Bratislava's best cafe? ©www.englishmaninslovakia.co.uk

Avra Kehdabra

Wifi: Alright.

Even when I don’t write about Bratislava for a few weeks on here, something wells within me which I can only describe as a pit of hunger. Not hunger for food, per se, or for Slovak food particularly, but for kicking back in one of Bratislava’s charming little cafes or bars, imbibing the atmosphere (and yes, sustenance is likely to play a part sooner or later). Slovakia’s capital city inspires nostalgia in precisely this way: initiating withdrawal symptoms in the punters who have partaken of its cafes mighty quickly after they settle their bills and walk out the door. For Bratislava is about its cafe culture as much as its bar culture and probably more than its restaurant culture. Forget your over-crowded Viennas and Budapests if it is nursing a beverage for hours in chilled surrounds. Bratislava has been watching and learning of recent years how to concoct sublime coffee (and it never forgot how to serve tea in all its fabulous forms; just see our history of coffee and tea culture in Slovakia). And the city has become adept at fashioning attractive nooks to slurp your coffee or tea, too. Case in point (indeed, best case in point): Avra Kehdabra.

Ah yes, those two little words that have incited magic tricks a-plenty in their time denote, on one of Bratislava’s most enticing streets, perhaps the best example of a cafe in the Old Town. Stroll down Grősslingova, a model city thoroughfare lined with leafy trees and independent shops and restaurants and the eyecatching facade of Avra Kehdabra hits you, bright signs propped against pillars intimating of tea, coffee, wine and cake within. This den styles itself as a literary teahouse first and a cafe second, and it is the tea that is most in evidence: stacked on shelves for sale in packets and/or lovingly prepared in front of you by the knowledgeable staff. The tea – fruit, herb, white, black, green, with oolong and pu-erh tea from China – is served with ceremony, and you can prepare your cuppa yourself with the aid of various specialised pouring devices (no, not just teapots, but ornate percolators too). It is not going to be just refreshment you get here, but a veritable lesson in the origins of the tea you taste and its place in society, and the overall impression is that Avra Kehdabra is enthusiastically continuing that age-old association of Bratislava with fine tea-drinking joints. The coffee is sensational too, with the ristretto and lungo particularly impressing.

And what better place for such a crash course in delicious beverages could there be? Not since the days of the lovely, cosy Prešporák has there been a rival in the city for Avra Kehdabra in terms of antiquated elegance, where dark wood tables and stalls are complemented by Asian-style rugs and throws draped everywhere, by shelf upon shelf of books and, in an even more intimate room at the back, massive armchairs to curl up in and drink and read in. It will account for all the time that you are waiting for your drink to take in all the types of tea stashed in old medicine jars behind the counter. At some point as the hours slide happily by and tea number two is coming to its end, you might decide to order one of the light snacks (hummus with vegetable dipsticks) or graduate to a glass of wine.

It’s mostly young folks that will stop by during your reverie or loooong chat with friends or acquaintances: twenty-something couples, students skiving lectures, the odd intrepid visitor. And whilst the place can fill up in the evenings, there is never any rush for you to sip up and leave: relaxation is the raison d’être here. Rather, this Čajovna comes across much like the optimistic person’s drinking glass: it never appears as much as half empty of customers, and almost always feels at least half full.

And here’s a final thought. This place stays open until 10pm. At 8 or 9 in the evening, people are here socialising drinking tea. There is something beautiful in that. Something quite pure. In England, we’d likely already be on the fifth pint by then.

MAP LINK

LOCATION: Grősslingova 49

OPENING: 7:30am-10pm Monday to Friday, 2pm to 10pm Saturday

BEST TIME TO VISIT: Avra Kehdabra gets popular at odd times of the day: sometimes with work-shirking students, sometimes with visitors in wonder, like many of us, at the city’s tucked-away little eateries. But late afternoon to early evening on a weekday should see you grab a table without forgoing the buzz of the place.

NEXT ON THE JOURNEY: From Avra Kehdabra it’s 450m northwest to one of the city’s best bistros, Bistro St Germain

Waiting for tea ©www.englishmaninslovakia.co.uk

Waiting for tea ©www.englishmaninslovakia.co.uk

 

Dunaj the River ©www.englishmaninslovakia.co.uk

Bratislava: the Unique Beat of Dunaj

The view from KC Dunaj ©www.englishmaninslovakia.co.uk

The view from KC Dunaj ©www.englishmaninslovakia.co.uk

I often use Dunaj as an example of how Bratislava can make cool stuff happen. For anyone who thinks the city is a place of staid white people going about their daily business with a scowl on their face that only deepens at the first sign of counter-culture, a visit to this bar/club/cultural venue on the top floor of a part-abandoned old shopping centre right in the heart of the Staré Mesto will change your mind sufficiently.

Dunaj is the Slovak word for the Danube – the huge waterway you can see winding its way through town – and just as that river carries all manner of things in its wake, from fallen tree trunks to kayaks, rather weird-looking cargo ships and that famous trio of botels (boat hotels), well, so Dunaj the cultural venue bears all manner of music gigs, docu-films, theatre and topical discussions within its seemingly never-ending stream of events.

What I also like about this place apart from its great location (you get there in a rickety old lift and come out into the huge fourth-floor main bar area with a big terrace gazing out over the burnished steeply-pitching rooftops of the city centre, see the featured image) is how effortlessly you can become part of Bratislava’s young, sharply-dressed alternative set – one of the hipsters, basically. No slack-jawed stares for the new-in-town visitor here: only smiling acceptance and struck-up conversations – emblematic of the city’s burgeoning reputation as an arts destination. It’s the place that proves the cliché true that it’s possible to walk in to a joint a stranger and leave having had some surreal bonding experience with the locals.

Daytime yoga? Balkan club night? Rock and Roll classics? Experimental board games? The choice is yours… and that’s not forgetting that Dunaj is a host venue virtually every time an avant-garde festival comes around: Fjúžn, for example, which promotes different cultures in Bratislava and, of course, gets a mention on this very blog.

Put it this way. It’s the first impression of Bratislava nightlife you’d want to have.

MAP LINK

LOCATION: Nedbalová 3

OPENING: 12 midday to 12 midnight Monday to Wednesday, 12 midday to 2am Thursday and Friday, 4pm-2am Saturday and 4pm to Midnight Sunday.

 

The room pictured is just the entrance room! ©www.englishmaninslovakia.co.uk

The Tulip House

Location: Old Town

A couple of friends were in town and were staying at the Tulip House, which gave me my second opportunity to check out what is widely regarded as one of Bratislava’s best boutique hotels.

Second viewings concluded what the first had: that there’s very little to fault. The Tulip Cafe at street level sets the tone: those smart whites, beiges and dark-wood trim that a lot of upper-end places across Slovakia favour; that cool elegance that seems torn between sticking to the traditional and striving to be modern.

The suite: a closer look

The suite: a closer look – image by www.englishmaninslovakia.co.uk

The theme continues up to the rooms. The rooms are all suites, here. You could fit two of most normal hotel rooms into each. The reception areas are large (made larger by the presence of strategically placed mirrors) with tea- and coffee-making facilities, the rooms have wall-mounted plasma TVs and, among other more unusual features, bed mattresses are designed to be allergy-proof and shoe shine services are offered whilst you sleep (!). They were serving complementary mulled wine upon arrival, too. The “but” which of course you sense is coming? Something is lacking. Atmosphere. Esotericism. Struggle as I might, I could find nothing exceptional to say about the Tulip House (and I can be verbose): for a 5-star boutique hotel in a capital city, it falls short of my expectations.

From outside the looks are promising. A haughty old building smack bang in Bratislava Old Town, within five minutes’ walk of all the city centre attractions, and nothing but a very suave layout inside which would make any business traveller immensely content: one could say I’m being too critical. Perhaps it’s because, at the end of the day, we’re pretty quirky ourselves at www.englishmaninslovakia.co.uk. And when I stay in a boutique hotel, I want it to be rich in character. I want its take on luxury to be OUT  of the ordinary. That would be why I would stay there, instead of, for example, at a bona fide business hotel. Character, Tulip House? Rather lacking for me. But for large, smart, centrally-located Old Town rooms, you could not fare any better, and this, of course, would appeal to a lot of people.

For the finer details, breakfast and lunch, and coffee and cakes, are served in the Tulip cafe; the Rhapsody Restaurant is for more formal dining. There’s also a spa (Turkish bath, Finnish sauna) and fitness centre.

The disclaimer with the Tulip House is that its real speciality, for those who really wish to splash the cash on their stay in Bratislava are its penthouse suites – five of them – with the pièce de resistance having a fireplace, a terrace with good views of Bratislava castle, and 200 metres squared of leg room. So there’s two sides to every story.

ANOTHER BLOG ENTRY ON TULIP HOUSE:

MAP LINK: 

ADDRESS: Štúrova 10

PRICE: For 2016, suite prices (there are five different kinds including the two types of penthouse) start at 135 Euros for a double. Thats without breakfast, which is really worth having; with breakfast it’ll be around 161 Euros starting rate). But for this you need to book online – and in advance, often, and the cheapest deal by the time you book will likely be in the region of 200 Euros. However, the penthouses will set you back around 550 Euros for the smaller ones or 850 Euros for the biggest one.

Under the bridge... image y www.englishmaninslovakia.co.uk

Around Bratislava – Petržalka & the South: The Forgotten Banks of the Danube

I’d been shopping, as I remember (not at one of the big malls because I detest them) and fancied a stroll near the city centre. I found myself heading out across Most SNP under the baleful gaze of the UFO and then, where most people would turn left if they wanted a walk/cycle with some greenery along the Danube in the direction of Danubiana Art Gallery, I turned right, passed the few buildings the southern bank of the river has on this side (the outskirts of Petržalka neighbourhood), and then dipped into the river-hugging woods, which continue – in a surprisingly extensive wilderness – all the way into Austria.

First off, ensure you don’t take the path which heads to the left at the end of the paved footpath up a bank to join the main cycle route hereabouts – yours is the muddy little path twisting ahead through the middle of the trees. Initially this is an obvious track – with circles of ashes and charred stumps marking points where groups come to have opekačka (outdoor fires) in summer. The path appears to end at a WW2 bunker, only it doesn’t… it skitters up onto the top of the bunker and continues along a high bank now directly above the water.

RELATED POST: Try Canoeing down the Morava/Danube into Bratislava!

Up until the next bridge upriver 2km away, this is a route, it should be emphasised, to glorify in the little things. A commemorative plaque from the early 20th century etched in German, at a time when Bratislava was most firmly “Pressburg” and German was the default language spoken. Ancient and now abandoned mooring posts for vessels, which for a while I believed were there to demarcate the Slovakia-Austria border because of similar border markers I had seen in the Biele Karpaty on trails marking the boundary with the Czech Republic. Woodsy paths used by no one save the odd mushroom forager, because of the snazzier new international cycleway on the other side of the trees. Neglected miniature sandy beaches (you come to understand just how sandy some stretches of the Danube’s banks can be). It is also one of Bratislava’s cruising spots, and indeed I did pass a couple of male couples as the only other “walkers”, although received no proposition I hasten to add!

And, when you do glimpse civilisation in the form of the E65 main road (you have to head back across the river at this point; there’s no over river crossing now until after Hainburg 20km upriver, although this extension is a fabulous idea if you have a bike, and a picnic, and a couple of hours spare) the vast towers of advertising boards whose feet sit in a jungle of vines in the below-the-road countryside but whose face is destined to spectate on traffic forever.

All in all, it is a walk of the gentle and neglected riverside ilk, where the buzz of the city just a few hundred metres of water away contrasts with the completeness of the silence  – and the tangled root systems and grassy picnicking places.

One of Bratislava's infamous billboards - from below ©englishmaninslovakia.com

One of Bratislava’s infamous billboards – from below ©www.englishmaninslovakia.co.uk

Head across the afore-mentioned road bridge, Bratislava’s in-favour bungee-jumping spot (there is a pedestrian walkway) to where you meet the edge of Bratislava Botanical Garden (Botanicka záhrada) back under the city side of the bridge (we can’t bring ourselves to dedicate a separate post to the Botanical Garden but it is pleasant enough for a stroll if you find yourself here and is well worth doing at the end of this hike), as indeed is paying a visit to Bratislava Water Museum, aka the Vodárenské Muzeum, right nearby). To get to the nearest public transport from here, follow the road where the big under-bridge car park is up and to the right around the edge of some football pitches to reach the Lafranconi tram stop on the useful number 5 route (please see our Bratislava tram and trolleybus routes post for more).

