city, and part of our Pilgrimage Trail to Marianka path.

Drači Hrádok – This is a very ruined castle (only a few stones left) but the ruins themselves are in a forgotten little pocket of woods below Pajštún Castle. MAP It’s at the end of the yellow trail down from Pajštún Castle, just east of Borinka (and still a steep climb uphill from there).

MAP LINK 

GETTING THERE: For the part of the Mestské Lesy we’re talking about here, hop on Trams No.3 or 5 in the city centre and head out to Pekná Cesta, a 20 minute tram ride three stops beyond Bratislava Vinohrady train station.

NEXT ON THE JOURNEY: Walk any further on the paths described and you’re well and truly in the Small Carpathians. 12km north of Pekná Cesta (and accessible via the Pekná Cesta road through the forest) just passed Marianka is, indeed, Pajštún Castle.