MAP LINK:  

HIKE LENGTH: 4km one-way Bratislava Old Town-Lafranconi tram stop

WALK HIGHLIGHTS: Most SNP Bridge, the Danube, German plaque, Cycleway to Austria, Bungee-jumping, Bratislava Botanical Garden, Bratislava Water Museum

NEXT ON THE JOURNEY: 9km west along the riverbank from Lafranconi tram stop is Devin Castle – a phenomenal fortress and a starting point for our Štefánikova magistrála hiking trail across the whole of Western Slovakia.

MORE FORGOTTEN DANUBE AROUND BRATISLAVA: In the district of Podunajské Biskupice in south-eastern Bratislava south of Ružinov, it might at first seem that there is very little of note apart from the gargantuan oil refinery of Slovnaft. But if you turn right off road 63 as you head from Podunajské Biskupice to Dunajská Lužná (just after passing Slovnaft) at approximately this point on the map you wind up skirting the refinery that entering a world as pretty as Slovnaft is grim. This is mainly gorgeous woodland replete with snowdrops in early spring that contains a web of hiking (and, even better, cycling) trails along the edge of the Danube on what at this point is the north-eastern bank, on the opposite side of the river from the Danubiana Art Museum.

Great antiques - image by www.englishmaninslovakia.co.uk

Bratislava: The Best of the City’s Antiques (Souvenirs)

One can rush through Bratislava – see only its ugly outskirts – and come away thinking there is nothing there. Even should one find one’s way to the maze of cobbled Old Town alleys, one can come away not glimpsing a fraction of the quirks they contain. I’ve said so on this site before – and lamented it publicly to others on multiple occasions: the city’s charms are not the most obvious. As with any true quest, you have to hunt them down…

Such is the case even with those charms that are, so to speak, smack bang under your nose: Bratislava’s best antique shop, for example…

Cafe l’Aura and its attached antiques shop marry inside one lemon-and-cream facade a great deal of the things central Bratislava does best: a wonderful (and reasonably priced) little cafe, a fabulous antique shop and bundles of epoch-old atmosphere.

bratislavaantique3

©www.englishmaninslovakia.co.uk

The first striking thing about it is its location: right by imposing St Martin’s Cathedral; indeed abutting one end of the cathedral buildings. The second striking thing is that, once you dip inside the low doorway and get accustomed to the gloom, you find a shop-cum-cafe not only oozing with understated unpretentious appeal but also one that is often utterly devoid of customers.

The equivalent in another city could not be conceived of. A shop near St Pauls Cathedral or Notre Dame or Vienna’s Ringstrasse like this would be rammed to the gills with milling tourists – and most probably rammed to the gills with insipid tack, too.

Whilst the enterprise masquerades under the name of Cafe l’Aura (advertising itself only by a humble engraved wooden sign) I think of it primarily as an old curiosity shop and second as a cafe.

Normally, I scan the heavily-laden shelves for some of the reasonably priced wares, and only afterwards retreat to turn them lovingly over in my hands over a coffee or two.

And what wares! Ancient coffee grinders, some stunning oil paintings, piles of old travellers’ trunks,  ceramics and clocks from the city’s 18th- and 19th-century heyday.

Any antique shop must necessarily be a reflection of the past of the city in which it sits, but the past that comes alive in a shop like Bratislava is a particularly fascinating one: because it is the German and Hungarian influences on the city that become evident when you peruse the curios here. Because half a century ago or more, Slovakia existed only as an idea…

Which brings up another thing. One which, admittedly, it is far easier for an outsider to see than someone born here. Slovakia has come a long way. In under a quarter of a century, it has become a place with its own identity (bashful at times admittedly) which can casually display its often subjugated history on some sagging old shelves and – in so doing – make it a reason to visit Slovakia today. Because antique shops are becoming a real reason to visit – not just in Bratislava, either.

There is little of the “Portobello Road” syndrome just yet (though perhaps it will come): i.e. inflated prices for what is ultimately not very much. Even Bratislava is, in this respect, very much a bargain-hunters playground where antiques are concerned.

And in the case of humble yet ambience-rich little Cafe l’Aura, it would be one of my first choices in the city centre to look for that authentic souvenir for the folks back home…

MAP LINK:

LOCATION: Rudnayovo Námestie 4

OPENING: 10am-6pm

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The Cork Wine Bars… First Bratislava, Now Poprad!

Wine Bars in the High Tatras? You’d Better Believe it – Poprad’s Going Posh!

Saturday night, party night? (not for me, I’m sitting here writing this, but for you, dear reader…) In Bratislava, Cork Wine Bar was and still is, after one acclimatised to the serendipitous vibrant-but-relaxed, understated-but-suave cafe and bar culture permeating the city, exactly what you might hope to find strolling the Old Town streets to get that party started in. A veritable oasis from the bustle of Panská, that most lively of central Old Town streets, it was and is, with its burnished wood and bare brick interior, firstly a quiet respite and sloooooowly, as glass after glass of that spectacularly agreeable wine trickles through you, a place to segue, in sophisticated style, into the party-yet-to-be.

Now Michal, and his business partner Miro, have just opened the Cork Wine bar, take two: in Poprad. Yep, in the High Tatras – where you might hold out hopes of finding an outdoor shop or a koliba (rustic Slovak eatery) but would never have imagined until recently that you would run into an elegant wine bar.

©Eric Wiltsher

©Eric Wiltsher

The opening hours in the new Poprad bar (opening at 8am every morning, as opposed to the Bratislava bar’s far later 5pm start) intimate that this is going to be an even more chilled affair than the branch in the capital and indeed, so it seems: a place where the emphasis on the phenomenal cheeses, Italian meats and the snacking of other daytime treats as well as the wine and where the vibe is far more intimate. It’s rather like walking into your own home-from-home, actually – oozing warmth and positive energy.  A few more words about that cheese. It’s some of the most heavenly Englishman in Slovakia has ever tasted from a Slovak producer (Slovaks make great mild sheep cheeses but have never really made progress producing strong cheeses that could be described as “packing a punch”). Try the cheese at Cork Poprad, and you will consider your taste buds well and truly punched. Seriously, it puts many of the world’s copy-cat cheddars to shame. We’ll ratchet up the rave one notch: this range of cheese is very simply world class. Delve beyond it deeper into their deli selection and you will just everything you could want to compliment quality wines.

To chat too much about the wine would be to steal the limelight from the enthusiastic owners and staff. Michal is keen to share that Cork (initially Bratislava and now Poprad) was an extension of his passion/hobby for wine. He left the rat race of finance to pursue that passion because good wine meant more to him than money, and that passion shows. The wines on offer scan rather like the Who’s Who of wine but, the way Michal talks about them, like the much-loved members of a family, too. What’s more the team at Cork Poprad have ALL been to wine school prior to the venue opening here – yes, they have studied wine.

Cork Poprad's Owners ©Eric Wiltsher

Cork Poprad’s Owners ©Eric Wiltsher

The Cork Wine Bars were originally set up to supply quality wines from around the world to hotels and restaurants, and the Poprad bar is a natural progression for the owners. You can tell you are in the right place when you walk in. The welcome is fantastic, with staff all able to converse in English and eager to find the perfect wine to match your palate’s particular preference (such a level of service is still worth commenting on anywhere in Europe) . Cork Poprad seems reminiscent of the excellent initial wine bars in the UK, opened by those passionate about great wines and quality foods, but offering an inviting and inclusive overall experience that has you champing at the bit to return.

 

A Quick Guide to the Other Content We Have on Poprad

 

Places to Go: Poprad’s funky contemporary art gallery in an old power station

Places to Go: Poprad’s lavish Aqua Park

Places to Go: Nine reasons to linger in Poprad

Places to Go/Getting Around: Taking the Mountain Railway into the High Tatras from Poprad

Places to Stay: A cool travel-friendly B&B in Spišská Sobota, Poprad

Places to Eat & Drink: Poprad’s trendy burger joint

Places to Eat & Drink: Poprad’s dignified Café La Fée

Places to Eat & Drink: Poprad’s gourmet chocolatier

Going Out: Poprad & the Manchester United Connection

Arts & Culture: Dedicated traditional Czech & Slovak music radio station now based in Poprad

Getting Around: London to Poprad Flights

Getting Around: The Poprad to Ždiar to Zakopane (Poland) bus

Top Ten Medieval Towns in Slovakia

 

MAP LINK: (Poprad) MAP LINK: (Bratislava)

LOCATION: Levočská 15 (Poprad) Panská 4 (Bratislava)

OPENING: 8am to midnight Monday to Thursday, 8am to 2am Friday, 5pm to 2am Saturday and 5pm to midnight Sunday (Poprad, which does indeed have much longer hours than the original Bratislava branch) AND 5pm to midnight Monday to Thursday, 5pm to 2am Friday/Saturday and 5pm to midnight Sunday (Bratislava)

NEXT ON THE JOURNEY: From Cork Wine Bar in Poprad it’s 400m west to the lovely Café La Fée (although coffee THEN wine might be the more logical way round of doing it)

 

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Image ©Eric Wiltsher

 

Bratislava: The White Mouse (Whisky)

Whenever I’m feeling down and out in Bratislava, whenever the winter cold gets a little too much, not too many days elapse before I’m making a pilgrimage down to my favourite whisky shop in the city to procure a bottle of the Good Stuff. Such is the manner of the shop that the pilgrimage becomes almost an event in itself: a ritual, if you like.

Why do I like the White Mouse over the city’s other whisky outlets, apart from the overwhelming impression veritably exuding from its pores that it’s by far the nicest?

Most importantly of all, it’s whisky presented with panache. The owner is incredibly knowledgable (I’ve vetted him) and knows what he’s talking about when he recommends you a bottle. His son studied over in Scotland and it was during such visits to see him that the man became obsessed with Scottish whisky (absolutely fair enough). So his selection is comprehensive where all the Scotch whiskies are concerned (particularly intriguing bottlings of the Islays, including several from new-kid-on-the-block Islay distillery Kilchoman), and he has Japanese whiskey and North American bourbons too (so yes, it’s a whiskEy as well as a whisky store). He’s even started carrying the little-known Slovak whiskey Nestville Park which certainly flies the flag for quality Slovak uisge beatha.

English is spoken in the White Mouse: it’s a tourist-friendly place, and in a pretty Old Town cobbled side street. People, as the picture above evidences, enjoy hanging out here: visitors and locals alike. And there are regular tastings put on too: just turn up at the shop to enquire.

That’s it. Import costs do make many of their whiskies 5-15 Euros more expensive than their equivalents in the UK. But when you’re on the other side of Europe and you fancy a take-home single malt, it’s worth it. And that Slovak whiskey? Here’s a trailer: soft, sweet, bourbon-esque. As I end up saying a lot in Slovakia: Na zdravie.

MAP LINK

LOCATION: Klariska 6

OPENING: 10am to 10pm Monday to Saturday

©www.englishmaninslovakia.co.uk

Coffee and Tea Culture in Slovakia: the Kaviaren versus the Čajovna

Before 1989, partaking of a good beverage was significantly more limited than it is today in Slovakia.

But particularly where coffee was concerned. Almost everyone drank the same brand, heralding from Poprad – an underwhelming and grainy affair by most accounts (and that is only to mention the best of them). No one thought to question its origin beyond that. It was there, and that was what counted. Better beans were available on a prestigious foreign market that you could buy with bonds – if you happened to have foreign currency to pay for them, which you could only really obtain if you had relatives living “in the west”.

A quality array of teas was more widespread. After all, tea could be made with the herbs and fruits that grew in the woods and hills looming large across Czechoslovakia (foraging is still a popular alternative to relying on what is offered in the supermarkets today). This is much more likely to explain why discerning tea culture continued to develop whilst coffee culture took a tumble (ironic, with Vienna so near and yet so far) than, for example, the age-old influence of the Turkish on the region.

Come the 1990s and tea in Slovakia was often a fine-tuned and sophisticated thing, enjoyed in a range of čajovny (teahouses) which were as often as not the hangouts of the Bohemian sect. Coffee – at least the half-decent varieties of coffee enjoyed in kaviarne, or cafes, continued to be at best what Slovaks know as presso, low-grade espresso made in a simple presso machine.

But Slovaks, since then, and in spite of the fact they are ultimately a home-loving people, began spending time away in other parts of Europe, North America and Australia. When they did, they often ended up working in catering. They got exotic ideas and brought them back to Slovakia.

Slovaks jump to adopt and embrace foreign trends if those trends seem like winners. Pizza and pasta caught on quickly. Craft beer is the latest craze. Good coffee came somewhere between the pasta and the craft beer. It seems to have been a learning curve, slow, but steadier and steadier and only really developing into a “scene” worth talking about in the last five or six years. And a scene it is. The likes of Bratislava’s Štúr (2010) and Bistro St Germain, plus perhaps Košice’s Caffe Trieste spearheaded it: good coffee in atmospheric surroundings, in these cases with cheap, healthy lunches on offer too.

A ton more places have followed suit. This new brand of cafes have several traits. They seem, like the čajovny have been for a while now, to be real “worlds” – autonomous provinces free from the regulations, realities and disappointments of external goings-on, or at least refuges from them. They are also uncrowded worlds, which renders them all the more inviting. They are generally owned/operated by young people who have a passion for stamping their own unique take on how things should be. In Bratislava and Košice, many inhabit Old Town buildings looking out on streets where aimless wandering is often a visitor’s main concern – and at a slow pace, because of the cobbles:) – it would not take too beguiling a pavement cafe table to waylay anyone here. And there is not just one or two – there are many. They veritably assail you from within 18th-century buildings (buildings which, it must be admitted, suit standing in as cafes very well). They invariably capitalise on one major Achilles heel of the average Slovak – an inability to think about going through the day without a hearty lunch – and do well from it. All told, it is no surprise why Slovakia, in 2013, were the world’s sixth-biggest per capita coffee drinkers.

If anything, in Slovakia it’s the quality čajovna that now seems underground (underground meaning the scene generally but sometimes, yes, literally underground) compared to the kaviareň / cafe. That said, more places serve up top-notch tea than they do top-notch espresso, so it seems to me. With the coffee, it’s a work in progress. But already a very good work.

©www.englishmaninslovakia.co.uk

Bratislava’s Best Pivovar (Brewpub-Gastropub)

This site does not usually seize on the obvious (recommending places people are more likely to know about anyway) but there is a way to subvert every trend (for example, writing about somewhere people are less likely to really know about because those people won’t be expecting me to write about anywhere people are likely to know about). Nah, I’m a contrary type on occasion, but not so contrary as all that. The reason I want to write about Bratislavský Meštiansky Pivovar is because it sets the standard of craft beer in Slovakia very high – and praising this establishment will achieve my ultimate aim of hoping others follow suit.

As I intimated, it’s hardly as if this pivovar, or brewery pub, is unknown: with its location right under the Crowne Plaza just off Obchodná. Even if it was less central, the audacity (OK, ingenuity too) of its design would bring in the crowds from miles around. The immediate impression is that it looks akin to some of the cool new craft brewery bars you see in the southern USA: voluminous (by the standards of the average Bratislava drinking establishment) and with high vaulted ceilings. Stairs then usher you up to a separate, more intimate dining area on the right and up again into the vaults themselves, with stalls and smaller tables arranged to form another large bar area.

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As is often the case with brewery pubs, it doubles up with food that very nearly matches its beer, making it the perfect place for those business dinners, or for men that need to meet up and would feel awkward, perhaps, in a more formal restaurant. It’s got the blend of casual/formal just right here, too (although the service could be marginally more attentive). But as I’ve lamented on this blog before, in Slovakia there are precious few eating places which are either informal with quality food, or decent quality and non-pretentious, so it’s nice to see this joint fill the gap.

So groups of guys down Ležiak (the lighter lager) or Bubák (the dark beer) in the relatively sophisticated dining area whilst Bratislava intellectuals (OK, mostly male again) browse newspapers in suave solitary beer drinking mode downstairs. And, a Meštiansky special: why not try a half light, half dark beer, mixed? It sounds crazy but strangely works (the Slovaks have never had inhibitions about mixing drinks other countries would never dream of doing – just ask them what they do with wine sometimes – but in this case they pull it off). If you ask in advance, you can get someone to show you around the brewery part of the enterprise, too – although earlier in the evening is better for this as, being a fairly well-established venue, the crowds can descend later on…

Serving beer!

Serving beer! ©www.englishmaninslovakia.co.uk

 

Whilst the menu is diverse, though, I’m still going to personally recommend going for one of the myriad sausage options (like a simple-but-satisfying utopenec, a sausage seved with pickles and chilli). Slovaks feel at home preparing sausages. And start off with a grilled sheep’s cheese hot from the capital of sheep’s cheese in Slovakia, Liptovský Miklauš. Main meals are between 8 and 21 Euros, with the top end reserved for a rather overpriced double steak tartare.

Now we’ve dealt with the booze and the food, it’s certainly worth mentioning the history. “History” might seem like an odd word to bring into a conversation about one of the Slovak Capital’s best-designed modern drinking and dining establishments, but there is a precedent here. Actually, whilst everyone bangs on about the Czechs and their beer, Bratislava has a proud brewing history that goes back to the middle ages. Back then, of course, Bratislava was known as Pressburg (in German) as it was a part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. And the town’s burgesses then strove, come the mid-18th century, to create one of Europe’s original brew-pubs (!) – a well-to-do restaurant attached to a working brewery that would rival the very best of Bavaria’s beer houses: and… they succeeded. Thus was born Bratislava’s original Meštiansky Pivovar (in a different location to the current one).

Bratislava’s best pivovar? Yes. The competition is not as stiff as it first appears, and even if it were there’s a high chance this place would still come up trumps. It’s a great place to come and show off to visitors one of the city’s stylish sides.

MAP LINK:

LOCATION: Drevená  8 – see the website for reservations (recommended on weekday evenings)

OPENING: 11am-11pm Monday to Wednesday & Saturday, until midnight Thursday/Friday, until 10pm on Sunday

BEST TIME TO VISIT: After work through to closing time, but get in early before the main rush (say 5:30) to guarantee a good pew.

NEXT ON THE JOURNEY: An 800m walk south from Bratislavský Meštiansky Pivovar is Verne

NB: Shortly after this I went to Zamocký Pivovar up near the castle thinking hey – seems everyone’s opening great craft breweries in Bratislava! Wrong. Zamocký Pivovar is a disappointment: terrible food, mediocre beer and despite deceptive first impressions are surprisingly bland atmosphere (3 big no-no’s) – and it will not, until it improves, get a further mention on Englishmaninslovakia. Which makes me relish Bratislavský Meštiansky Pivovar more.

©www.englishmaninslovakia.co.uk

The Old Town: the Corridor of Books

Think a myriad bound copies of Cassanova, stretching into a void which also contains, upon closer examination, an infinite number of most of the other classics, likewise piling up and plummeting down before you on shelves that shear away as far as the eye can see.

Now think Indiana Jones & the Last Crusade and the third of Indy’s three tests to get to the chamber with the Holy Grail(s) in which he has to have faith in the existence of the path in order for the path to be there at all.

OK. Now imagine that same path, seemingly suspended in mid-air, across the middle of the book-lined void.

I have not lost my mind. I’m talking about Bratislava city centre’s most ingenious tourist attraction.

It would seem to be wrong – akin to revealing the final dramatic twists of a novel to a reader who has only scanned the back-cover blurb – to say too much more about this sight on the second floor of the Bratislava City Gallery (Galéria Mesta Bratislavy) before you arrive there to see it yourself. So I won’t.

But the gallery has far more to see besides this fantasy library. No sooner do you step out  than you are ushered into a surreal recreation of a French bordello, a red-lit antechamber  with velvet drapes and various early 20th century beauties leaping out at you (figuratively, gentlemen) from the walls. You can descend to see evidence of Celtic mining and coin minting in Bratislava (from a time long before the idea of Slovakia, or of any of the other Central European nations around it, ever existed). You can ascend to see some fascinating examples of Central European art/sculpture over the last three centuries, including a romp through the history of Slovak art (19th to 21st centuries inclusive):)

These kind of art museums can go very wrong. They often seem stuffy, or just lacklustre, and a plethora of such examples spill across Europe’s big cities, masquerading as important diversions for visitors. The Bratislava City Gallery does not do that. Its Palffy Palace address which contains everything mentioned in these paragraphs is tucked away so inconspicuously on Pánska, one of the Old Town’s main dining streets with its cobbles festooned by restaurant tables in summer, that you would easily walk by the place. Unassuming it is. But once you are through the doors, you’ll find it a treasure trove of surprises. Good surprises.

Its exhibits are hardly world class. But as anyone who has trundled through Uffizi’s and Louvre’s will know, world class does not always equal sensational where art is concerned. Art is best appreciated alone, or when you do not feel jaded from the jostling of thousands of others. Bratislava City Gallery? You’ll appreciate it alone, more or less. Few come here.

And if you did walk by, oblivious, you would never know what it was to step out across a void of books.

MAP LINK

LOCATION: Pánska 19 (Palffy Palace branch). The Mirbach Palace branch of the museum is on Františkánske námestie and will form a different post, some time in the future once we have visited – and if it has anything as attention-worthy – which it quite possibly will not.

ADMISSION: 4 Euros per person for the full gallery experience, you can ask to just see the corridor of books and they’ll probably let you in for 2 Euros.

OPENING: Tuesday to Sunday, 11am to 6pm. Closed on Mondays like almost everything seems to be in Bratislava and indeed Slovakia.

NEXT ON THE JOURNEY: 22km southeast is Danubiana Meulensteen Art Museum

Bratislava by night...

Getting Around Bratislava: How to Get to the Main Hotels

Imagine this. It’s late. The Ryanair flight’s just landed. To cap a long journey, you’ve had to deal with officially the most ridiculous airport bus transfer in the world (yes Bratislava really is a record-breaker in this respect). You just want to get to your hotel. But actually, it’s not always as simple as that. The airport doesn’t always have enough taxis and you might not have the taxi numbers or, perhaps, object to being charged over twice the odds (20 Euros plus) a local would be for the ride from the airport to your hotel. There might be any number of other reasons, too, why you need directions to your chosen accommodation.

The good news is that most of the main city centre hotels are in a very small area of the Old Town, and here’s our fool-proof guide on how to get from the airport right to the Old Town.

Once there (ie at the Postová tram stop described in the afore-mentioned link), Austria Trend Hotel and Crowne Plaza are right by you.

If you head straight ahead on Obchodná, cross over the wide, tram track-lined road directly ahead and make a beeline for the pretty street (Michalská) heading down between the strip club and the bank, you’re through the Old Town gate of Michalská Brana, in the heart of the Old Town and right by Skaritz. Hotel Marrol’sPark Inn Danube and Radisson Blu Carlton are all within five minutes’ walk (just head down towards Hviesdoslavo Námestie and the Danube for these last three). For any of these bang-in-centre hotels, public transport to Postová followed by the five to ten minute walk through the Old Town is a great and atmospheric introduction to your time in Bratislava.

More info on good hotels:

Our article on Skaritz

 – My review of Hotel Marrol’s for the Telegraph

Our article on Bratislava’s Best Boutique Hotel (near the Old Town but not quite in it)

But for some of the other most popular hotels, things are slightly more complicated. Slightly only mind. There’s still not really a need to taxi it from the airport/bus station for any of the below either…

River Danube - Provides the pleasant backdrop to the Kempinski or Sheraton Hotels

River Danube – Pleasant backdrop to Grand Hotel River Park or the Sheraton Hotel

Grand Hotel River Park

This hotel is west along the riverside by about 2.5 km from Most SNP, next to the River Park shopping centre. It’s not the worst walk in the world from the Old Town as it’s along the river, but with a big road right on the other side, you might also want to consider public transport. Take bus 61 to Tranavské Mýto, then tram 4 which takes you eventually down alongside the river, under Most SNP and along to Chatam Sófer stop (from the airport). OR take bus 93 (bound for Petržalka) to Zochova (on Staromestská) followed by bus 39 which takes you along the river to Chatham Sófer stop (from the station).

See our comprehensive guide to the bus 61 and tram 4 routes on our Bratislava’s Main Tram, Bus and Trolleybus Routes guide.

Sheraton Bratislava

The Sheraton Bratislava is in the Eurovea Shopping Centre, following the happy theme of big hotels in the city centre locating themselves near shopping centres. Look out the window from the Grand Hotel River Park or Sheraton in Bratislava and your view will be the same (beautiful Danube flanked by modern otherwise modern but unspectacular shopping centre; difference being they’re on opposite sides of the Old Town). Anyway. Take bus 61 to Tranavské Mýto, then tram 4 to Šafarikovo Nám (from the airport) OR trolleybus 1 to Šafarikovo Nám with a change at Most SNP (from the station).

See our comprehensive guide to the bus 61 and tram 4 routes on our Bratislava’s Main Tram, Bus and Trolleybus Routes guide.

Hotel West (former Best Western )

Bratislava’s Hotel West is, once more, independent, and as of this year not part of the Best Western chain (which means it’ll be getting reviewed on here real soon, although in Google it still comes up as a Best Western). It’s in a strange – if rather stunning – location: up in the woods of the Mestské Lesy by the Kamzik TV mast. This is the only hotel where you really might rule public transport out, just because it’s otherwise a bit of a walk through the woods – but it is possible – and very nice if you’re staying a few days and don’t always want to get a taxi. Take bus 61 to one stop beyond Račianske Mýto, Karpatská (coming from the airport) OR bus 61/74/502 one stop to Karpatská (coming from the station). Walk a few paces up Karpatská to change to Trolleybus 203 and take the bus to the end of the line. Then continue walking up the road from approximately 1.5km. Just head up if in doubt – it goes into the woods but don’t worry – eventually the road will divide, with the left branch curling up to Kamzik and the right branch going to the hotel. A taxi from the centre: about 7 Euros. A taxi from the airport: about 25 Euros.

See our comprehensive guide to the bus 61 and trolleybus 203 routes on our Bratislava’s Main Tram, Bus and Trolleybus Routes guide.

Holiday Inn

The city’s Holiday Inn is in RužinovBus 61 to Bajkalská, then bus 74 a few stops south to Mliekárenská (from the airport). Bus 61 or bus 74 to Tranavské Mýto then tram 9 to Slovanet from where you’ll have to walk a few hundred metres south on Bajkalská (from the train station)

Bratislava’s Airport Hotels

For the NH Gate One and VI Hotel Chopin, the two out-of-centre airport/business hotels, take Bus 61 from the airport (5 minutes) OR train station (30 minutes) and get off at Avion Shopping Centre. See our post on Bratislava’s airport hotels for more.

A Footnote

I should add, by the way, that me mentioning these big hotels is by no means an absolute endorsement of them. Quite the contrary. With the exception of Austria Trend Hotel, Skaritz and Hotel Marrol’s, all of these hotels fall for me into the category of slightly samey international chain options, and as a rule quirky quintessential Slovakia-ness is what we like to wax lyrical about on this site! Moral of this post: save 20 Euros on the taxi from the airport and spend it on a good meal out for two (possible in Bratislava) or dirt-cheap beer.

If you want to say To Hell with this post, I’m getting a taxi, then a cross-town (across the Old Town that is) or train station to Old Town taxi ride is around 5 Euros, and from the airport to the Old town you’ll pay 15 to 20 Euros (more for the Best Western Hotel West and Kempinski Hotel River Park because they’re through the Old Town and out the other side).

RELATED POST: The Cognac Express Taxi to the Airport!

Image ©Yusuke Kawasaki

Getting Around Bratislava: the Definitive Guide to its Transport Hubs

Here’s how to find how Bratislava’s main transport links… because we know you’ll want to…

1 – Air:

Bratislava’s M. R. Štefánik Airport lies to the east of Ružinov 8km outside the city centre. All flights to Bratislava come here (click here for a post on Slovakia’s air connections). It’s a modern place, although don’t get here too long before your flight departure time, as there’s nothing to do once you’ve gone through security and queues almost never take longer than fifteen minutes to pass through. Awaiting on the other side of security? A shop and three cafes (Arrivals boasts a further two cafes). In Arrivals are also the gaggle of rent-a-car offices, an ATM and money-changing facilities. Departures is a hardly-leg-busting 2 minute walk from Arrivals, in the same building, and there’s another cafe here. The most likely way you’ll be spending time here if you’ve just arrived is waiting for the ridiculous plane-to-customs bus, where you wait about 20 minutes for it to leave for the 400m-odd journey…

There is also the larger international airport in Vienna, Austria – just one hour’s drive away.

Here’s the official LINK to the very good in-English info at the Bratislava Airport website, which includes a map of where the airport is and all kinds of FAQs related to the airport.

RELATED POST: Getting from the airport to the bus station, train station (Hlavná Stanica), central Vienna and Vienna airport

RELATED POST: Where to stay close to the airport

RELATED POST: How to get from the airport (or the train station) to Bratislava’s main hotels

2 – Train:

The main (and pitifully ugly) train station is Hlavná Stanica, just north of the Old Town (Predstaničné Námestie, which runs back from Šancová). It’s full of tatty baguette and kebab booths, as well as one endearing train station cafe. The much-talked of refurbishment is still a long way from becoming a reality. Prize for Europe’s most lamentable capital city main train station and a deceptively poor advert for a lovely city, but good connections nationwide…

You should not need to go anywhere else to get a train within Slovakia as the overwhelming majority of national and international trains depart from here.

Here’s the LINK to good in-English info including a list of station facilities, a map of where the station is and all kinds of FAQs relating to the station, including public transport connections from the train station to the rest of Bratislava.

RELATED POST: Getting from Hlavná Stanica to the bus station & airport.

3 – Bus:

Most buses to other parts of Slovakia and international destinations leave from the Mlynské Nivy bus station (on Mlynské Nivy). It’s far from being up with the usual standards of modern capital city bus stations but it’s a damned sight nicer than the train station.

Here’s the LINK to the best in-English info, with a map and info on public transport connections from the bus station to the rest of Bratislava.

RELATED POST: Getting from the bus station to Hlavná Stanica (the train station) & to the airport

4 – Boat:

The main port from which all boat trips, both national and international, arrive/depart is just down from the Old Town on the Danube (Fajnorovo Nabrezie 2).

Here’s a LINK to the best in-English info, including a map and a list of the port facilities. The port is within easy walking distance of the Old Town centre.

RELATED POST: Getting to Bratislava by Boat

5 – Public Transport Around Bratislava:

The most updated source of information on Bratislava public transport, and the first port of call for in -English info on planning your route on public transport around Bratislava is imhd.zoznam.sk which also includes this very useful page on where to purchase Bratislava public transport tickets (for single or multiple journeys or long-term passes). But it can be confusing, nevertheless, to work out how and where you want to go in Bratislava city and for this reason we have created this handy post on Bratislava’s main tram, bus and trolleybus routes.

RELATED POST: Map of Greater Bratislava (to see the city in perspective)

6 – Public Transport Across Slovakia:

The most updated source of information on public transport across Slovakia, and the first port of call for in-English info on planning your route on public transport across Slovakia, is Cp.atlas.sk.

©www.englishmaninslovakia.co.uk

Kava.Bar

Wifi: Good.

I ducked in out of the afternoon murk of Obchodná, one of Bratislava’s main shopping streets, the other day, into the convivial warmth of the Martinus Bookstore.  As I slurped a coffee in their street front cafe, watching the trams creak by and perusing my Slovak for Beginners book, I noticed that the menu claimed the establishment I was drinking in was striving to recreate the atmosphere of those Parisian cafes of the 1920s – a platform for animated discussion and creative thought, etcetera. Interesting. But there’s a lot of cafes making claims these days. One stop up on the number 5 tram in the direction of Dubravka, Kava.Bar is perhaps most refreshing because it makes no claims whatsoever. It just quietly goes about serving some of the city’s best coffee, in an unpretentious street corner location on the way up to the castle.

The view out ©englishmaninslovakia.com

View out ©www.englishmaninslovakia.co.uk

So effortlessly serving coffee that is concocted with skill rather than a “close your eyes, press the button of the expensive Italian machine and hope” approach is not as straightforward as you might imagine. Many times over the last few months, in cities that purport to have a coffeehouse culture far greater than Bratislava’s (Budapest, Vienna) I have been served, with the sombre theatrics of airs-and-graces bow-tied waiters in ornate chandelier-hung surrounds which prepare you for food and drink far better, coffee that is barely acceptable, and that – were it not for the fact that I was in those coffeehouses where you need to behave – is 100% returnable. Kava.Bar brews espressos thick with crema, and macchiatos where the milk enhances the flavour of the coffee rather than concealing the fact it has not been made well enough.

Bratislava’s cafe scene reached a peak probably some time during 2014. The closure of Prešporák that winter brought it down again a few notches. It’s somewhere like Kava.Bar that seems set to get in back to that pinnacle.

Blackboard art… ©englishmaninslovakia.com

Blackboard art… ©www.englishmaninslovakia.co.uk

Black-and-white Art Deco-esque tiled floor, big blackboards, displaying intricate sketches and fun messages, championing daily specials, just a cluster of small iron tables but plenty of higher-up window seat perches: Kava.Bar is definitely not about main meals and much more about people watching with a cake, quiche or beverage (they also make really nice tea, plus the joint lends itself well to a glass of good wine in the evening).

It’s not quite designed for lingering like the city’s best cafe of recent years, Prešporák, was. They would certainly never claim their coffee was the equal of Hangout Cafe’s and there’s none of the cafe-for-the-masses feel of Panta Rhei’s Café Dias or the amenable mini coffee chain atmosphere of Stur. Kava.Bar is a proudly independent joint that merely tries to be itself, and does well at it. Its location, on the main route up to Bratislava Castle, will always win it visits (although currently it doesn’t appear to be receiving as many as it deserves). But it has the added merit of having more extensive opening hours than a lot of the other cafes around. I don’t know how they manage to get up so early on Sunday mornings, actually. But I’m very glad they do.

I’m just not sure about the name… it sounds a little too modern. When inside, in fact, kava.bar is much more akin to those Parisian cafes of old that other places wax lyrical about emulating.

MAP LINK:

LOCATION: Right on the corner of Zamocká and Skalná, just over the dual carriageway from the old town centre.

OPENING: 8am-10pm daily

BEST TIME TO VISIT: A wintry Sunday morning when almost every other good place for coffee is shut.

NEXT ON THE JOURNEY: From Kava.bar it’s a 600m walk southwest to Bratislava Castle, one of the city’s best viewpoints

Obývačka

It’s a fairly simple, but mind-blowingly effective recipe. Take breakfast (three-cheese omelette, eggy bread or pancakes, perhaps, alongside one of Bratislava’s best possibilities for a good macchiato). Take lunch (maybe the Obývačka special, a tasting platter of aubergine dip, feta, olives, grilled courgette, shrimps and a dash of chilli). Take dinner (the chicken and mozerella salad or the grilled river fish cooked in saffron and white wine sauce are simplistic and divine, but just a standard salad is crisp and complemented by at least three types of leaf when Slovakia’s standard is precisely no leaves whatsoever). Mix well into one effortlessly fluid, incredibly informal blend that begins with the early morning commuters and culminates with the afterwork partiers and the romantic dinner seekers.

Obývačka, which translates into English as “living room” or “living space” is, above all, relaxed. The ethos is clearly the “cosy” Slovak eatery of old mixed with a liberal smattering of youthful, trendy Bohemia. Typical Slovak cuisine, in other words, made somewhat cooler by good coffee, healthy salads, gluten-free options, decent wine and all those bright young twenty-somethings gabbing either downstairs or up top. It’s a rarity for an eatery to follow through from breakfast to lunch to dinner and come up trumps in all departments and the laid-back attitude (the staff are young, multi-lingual and eager to help or recommend the ever-changing specials) is key to this.

Let us contextualise, as we ever need to do in Slovakia. It’s not every cafe-bar-restaurant that opens for breakfast, let alone decent breakfasts with good espresso. It’s not every trendy lunch stop that offers such good-value lunches. Creative salads and good wine are far from being ubiquitous, even in Bratislava. Friendly, courteous service at dinner is not a guarantee. And the Obývačka-like interior – a bar hung with beads, retro wallpaper covered with flowers (in the design of the typical rural krčmy, or pubs, only more hip), an upstairs decorated in opened books, their pages rustling in the breeze – is conducive to lingering. One could go so far as to say it comes closest to providing anything approaching Slovak fusion cuisine in Bratislava. And it’s brightening up the ever-more lively Dunajska street in an area of town the average visitor wouldn’t stroll into unless, well, unless Englishmaninslovakia had recommended it, really…

Nothing in Obývačka is stand-out. There are better restaurants around. But for the price-quality trade-off (meals here are all between 4 and 9 Euros, about mid-range for Bratislava) – and particularly for their decent range of gluten-free options, the Old Town has few better places. And of course everything is very, very cosily convivial. Much like your living room, really.

MAP LINK

LOCATION: Dunajská 54: that’s the street leading west from the big city-centre Tesco’s. Head three blocks west on Dunajska and you’ll see it. The website is Slovak-only but staff speak good English.

OPENING: 8am until 11pm (Monday to Thursday), 8am-1am (Friday), 11am-1am (Saturday) and 11am-11pm (Sunday)

BEST TIME TO VISIT: Mid- to late evening, say around 8:30pm, for a glass of wine, then dinner and more drinks.

BEST DISH: The zubáč (a freshwater fish) in our humble opinion – pictured above in a saffron and pine nut garnish.

NEXT ON THE JOURNEY: 600m southwest of Obývačka is Tulip House Boutique Hotel

The gorgeous garden...

The Greatest Boutique Hotel in Bratislava

Location: Old Town.

Travel up above the city centre into Koliba, or the neighbourhoods around Slavin, and you enter wealthy Bratislava – where city intellectuals attend piano concerts and abodes are designed by fashionable architects. With its maze of steep leafy streets, this is the perfect poster for enticing people to move to the city. It’s peaceful, it’s relatively traffic free, and the views back down over Bratislava are wonderful.

I had several criteria for the Bratislava hotel I would select for my parents when they visited. I wanted it to be in an idyllic area, and a quiet one, and within walking distance from the centre. (This already whittled the options down considerably. In fact, according to a Google Map search, it almost completely reduced them to zero). But I also wanted this hotel to be small, intimate, non-chain, more like the bed and breakfasts they were accustomed to in the UK.  And now I was left with one choice.

View of Bratislava from a bedroom window...

View of Bratislava from a bedroom window…

Hotel No 16 fitted all those criteria – and then some. It serendipitously appears as you turn a sharp corner on Partizánska – a white-washed building spreading over several levels because of the pitching gradient of its grounds. The home of a composer and his wife, it’s furnished with exquisite taste (you are serenaded with some of the compositions over breakfast). Light and spacious courtesy of the huge windows, the garden outside with its fish pond and terraced lawn seating nevertheless creates a special feeling of being cocooned  from the outside world. And whilst it markets itself as a business hotel, boutique hotel is much nearer the mark. In fact, it has far more claim to being boutique than Bratislava’s far-more famous boutique hotel The Tulip House, because here the rooms all exude far more originality and character.

It could be the personable service – this is a family-owned establishment, after all, and the staff are all part of the family – but it’s as likely to be the TLC with the decoration which make Hotel No 16 such a breath of fresh air. Antique furniture abounds, graceful art adorns the public areas, bathrooms have baths and the vistas out over Old Town Bratislava towards the castle over the burnished rooftops will have you wanting to stay in at nights – just gazing out…

MAP LINK:

ADDRESS: Partizánska 16A

PRICE: Doubles are 70 Euros

BOOK HOTEL NO 16: (their website sometimes crashes – hey, they’re only a small business – so you can always email them on hotelno16@hotelno16.com – you will need to arrange payment by email anyway to reserve a room (for the deposit). And paying in cash for the remainder is preferred.

Boat: Getting to Bratislava by River

Everyone knows about those grand old Central European trains, right? Kicking back in the dining car with a frothy beer and a plate of fried cheese (well fried cheese is unquestionably the dish all Central European trains do best) as you cruise between nations is undeniably one of the continent’s very best experiences. And of course, being a through-stop between west and east, Bratislava’s Hlavná Stanica train station is one of the great the jump-on points for such a journey. For Bratislava train connection info, let’s give the floor to the Man in Seat 61. But Bratislava is blessed with an arguably still grander possibility of approach (or indeed departure): on, oh yes, the Blue Danube itself – from Vienna (or, if you just want to glimpse Bratislava from the water but not stop, Budapest).

OK, the Danube (Dunaj) is not always as blue as Strauss insinuates in his music:) Nevertheless, large swathes of the journey between Vienna and Bratislava are very pretty (through Nationalpark Donau Auen) and the water really does seem cobalt at points when contrasted with the green of the forests on either side. The prettiest part of the journey is around the town of Hainburg near the Austrian border and, just beyond, by the confluence of the Morava at Devín Castle.

Vienna to Bratislava Boats (and back)

1: Lod.sk Vienna-Bratislava Hydrofoil: Hydrofoil boats leave from late April to late October. They run Wednesday to Sunday from late April to late June, daily in July/August and Friday to Sunday from September until the end of the season in late October. Departure from Vienna is 17:30, departure from Bratislava is 9:00 (the boats, Slovak-run, give you the day in Vienna or the night in Bratislava). Journey duration is 90 minutes downriver to Bratislava and 105 minutes upriver to Vienna. Prices are 20/29 Euros single/return. Of course with your ticket you don’t have to travel back next morning; it’s valid for when you want to travel back. The Lod.sk website is now in Slovak (of course), German and English.

2: Twin City Liner Boats: The Austrian-run Twin City Liner runs regular (almost) year-round connections from Vienna to Bratislava. Departure from Vienna is at 8:3012:30 and 16:30 with departure from Bratislava at 10:3014:30 and 18:30. From March to October there are usually one or two additional services as well each way. Boats are a bit quicker than the Lod.sk Hydrofoil boats as a rule (75 minutes downriver to Bratislava, 90 minutes upriver back again). Prices however seem a tad steep, at an average 30 Euros for a single trip – meaning that overall Englishmaninslovakia recommends Lod.sk when possible during the tourist season. The Twin City Liner website is in German, but has a basic English version.

Departure in Vienna: Schiffstation Reichsbrücke, Handelskai 265. All Bratislava boats depart from here, unless you’re on a cruise ship, in which case you’ll likely be told everything and won’t require this blog to help. Nearest subway: Vorgartenstraße (on U1 line).

Departure in Bratislava: International port, Fajnorovo nábrežie 2, just down on the river from the Old Town east of Most SNP. Here’s a list of facilities available in the terminal building.

Between the beginning of June and the end of August, a Budapest to Vienna Hydrofoil passes through Bratislava but ridiculously does not stop off (it used to; they scrapped it). Departure times are 9:00 from Budapest (Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday) and 9:00 from Vienna (Wednesday, Friday, Sunday). You’ll pass through Bratislava at approximately 13:45/10:30 respectively depending on which way you’re going. Total journey time is between 5.5 and 6.5 hours.

GETTING TO BRATISLAVA BUT NOT BY BOAT: See our list of air connections to Slovakia.

NEXT ON THE JOURNEY: On the way from Bratislava to Vienna by boat, the most diverting spot, just over the Austrian border, is Hainburg, 16km west.

Bratislava – the Best Places to Get High

When I arrive in a new place, my immediate instinct is to want to get up high to see a view of all of it. Bratislava – with its burnished rooftops, the grandiose set pieces of castle and cathedral, the more surreal sights of that upside-down pyramid and that suspended sputnik over a Danube that flanks one side of the Old Town – lends itself very well to being “viewed”. But it’s the hills rising up immediately behind it completing the picture that also offer the best perspectives from which  to see the very best of the city.

1: Bratislava Castle

Yes, ok, whilst it undeniably makes the city skyline look distinctive, the rather box-like whitewashed city castle crowning a hill directly above the Danube is not going to come close to the top amongst the stiff competition for Slovakia’s most photogenic castle. Nor is it particularly worth your while paying to go inside the castle museum. Where the fortress does come up trumps are with the views: the whole of the Old Town, contrasted with the modernist mega-suburb of Petržalka on the other side of the Danube, is visible from the castle courtyard, bastions and park.

The best approach to the castle is from inviting cobbled Mikulašska, the lane running along opposite the old city walls across the dual carriageway. Look out for an old flight of steps just above Le Šenk brewpub. This ushers you up into the grounds of an old church, then up again over the castle’s rear approach road through a small arch which leads you into the castle park. Even once you’ve reached the churchyard, the bumpy skyline of terracotta Old Town rooftops starts opening up below you.

Old Town rooftops ©englishmaninslovakia.com

Old Town rooftops

2: Slavín and Horský Park

Higher than the castle by some way at 270 metres is Slavín, a poignant hilltop memorial to the Soviet soldiers that died defending Bratislava during World War Two. The lines of graves (about 300, but representing an astonishing 6,845 soldiers) lead up to an imposing colonnaded monument, with a huge statue of a soldier topping a 39m plinth. The height of the monument on top of an already lofty hill makes Slavín a noticeable landmark wherever you are in central Bratislava, and it’s also a great lookout. The huge upside-down pyramid of the Slovak Radio Building takes centre stage in front of a sweeping vista over the city centre from the west side, with the Danube less visible than from the Castle but the Malé Karpaty/Small Carpathians backing the city are far more visible.

The best approach is from Hlavná Stanica, the main train station, through the steep, leafy winding streets of the Kalvaria neighbourhood. It’s worth also approaching through Horský Park which, whilst a tad dilapidated, has a good outlook from its top end. Another even better vantage point is just afterwards on a strip of abandoned land on the road between Horský Park and Slavín – a hole in the fence gives access!

The whole walk is a nice 2km round-trip from the centre of the Old Town.

RELATED POST: Sign up for a tour of Bratislava’s Communist sights  – including Slavín – with Authentic Slovakia

RELATED POST: Find your way to either Horský Park/Slavín (above) or Kamzík (below) and you’ll find yourself on the spectacular long-distance hiking trail, the Štefánikova Magistrála (Stage One).

3: Kamzík

Much more than just a mast. Oh yes. Kamzík, a TV/radio tower, which presides over the Old Town of Bratislava from the verdant forests above, has a brasserie/restaurant half-way up (the hill here is 439m high and by ascending to the restaurant you’re going up easily over 500 metres). Needless to say, the views of Bratislava from here are pretty damned special. It’s the only place hereabouts from which all of the city can be seen. You do have to purchase something from the restaurant if you want to get the full city-wide vista, but below the hill on which the mast stands is a parking area with a couple of rustic places to eat and a wide, hilltop meadow (luka) which has a view over a large swathe of the city.

As there is bundles to do in and around Kamzík we have created our very own post which tells you all you will ever need to know about it (including some interesting ways to get there, including cable car!).

4: UFO

No doubt the bridge (Most SNP) linking the Old Town with Petržalka crowned by what can only be described as a spaceship will have piqued your curiosity at some point during ramblings through the centre. For an 8 Euro entrance fee, a lift whooshes you up to an overpriced restaurant (if you eat here you don’t have to pay for the entrance but you’ll wind up paying far more for the food) from where stairs climb to the viewing deck above. Here are the best panoramic views of Bratislava – castle, St Martin’s cathedral and Malé Karpaty/Small Carpathians to the north, striking views of Petržalka (Eastern Europe’s largest modernist housing development) looking south and – perhaps best – the best east-west views of the Danube it’s possible to have in the city centre. At 80m up from the river, it’s often quite windy!

The Danube looking west from the UFO

The Danube looking west from the UFO

5: Bars in the Old Town

It’s not only the UFO where you can eat or drink out with wrap-around views in central Bratislava. Perhaps best of the available options is the 13th-floor Outlook Bar in the Lindner Gallery Hotel. The hotel is just north of Medická záhrada and thus very close to the Old Town, with good birds-eye views of it all. Hipster bar/club Dunaj draws plenty for its vibrant music and cultural events, but plenty more for its terrace perched above the Old Town roof tops. Above the Lemon Tree Thai Restaurant is the stylish 7th-floor Sky Bar, with amazing views of the Danube through big windows, and access to a lookout above.

MAP LINK:

GETTING THERE: Described under each individual viewpoint!

NEXT ON THE JOURNEY: From Kamzik, a 3 hour hike north via Marianka will take you out of our Bratislava & Around section and into the Small Carpathians proper!

Getting Around Bratislava: From the Airport to the City Centre

After the confusion I have had myself over the years, I thought a few notes on Bratislava’s actually very good but initially flummoxing public transport system might come in handy. There is very little thorough info in English on the web so: voila. This post is about getting from Bratislava Airport, aka M. R. Štefánik Airport (which is the way nearly all Brits arrive) to the centre.

Arriving at Bratislava’s Airport

Slovakia does not have its own airline, meaning Ryanair has almost become the (bone-shakingly bumpy) substitute. Don’t worry though: most flights still land with almost zero fatality rate. There is a reason a lot of British visitors arrive by air other than simple logistics: Bratislava is connected to London Luton, London Stansted, Birmingham, Liverpool and Edinburgh – making the UK easily the most connected country to Slovakia by air. (NB – you can also fly from London to Košice and from London to Poprad in the High Tatras).

Once through customs, the arrivals hall, such as it is, ushers you straight ahead through the double doors and into the car park. Here, unless you miraculously have your own limo waiting for you (or a strategically placed friend waiting in a revving Skoda, for example), you have one of two options to get to your accommodation in the centre:

 – Taxi

You will have no difficulty spotting the taxi rank immediately outside arrivals. The official price a Slovak pays to get from the airport to a destination within the city centre is between 8 and 10 Euros one-way. However, you are probably not Slovak (the chances of this, after all, on a worldwide scale, are limited) and you are coming from the airport. Prices to city centre destinations will vary between 15 Euros, if you bargain hard and the destination really is central, to 25 Euros, if the taxi driver thinks he can milk you for extra Euros and the destination is slightly beyond the centre, for example Koliba. Taxi drivers are, in my personal experience, relatively unlikely to speak much English (nothing against that – just sayin’). For taxi rides, it’s best to come armed with cash (two 10 Euro notes and change in 1 Euro coins would be ideal)  

– Bus

For buses, walk across the taxi rank/pick-up/drop-off  road (using the pedestrian crossing) to the second pavement. Turn right. Walk along (just where the happy chappy with the wheelie bag in the picture is going) until you see the bus stop for busses to all city destinations at the end of the pavement. There is a shelter, some ticket machines and several other anxious first-time visitors like yourself waiting there, along with the usual group of grimly determined locals (to be joined by a lot of exuberant teenagers just one stop later when you pass the nearby Avion Shopping Centre). A word about the ticket machines. They do not take credit cards, British pounds, American dollars, forints or indeed any other currency than Euros. So have some Euro change handy. For journeys of 15 minutes or less, press the button for the 0.70 Euro ticket. For journeys of 15 minutes up to one hour (into which category any journey to the city centre, including yours, will almost certainly fall) get the option for the 0.90 Euro ticket.

Remember that you must validate your bus ticket on-board for bus 61 and any Bratislava city public transport. If you don’t validate the ticket (you’ll see the little validation machines by the doors on the bus) your ticket will be essentially invalid and you can face a 50 Euro+ fine! OK. Now you are ready to get your bus.

Now, in the paragraph when I mentioned city destinations? That was a bit of an exaggeration because really there’s actually only four options by bus from Bratislava Airport:

1: The Bratislava to Vienna Express Bus

This bus, run by Slovaklines in conjunction with Eurolines, runs between Bratislava Airport and Vienna’s central train station, Vienna HBF. En route, it will stop in Bratislava at the bus station and then the train station, in the town of Hainburg just across the border in Austria (that’s where Slovaks go to do shopping because… no, no, that’s another article), at Vienna’s Schwechat Airport and then on to the centre of Vienna at Vienna HBF (Hauptbahnhof, the main central train station). Here is a link to the latest timetable for the route. The first bus is 8:30am from the airport; the last is 9:35pm (so for the late-night flights arriving from the UK this option won’t be possible; you’ll need to wait an hour for the last Blaguss service, below). Journey time to central Bratislava is 30 minutes and to central Vienna one hour 30 minutes (three services stop at Erdbergstrasse, which is 1:10, but to Vienna HBF it’s 1:30). The full journey from Bratislava to central Vienna costs 7.50 Euros (luggage is 1 Euro extra). If you’re headed to the city centre, you can take this option too but there is little point as Bus 61 below is cheaper and more frequent. There are 7 services between Bratislava Airport and central Vienna daily.

2: Blaguss to Vienna

This service offers almost exactly the same route as the Slovaklines Bratislava-Vienna bus above: only with even fewer stops (and also 7.50 Euros to central Vienna). This service just calls at the airport, Most SNP bus station, Petržalka Einsteinova, Vienna’s Schwechat Airport and central Vienna’s Erdbergstrasse. Here’s a link to the latest timetable for the route. The first bus is an incredible 4am from Bratislava Airport, the last is 22:45. Bratislava airport-central Vienna travel time is billed as one hour 15 minutes although in reality this can take a little longer. There are 14 services between Bratislava Airport and central Vienna daily.

3: Bus No 61

This Bratislava city bus links the airport (signposted only as “letisko” in Bratislava) with the train station and runs up until at least midnight. This bus runs every 15 minutes but can get crowded. Try and get a seat (at the airport you should be able to) and keep your luggage in sight. The following stop (in Slovak: zastávka) will be announced on a very futuristic talking scoreboard (wo, yeah!) The stop of interest you will need to watch out for is Račianske Mýto (the name translates as Rača tollway because in times gone by this would have demarcated the edge of Bratislava and Rača (now a suburb) would have been a separate settlement). Get off at Račianske Mýto to change for connections to the city centre. Otherwise this bus continues to, you’ve guessed it, the train station (Hlavná Stanica).

From where the bus drops you on the far side of Račianske Mýto*, you have to double half-way back across the main road to the tram line to catch the tram to the city centre. You’ll see which way the trams are heading and you want those that are heading right (as you stand with your back to the terrible-looking restaurant and the park, facing the way you’ve come) to take you direct into the city centre. Getting tram number 5 is best (although tram 3 will also take you to the centre). After three stops on tram 5 (trams every 10 min or so, your ticket you got at the airport still covers you) you’ll enter the pedestrianised Obchodná street. Get off at the second stop on this street (so four after Račianske Mýto) at the stop called Postová for destinations in the Old Town centre. At Postová, continue to the next big crossroads (a beautiful church known as Kostol Nasvätejšej Trojice is now on your right) and straight across the tram lines is the very pretty entrance to Bratislava Old Town.

*You can get off Bus 61 earlier than Račianske Mýto, at Trnavské Mýto, and change for tram 4, which will bring you down into the centre by the Danube and the bridge across it of Most SNP (aka the UFO and it really does look like one). However, it’s slightly more complicated to give directions from Trnavské Mýto so Englishmaninslovakia recommends Račianske Mýto to change at…

4: Bus 96 to Petržalka

You are very unlikely to need the bus out to Petržalka (more, much more on Petržalka in other forthcoming posts, including the lovely cycle ride from Petržalka to Danubiana Art Museum or the new tram line that’s set to connect Petržalka with the city centre by 2016) when you first arrive in Bratislava but there is that option too.

Right. You’ve arrived. Thank Goodness for that.

RELATED POST: Every other public transport connection in Bratislava you are ever likely to need

RELATED POST: How To Get to Bratislava’s Main Hotels

ArtForum’s Slovak Movies (Film)

Just a shout-out, really, this post: Bratislava is full of these labyrinthine old streets that, in and around the Old Town and Castle area, secrete serendipitous bars, cafes, galleries and shops.

On a cool, crisp night last night we were wandering in the streets just below the castle and chanced upon a place we’d seen before but not ever entered: the ArtForum, a bookshop-cum-cafe which is actually represented in a few of the larger towns across Slovakia.

The main point of the ArtForum is in its great collection of proudly avant-garde Czech and Slovak writing, Slovak music and Slovak film.

Here you’ll find editions of Samo Chalupka poetry or Milan Kundera novels that you just won’t find elsewhere. It also has, of course, a great selection of international authors represented. It’s also one of the few places in Bratislava that sells records (the city is just waking up to the fact that they’re popular again). Plus there’s a little cafe at one end selling good jams and wine as well as coffee and cake.

But it’s the film selection that was actually most interesting for me. Here is perhaps the best array of Slovak and old Czechoslovak movies anywhere in the city centre, for actually purchasing at least. There are all the classics by Slovakia’s most renowned director, Jakubisko, like The Millennium Bee, Báthory and Perinbaba (which although well known in Slovakia are, for most outsiders, an eyeopening introductions to the wonders of Slovak cinema). Then there was one of my personal favourite Slovak movies, Ruzove Sný (Pink Dreams) which is a groundbreaking portrayal of how the Roma are viewed in Slovakia. But that’s only the tip of the iceberg. My girlfriend got very excited about Panna Zázračica (which we bought; it’s an adaptation of a book by Dominic Tatarka who is one of Slovakia’s most important 20th century writers). Oh, and they have copies of The Wolf Mountains, the Slovak wildlife documentary I’ve been raving about recently, as well.

But for anyone trying to understand a little bit more about Slovak cinema, this is the place to begin trying.

MAP

Plus check out ArtForum’s other locations in Žilina and Košice

Bratislava Castle Restaurant

Slovak cuisine tastebud-tickling time. And this, primarily, for those who have been asking me about classic places to eat really good Slovak food in Bratislava Old Town.

On first examination, the question itself appears bizarre – what other kind of food would restaurants in the Slovak capital be serving up? Well, the current trend in the city centre seems to be leaning towards the international=cool approach. But traditional Slovak cuisine? More the domain of the old folks and the tourists (the old folks aren’t so bothered about gourmet, the attitude goes, and the tourists, ha, they can easily be conned into what constitutes good Slovak food), with the result that, outside of a few dingy krčmy (pubs) and a clutch of high-in-price, far-lower-in-quality joints around Hlavné námestie (the main square), really good typical Slovak restaurants are fairly elusive.

RELATED POST: Bratislava Christmas Market – A Great Op for Trying Traditional Slovak Food

©englishmaninslovakia.com

©www.englishmaninslovakia.co.uk

So, dearth of top-end Slovak cuisine-oriented restaurants revealed, it was both shocking and heartening to discover that one of the very best in Bratislava is actually situated right next to Bratislava Castle. Shocking because who expects a really good showcase for national cuisine right by one of the most touristy spots in the whole country? Heartening because – well – we know that however much we celebrate off-the-beaten-track places on this site, it’s those big attractions where foreign visitors often gravitate and if they do, we would much rather they had the option of seeking refreshment in a decent restaurant (we know it’s easy to resort to the fast food stand or conveniently-close-to-where-hunger-strikes-but-bland eatery, but don’t). And one that can stand in, with some panache, as a showcase for Slovakia’s culinary offerings.

You will come across Hradná Hviezda in the stately cream-yellow courtyard buildings immediately on the west side of the castle (the side furthest away from the city centre, in other words). With a name translating as the Castle Star, it’s the sister restaurant of Modra Hviezda (Blue Star) a little further down in the Jewish Quarter near the Clock Museum – but it is the more dazzling of the two sisters. The setting exudes refinement, although inside, whilst the interior is pleasant enough with its walnut wood furniture and chandeliers, this is hardly what impresses. Nor is it the service (although, poised somewhere between the luke-warm and the congenial, the service is more than adequate). No, Hradná Hviezda will only have you planning your next visit back when you taste what it can do (cook well).

Deer and plums go so well together… ©englishmaninslovakia.com

Deer and plums go so well together… ©englishmaninslovakia.com

There are seven or eight choices of typical Slovak main courses, and each whets the curiosity (and the palate). The meat, always soft, flavoursome and embellished by rosemary and thyme, is hardest to resist. There is the mangalica (the wild boar that roams in the forests above Bratislava) with a pumpkin sauce and chestnuts – chestnuts being a typical accompaniment to Slovakia’s game-centric meat dishes. There is a rabbit served with paprika sauce and dumplings – rabbit is a common meat for country folks who regularly go out bagging them but in Bratislava it is far rarer, and enhanced here by a combo of traditional Hungarian and Slovak sides, the paprika that sets Hungarian food a-blaze and the dumplings which prop up typical Slovak food. Jeleň (venison) is also offered – with the sauce concocted from Slovakia’s signature fruit, the plum, and a rich, creamy potato puree. But Hradná Hviezda also does a mean strapačky (dumplings with sauerkraut) and one that’s enticingly presented in contrast to the sometimes colourless versions of the dish served up elsewhere.

Presentation (generous portions, yet thoughtfully arranged on the plates) is key with Hradná Hviezda’s food. The chefs clearly know exactly what they are doing. A meal here, consequently, is not cheap (mains are between 13 and 22 Euros, which puts it in a similar price bracket to one of our other favourite city centre Slovak restaurants, Traja Muškietieri).

It would have been nice to wash down the delicious food with a choice of better Slovak beers (only offering Zlaty Bažant and Krušovice, two of the dullest beers in the country, is a definite shortcoming). It’s definitely recommended, therefore, to sample their wine list which in contrast goes overboard to offer a wide variety of Slovak wines. White wines in Slovakia, especially those from the Small Carpathians (Male Karpaty) Wine region, can rival the world’s best, and the dry white from Rulandske, in the Limbach/Pezinok region, is a true delight here.

Perhaps a glass of the latter would have been better paired with their trout… But we have only ever had eyes for Hradná Hviezda’s game. You’ll spend a lot longer than the walk up here takes if you were to keep to the lower reaches of the city centre scouting around to find game that compares to that available in the serendipitously twinkling Castle Star…

MAP LINK:

GETTING THERE: Directions are the same as for the castle, and this is an easy stroll up from the very centre, but for those with walking difficulties there is trolleybus 203, catch-able from Hodžovo námestie (and get out at the stop conveniently called “Hrad”).

OPENING: 10am-10pm. Sometimes it can be a good idea to book –  as the restaurant caters to tour groups (locals too, but also tour groups).

BEST TIME TO VISIT: Oh, a dark wintry lunchtime when huddling by their cozy fireplace seems pretty much the best thing to do. Hradná Hviezda’s best dishes are the heavy, hearty, wintery kind. And a visit in out of the cold means the perfect excuse to sample one of their oh-so-typically Slovak fruit brandies… mahrulovica (with apricots), borovička (with pears). The list goes on.

LAST UPDATED: April 2017

NEXT ON THE JOURNEY: From Hradná Hviezda it’s 2km north to another restaurant on a great viewpoint, Kamzík

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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

bratislava-jan-2015-212 - kopie

And Now for Bratislava’s Most Garishly-Furnished Hotel!

Location: Nové Mesto/Ružinov.

There is the old adage, isn’t there, about the pretty house and the ugly house that stand near each other on the same street. The pretty house is so beautiful, so much more attractive – why would anyone, given the choice, hang out in the ugly house? The answer of course is that the beautiful house has a view onto the ugly house whilst the ugly house looks out on the beautiful one.

The same principle could be applied to Bratislava’s Lindner Gallery Hotel. We’re not calling this thirteen-floor building just outside the historic core of the Old Town ugly exactly – but when you compare its facade to the stunning 17th-century townhouses stretching away across the nearby city centre in a wave of steeply-pitching orange rooftops, it will seem plain. Plain as in unexceptional and modern, that is – nothing more extreme.

But new and shiny in its modernity the Lindner is – and inside it opens like a chrysalis into a garish montage of colour that, well, will leave an impression (on your eyeballs, certainly). The predominant colour seems to be lime green, and this flies in flourishes of debatable taste all the way up to the thirteenth floor.

View from the Outlook Bar ©Jon Clift

View from the Outlook Bar ©Jon Clift

 

13 might be unlucky for some. But not for guests here. The undoubted highlight of this hotel is the Outlook Bar here, where you get the best views of Bratislava Castle and the Old Town it’s possible to get from the city centre’s accommodation possibilities (and all for the relatively minor exertion of pressing the elevator button).

RELATED POSTWhere to Get High in Bratislava

But there is no escaping the German owners’ functionalist design hotel theme, which at times harks of the overly-efficient minimalist. The dullest parts are reserved for the public areas; perhaps fortunately; the rooms themselves are functionalist in a more agreeable way. They tick every box they should and not one more (a smart appearance, flat-screen multi-channel TVs, innocuous pine furnishings, no wall decorations save for large images of a Bratislava made to seem very modern and awash with neon light). The bathrooms are well-stocked, although inward-opening doors restrict an already limited space within. The food? Breakfasts are a missed trick: standard international with a vaguely Germanic and absolutely zero local influence with the fare. As for dinner, you’ll be having that (if you dine here at all which is totally unnecessary this close to the centre – see here for some good local restaurants) in the Outlook Bar so will be focussing on the panorama of Bratislava out of the window anyway.

A room at the Lindner ©Jon Clift

A room at the Lindner ©Jon Clift

But the prices, for a central-ish location (Trnavské Mýto) make the Lindner not only competitive – but a real bargain. Try venturing into the historic core for a smart room with a view like this and you will fail – miserably. A lift also connects the hotel to a large shopping and leisure centre. And in Medická Záhrada, a 300m walk away, you are close to the city centre’s nicest park. And oh, that view!

RELATED POST: Use Linder Gallery Hotel’s Location to scope out the little-known delights of the Nové Mesto and Ružinov districts of Bratislava (to the north, east and south-east of the hotel).

Why the Lindner has “gallery” in its name remains more of a mystery. Perhaps the gallery referred to is the vista. Perhaps they just added it in there to make it sound posher or more enigmatic. After all, what hotel doesn’t want to sound posher or more enigmatic?

Thanks to reader Jon Clift who provided the pics and who provided much of the info following his stay here

MAP LINK: See our post on Bratislava’s main tram, bus and trolleybus routes for more on how to get here (BUS 61/TRAM 4/TRAM 8).

PRICES: Book one weekday night online and doubles prices are around 110 Euros. But book for two nights and the prices tumble down, with doubles working out at just 70 Euros at the weekend – significantly cheaper than most other decent city centre hotels. (2016 prices)

BOOK THE LINDNER GALLERY HOTEL

 

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ArtForum’s Slovak Movie Selection

Bratislava street by night

Bratislava street by night

Just a shout-out, really, this post: Bratislava is full of these labyrinthine old streets that, in and around the Old Town and Castle area, secrete serendipitous bars, cafes, galleries and shops.

On a cool, crisp night last night we were wandering in the streets just below the castle and chanced upon a place we’d seen before but not ever entered: the ArtForum, a bookshop-cum-cafe which is actually represented in a few of the larger towns across Slovakia.

The main point of the ArtForum is in its great collection of proudly avant-garde literature, music and film. Here you’ll find editions of Samo Chalupka poetry or Milan Kundera novels that you just won’t find elsewhere. It also has, of course, a great selection of international authors represented. It’s also one of the few places in Bratislava that sells records (the city is just waking up to the fact that they’re popular again). Plus there’s a little cafe at one end selling good jams and wine as well as coffee and cake.

But it’s the film selection that was actually most interesting for me. Here is perhaps the best array of Slovak and old Czechoslovak movies anywhere in the city centre, for actually purchasing at least. There are all the classics by Slovakia’s most renowned director, Jakubisko, like The Millennium Bee, Báthory and Perinbaba (which although well known in Slovakia are, for most outsiders, an eyeopening introductions to the wonders of Slovak cinema). Then there was one of my personal favourite Slovak movies, Ruzove Sný (Pink Dreams) which is a groundbreaking portrayal of how the Roma are viewed in Slovakia. But that’s only the tip of the iceberg. My girlfriend got very excited about Panna Zázračica (which we bought; it’s an adaptation of a book by Dominic Tatarka who is one of Slovakia’s most important 20th century writers). Oh, and they have copies of The Wolf Mountains, the Slovak wildlife documentary I’ve been raving about recently, as well.

But for anyone trying to understand a little bit more about Slovak cinema, this is the place to begin trying.

Hanging Out at The Hangout

Wifi: slow but steady.

It’s a Friday evening, just around six, and the Hangout Cafe at the beginning of Kapucinska is uncharacteristically quiet. All day it’s been buzzing with cool young things, busy on their laptops, on their speedy business lunches. And now it’s just us. It’s a rarity. Normally, day-time, Hangout Cafe is full. Heaving would be the wrong word. Just pleasantly full. In a casual, metropolitan kind of way. Maybe it’s because Lukáš the owner is not here. He does, admittedly, add a certain gravitas to the place. He is the one, after all, who claims to make Bratislava’s best coffee, which is quite a claim these days.

But first, the place. It’s right on the main street which leads from the big church on the corner of Hurbanovo Námestie up towards the castle – an ideal location – and is perfectly poised for those middle-of-the-day or after-work business lunches. Indeed it is a place which seems to be the “hangout” of men – often single, well-dressed men, sometimes groups of two, comparably well-dressed men. They’re always well-dressed, and they’re invariably men. What do they like about the place? The high window-facing tables? The seats at the bar? The free wifi? The partial industrial vibe, created by large, obscure pictures of brightly-coloured cars whooshing through various monochrome but ultra-modern cities?

Who knows? We came in with two girls in our party and caused a stir. Everyone else left. But that was cool too. It was prime, after-work time in Bratislava and we had a stylish hangout all to ourselves. And their house red wine is some of the best in the Old Town too! It made us linger. As for the coffee, it was better than most of the other top cafes in the Old Town (and an espresso is a mere Euro). But I am going to say something controversial here. I’ve tried better in Nitra. Having said that, there’s few places in the Old Town that so stylishly oversee the transition from daytime cafe to evening hangout.

Evening Hangout

And often, especially now in these days of savvy web searches to plan where you’re going to go to grab a good glass of wine, “hangout” is an understatement of what the evening scene is like here. “Positively humming” might be nearer the mark. But if you want to come away from the evening having learned something about wine, come when Lukáš is around. He knows a thing or ten, and he isn’t reticent to share his knowledge…

Still, this joint is still (just) more cafe than bar. Its great coffee sets it apart from the competition more than its good wine.

MAP LINK:

LOCATION: – Zupné Námestie 9 (beginning of Kapucinska near tram stop no 5/8)

OPENING: – 9am-10pm daily, until 1am (semi-unofficially) Friday/Saturday

BEST TIME TO VISIT: – Early to mid evening, for a damned good espresso or an afterwork glass of wine.

LAST UPDATED: (Spring 2014) Same vibe, but met the owner this time (and the coffee was way better as a result, not that it had been bad before). A few words are worth a thousand pictures, to twist an old saying: Lukáš told us all about the type of coffee bean he was using (Kimbo, from Naples) which creates a potent, richly oily brew. That’s the bean that was his favourite when he was working as a barista in Italy. As for the opening hours, he said that, true to the Italian style, weekend hours were more like whenever the last customer left… (April 2017) Place is firing on all cylinders, especially come night time!

NEXT ON THE JOURNEY: From Hangout Cafe it’s a 1km walk east to more good coffee at Bistro St Germain

Update March 2014:

 

Mastering Bratislava’s Public Transport Part One: From the Airport to the City Centre

Bratislava Airport Arrivals!!

Bratislava Airport Arrivals!!

After the confusion I have had myself over the years, I thought a few notes on Bratislava’s actually very good but initially flummoxing public transport system might come in handy. There is very little thorough info in English on the web so: voila. This first post is about getting from the airport (which is the way nearly all Brits arrive) to the centre.

Arriving at Bratislava’s Airport

Slovakia does not have its own airline, meaning Ryanair has almost become the (bone-shakingly bumpy) substitute. Don’t worry though: most flights still land with almost zero fatality rate. There is a reason a lot of British visitors arrive by air other than simple logistics: Bratislava is connected to London Luton, London Stansted, Birmingham, Liverpool and Edinburgh – making the UK easily the most connected country to Slovakia by air. (NB – you can also fly from London to Košice and from London to Poprad in the High Tatras).

Once through customs, the arrivals hall, such as it is, ushers you straight ahead through the double doors and into the car park. Here, unless you miraculously have your own limo waiting for you (or a strategically placed friend waiting in a revving Skoda, for example), you have one of two options to get to your accommodation in the centre:

 – Taxi

You will have no difficulty spotting the taxi rank immediately outside arrivals. The official price a Slovak pays to get from the airport to a destination within the city centre is between 8 and 10 Euros one-way. However, you are probably not Slovak (the chances of this, after all, on a worldwide scale, are limited) and you are coming from the airport. Prices to city centre destinations will vary between 15 Euros, if you bargain hard and the destination really is central, to 25 Euros, if the taxi driver thinks he can milk you for extra Euros and the destination is slightly beyond the centre, for example Koliba. Taxi drivers are, in my personal experience, relatively unlikely to speak much English (nothing against that – just sayin’). For taxi rides, it’s best to come armed with cash (two 10 Euro notes and change in 1 Euro coins would be ideal)  

– Bus

For buses, walk across the taxi rank/pick-up/drop-off  road (using the pedestrian crossing) to the second pavement. Turn right. Walk along (just where the happy chappy with the wheelie bag in the picture is going) until you see the bus stop for busses to all city destinations at the end of the pavement. There is a shelter, some ticket machines and several other anxious first-time visitors like yourself waiting there, along with the usual group of grimly determined locals (to be joined by a lot of exuberant teenagers just one stop later when you pass the nearby Avion Shopping Centre). A word about the ticket machines. They do not take credit cards, British pounds, American dollars, forints or indeed any other currency than Euros. So have some Euro change handy. For journeys of 15 minutes or less, press the button for the 0.70 Euro ticket. For journeys of 15 minutes up to one hour (into which category any journey to the city centre, including yours, will almost certainly fall) get the option for the 0.90 Euro ticket.

Remember that you must validate your bus ticket on-board for bus 61 and any Bratislava city public transport. If you don’t validate the ticket (you’ll see the little validation machines by the doors on the bus) your ticket will be essentially invalid and you can face a 50 Euro fine! OK. Now you are ready to get your bus.

Now, in the paragraph when I mentioned city destinations? That was a bit of an exaggeration because really there’s actually only four options by bus from Bratislava Airport:

1: The Bratislava to Vienna Express Bus

This bus, run by Slovaklines in conjunction with Eurolines, runs between Bratislava Airport and Vienna’s Sudtiroler Platz. En route, it will stop in Bratislava at the bus station and then the train station, in the town of Hainburg just across the border in Austria (that’s where Slovaks go to do shopping because… no, no, that’s another blog post), at Vienna’s Schwechat Airport and then on to the centre of Vienna at Sudtiroler Platz. Here is a link to the latest timetable for the route. The first bus is 8:30am from the airport; the last is 9:35pm (so for the late-night flights arriving from the UK this option won’t be possible; you’ll need to wait an hour for the last Blaguss service, below). Journey time to central Bratislava is 30 minutes and to central Vienna one hour 35-one hour 55 minutes (three services stop at Erdbergstrasse, which is 1:35, but to Sudtiroler Platz it’s 1:55). The full journey from Bratislava to central Vienna costs 7.70 Euros (luggage is 1 Euro extra). If you’re headed to the city centre, you can take this option too but there is little point as Bus 61 below is cheaper and more frequent.

2: Blaguss to Vienna

This service offers almost exactly the same route as the Slovaklines Bratislava-Vienna bus above: only with even fewer stops (perhaps why they charge a hefty 2 Euros more: 10 Euros to central Vienna). This service just calls at the airport, Most SNP bus station, Petržalka Einsteinova, Vienna’s Schwechat Airport and central Vienna’s Erdbergstrasse. Here’s a link to the latest timetable for the route. The first bus is an incredible 4am from Bratislava Airport, the last is 22:45. Bratislava airport-central Vienna travel time is billed as one hour 15 minutes although in reality this can take a little longer.

3: Bus No 61

This Bratislava city bus links the airport (signposted only as “letisko” in Bratislava) with the train station and runs up until at least midnight. This bus runs every 15 minutes but can get crowded. Try and get a seat (at the airport you should be able to) and keep your luggage in sight. The following stop (in Slovak: zastávka) will be announced on a very futuristic talking scoreboard (wo, yeah!) The stop of interest you will need to watch out for is Račianske Mýto (the name translates as Rača tollway because in times gone by this would have demarcated the edge of Bratislava and Rača, where I live (now a suburb) would have been a separate settlement). Get off at Račianske Mýto to change for connections to the city centre. Otherwise this bus continues to, you’ve guessed it, the train station (Hlavná Stanica).

From where the bus drops you on the far side of Račianske Mýto*, you have to double half-way back across the main road to the tram line to catch the tram to the city centre. You’ll see which way the trams are heading and you want those that are heading right (as you stand with your back to the terrible-looking restaurant and the park, facing the way you’ve come) to take you direct into the city centre. Getting tram number 5 is best (although tram 3 will also take you to the centre). After three stops on tram 5 (trams every 10 min or so, your ticket you got at the airport still covers you) you’ll enter the pedestrianised Obchodná street. Get off at the second stop on this street (so four after Račianske Mýto) at the stop called Postová for destinations in the Old Town centre. At Postová, continue to the next big crossroads (a beautiful church known as Kostol Nasvätejšej Trojice is now on your right) and straight across the tram lines is the very pretty entrance to Bratislava Old Town.

*You can get off Bus 61 earlier than Račianske Mýto, at Trnavské Mýto, and change for tram 4, which will bring you down into the centre by the Danube and the bridge across it of Most SNP (aka the UFO and it really does look like one). However, it’s slightly more complicated to give directions from Trnavské Mýto so Englishmaninslovakia recommends Račianske Mýto to change at…

4: Bus 96 to Petržalka

You are very unlikely to need the bus out to Petržalka (more, much more on Petržalka in other forthcoming posts, including the lovely cycle ride from Petržalka to Danubiana Art Museum or the new tram line that’s set to connect Petržalka with the city centre) when you first arrive in Bratislava but there is that option too.

Right. You’ve arrived. Thank Goodness for that.

RELATED POST: Every other public transport connection in Bratislava you are ever likely to need

RELATED POST: How To Get to Bratislava’s Main Hotels

Panta Rhei And Café Dias (Central Bratislava Branch): Good Coffee, Great Books

Café Dias, next to Panta Rhei Bookstore

Café Dias, next to Panta Rhei Bookstore – image by www.englishmaninslovakia.co.uk

 

Wifi: Alright.

I’m always a bit dubious of cafes in, or affiliated with, bookstores. So it was with some trepidation that I snuffed out Café Dias the other night after a spot of Christmas shopping. Would it be another dreary collaboration of the Borders-Starbucks or Paperchase-Caffé Nero ilk, full of depressed, angry people so utterly out of keeping with what a bookish cafe should be like?

Not a bit of it. Café Dias might rather grandly advertise itself as a place where “Great Adventures Live Forever” but in the waste ground of good, welcoming places to eat/drink at this end of town between Obchodná and Hodžovo Námestie, it’s a nice find.

Not that locals think of it as a “find” – Panta Rhei, the bookstore adjoining the cafe, is hardly a secret. It’s a massive bookstore. It is a way above-average bookstore, actually, with a really great selection, American Christmas classics on repeat right now and my favourite bit: a wonderful craft and design section of the DIY variety. They also have a decent selection of cards (in a country where card-giving is not the standard practice it is in the UK) and gorgeous notebooks (I love browsing various shops’ notebook selections).

But back to the cafe. No one would ever think Dias would be so good, being surrounded by that fierce, vigorous brand of commerce which can all too often turn outlets into piles of direness. Yet there it is: cosy, tribal-themed décor, big wide windows from which to spectate on the scurrying passers-by heading to the Billa supermarket in the snow (currently a sweet old 15cm deep), and, of course the most important, innovative food and drink.

Café Dias Food and Drink

After a careful scrutiny of the cake section (there was fruity cheesecakes and a zesty apple tart which I also ended up trying), I opted for the chocolatiest option – chocolate sponge topped by a couple of layers of lighter, creamier chocolate mouse and a fruity dark chic topping (I like chocolate) and a mulled wine. The only problem with this was that I didn’t sample the coffee, which a friend had recommended me as excellent – the same one as introduced me to the now lamentably-closed Prešporák actually but I can’t reveal my sources :) – but I did smell it, and it smelt good. What Dias has is a selection of plantation brews from the likes of Guatemala, Indonesia, Peru and the rest of the world’s coffee kingdoms-on-high – and each one comes with a tempting description and general tips on appreciating coffee: for a reasonable 2 to 5.35 euros.

The service was, well, courteous but on the slow side. I had to beg to be allowed to pay the bill. As I was waiting, I found out that the cafe takes its name from Portuguese explorer Bartholemeu Dias, the first-known man to sail round the coast of Africa. Café Dias might not quite take you to a place as strange and new as that. But in an absence of other enticing eateries in this neck of the woods, its well worth the voyage here (and the wait for the table).

It should be noted that the Café Dias-Panta Rhei double act is not unique to this part of the city centre. Elsewhere in Bratislava, in the big shopping centres of Aurpark and Avion,  as well as in other city shopping centres in the likes of Piešťany, Nitra, Žilina and Košice, a Panta Rhei along with a Café Dias sitting plumb in the corner of it, will be found. But these are shopping centres. And whilst they seem pretty popular places to eat in Slovakia, they are vacuums as far as atmosphere goes. This store – call it the flagship Café Dias-Panta Rhei combo – is a bit different. It has personality. A more-or-less guaranteed delightful book- or stationery purchase. And great people-watching ops whilst you peruse afore-mentioned purchase over that coffee and cake…

An adventure that lasts forever? A pleasant diversion from the daily grind that seems set to stay a fixture in Bratislava’s Old Town, for sure…

MAP LINK

LOCATION: – Vysoká 2, by (indeed, on the ground floor of) the Austria Trend Hotel (seen on the map), and attached to Panta Rhei. It’s right outside the other side of the underpass when you’re coming from Hodžovo Nam.

OPENING: – 8am-10pm

BEST TIME TO VISIT: – Late morning or early lunch, for a good coffee and cake after a book purchase.

NEXT ON THE JOURNEY: On the next street, Drevená, 100 metres southwest, is Bratislava’s best brewpub, Bratislavský Mestiansky Pivovar

LAST UPDATED: April 2017

Michael Portillo Does Bratislava (Autumn 2012)

The other week, Michael Portillo (fey-looking former Conservative UK MP turned railway explorer – logical progression, no? – for those of you who aren’t familiar) in his latest series of Great Railway Journeys took a rail trip through the old Austro-Hungarian empire. Starting in Budapest, he wends his way by train through Bratislava and then on into Austria by boat. I would have liked to add at this point that it’s worth checking BBC Iplayer (UK followers only) to watch for a riveting insight into Bratislava and its place in that empire. Sadly I can’t.

Whilst the programme is relatively informative if you’re interested in Budapest’s bridges or waltzing in Vienna, Bratislava and Slovakia (as usual in the media) get precious little airtime. This is unfortunate, given Bratislava’s pivotal role in the empire. We’re talking the old second city of the empire here. Pozsony as Bratislava was then known was THE place where Hungarian monarchs were crowned and hung out after Budapest got occupied by the Turks: this was the royal seat of the monarchy from the 1530s into the 19th century, for Godsakes.

Mr Portillo gets off the train, mooches around St Martin’s Cathedral (the place of coronation of the afore-mentioned monarchs) and then gets on the fast boat to Vienna, asap. The only other shot in Bratislava is the terribly insightful, momentary camera-full of three nuns strolling through the Old Town. It’s so edited it’s basically not worth showing Bratislava at all. It certainly offers no insight into Bratislava’s part in the empire.

A wasted opportunity to put an interesting spotlight on a city that doesn’t often get the spotlight, and, really, at precisely the moment it should have done. Instead we get more of the same old stuff on Budapest and Vienna. Sigh.

Thanks, Michael.

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Prešporák

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Wifi: Good

Just sometimes, there’s a cafe which makes you glad you moved to a city. Actually, in my case, Prešporák could have been a deciding factor. One October afternoon I was wandering Bratislava’s Old Town streets with my girlfriend and we almost bumped into two guys carrying this big replica of a 16th century Dutch sailing ship. It was easily the most interesting thing going on at that time. So we followed. They left it outside this cosy-looking place on Baštova. We stood, admired it until it probably seemed like we were trying to steal some of the rigging or something, then passed on. I remember looking through the window and seeing all kinds of delightful old furniture and books, but at that dreary hour on a Sunday it didn’t even definitely look like a cafe. Just, well, a cosy place that was going to get a really beautiful old ship.

Fast-forward a week or so and a friend is taking us on a tour of Bratislava cafes. It’s probably worth you knowing at this stage that I’m a coffee addict. I’ll drinks cups of it. Gallons of it, if you let me. So when I hear someone who knows a LOT about good coffee (and my guide certainly does) say: “apparently they do some of the city’s best coffee” I pay attention. Imagine my surprise and delight when my “some of the city’s best coffee” image was reconciled with my “16th century ship” image. It was the same place!

Prešporák is, in fact, mainly about really good, strong coffee. Sure it does tea, and some cakes (it doesn’t have a kitchen so nothing more substantial food wise except for the dependable encian (a creamy cheese served with a delicious oily onion salad). But the crema on that expresso, wow. Delicious. Fruity. I actually preferred it to Caffe Trieste, another pit stop on the same coffee tour. Caffe Trieste, whose merchandise (cups, sugar packets) Prešporák is using and doing itself no service by so doing. These guys should get their own brand out there, asap.

With cafes, I always have a soft spot for the ones that look like places where they wouldn’t really care if you lingered all day. Where there are comfy battered chairs, and shelf upon shelf of browsable books, and random paraphernalia to occasionally distract my gaze (old sewing machines for example). Prešporák has all that. And now, of course, that fantastic ship. A perfect writerly hangout this. I fully intend to hang out there. And probably write another blog on Prešporák when I do… Pictures to follow.

LOCATION: Baštova  9 (Baštova is best described as the little street to the right after you’ve strolled under the town gate).

OPENING: 11am-10pm Monday to Saturday

BEST TIME TO VISIT: Early afternoon, after the main lunchtime coffee rush, when it will be just you and a few students skiving lectures, and the odd caffeine-craving tourist.

RELATED POST: See Top Ten Best Cafes in Bratislava

Update Dec 2014: With regret I have to state that Prešporák is permanently closed (their Facebook page states it too now) so I’m removing it from our Bratislava Cafes section. I’ll keep it as a post on this blog, just in case it by some chance reopens or if you want a bit of a trip down memory lane. But I am gutted. This place was a real gem… :(