©www.englishmaninslovakia.co.uk

Modra: Majolika (Handicrafts)

For anyone wanting to bring home a memento of their time in Slovakia, this renowned ceramics shop in the beguiling little town of Modra 28km northeast of Bratislava is a sure-fired bet (excuse the pun).

Whilst many outlets, once they become moderately successful, gravitate to capital city high streets and shopping centres, Majolika has remained refreshingly low-key. Its signature store is still the unassuming little shop and workshop in the middle of Modra (right opposite the central church) –  even though its pottery is now sought after across Slovakia.

Going strong since 1883, it’s Majolika’s old-fashioned blue-and-white, and green/yellow/blue/white colour schemes with their intricate images floral motifs that have become what every self-respecting Slovak wants to line their dressers with. Particularly interesting, too (given that Modra is also a key stop on the Malé Karpaty wine route) are the cups with the vineyard scenes on.

RELATED POSTS: For more on the Malé Karpaty wine route see our Svätý Júr and Limbach posts.

Cups, plates, vases, slivovica flagons, butter dishes, painted eggs, piggy banks, plant pots, urns and figurines of traditional Slovak professions are amongst the wide array of the florally-decorated ceramics. They then also have a range of great (one-tone) baking dishes and jugs for hot sauces – including the special casserole dish used for baking duck, with a handle and a spout for draining off the juices!

Prices are incredibly cheap, too, considering the quality of the workmanship: ranging from a few Euros for a cup or small jug to only 30 Euros for larger items.

Majolika understandably features on our Top Ten Slovak gift ideas, too! Whilst it’s one of those shops that warrants a visit to the town it sits within by itself, Modra has the afore-mentioned viticulture industry, the legacy of Slovak national hero (well, the man did almost single-handedly found the Slovak language) L’udovit  Štúr) to explore and a dozen or more sensational hikes to try out in the nearby Malé Karpaty (Small Carpathians) surrounding the lovely Furmanská Krčma. Perhaps because of this, Modra’s also imminently going to be the subject of its own separate post on this blog, detailing all its lovely (mainly Štúr-themed) activities.

 

A Quick Guide to the Other Content We Have on Modra:

Places to Go: L’udovit Štúr’s Modra

Places to Go: Hiking up in the hills above Modra all the way to Bratislava (the Štefánikova magistrála, stage three)

Places to Stay: Modra’s ceramic-themed hotel

Places to Eat & Drink: A beautiful traditional restaurant in the hills above Modra

 

MAP LINK Google maps doesn’t mark the Modra town centre location: it’s just above the Slovenská Sporitelňa bank on this map.

LOCATION: Štúrová at junction with Dukelská. The larger workshop location on Dolna can be found at this map link but it’s more inconvenient for visitors. Get there by bus from Bratislava bus station running every 20-40 minutes throughout the day.

OPENING: 9:30am-6pm Monday to Friday, 9:30am-midday Saturday.

 ANOTHER RELATED POST: Cruise up a few km above Modra to sample the delights of Furmanská Krčma

Around Modra: Goulash Karma at Furmanská Krčma

There are fancy Italian restaurants. There are up-and-coming microbreweries. But when all is said and done, there is one Slovak eating experience that stands out from all the rest, and that’s a trip to one of the rustic krčmy – pubs, basically.

What are they exactly and why do they stand out? Well, pub should be translated in the loosest possible sense (there are precious few specialty beers here). A krčma in its urban form is a traditional drinking den, pure and simple. But out in the sticks, the krčma is invariably transformed – at least in destinations popular with outdoors-lovers – into a cosy wooden wilderness retreat with roaring fires and just the kind of food you want to wolf down at the end of an arduous hike (the beer is still overly frothy and more often than not Zlaty Bažant but no one seems to mind).  It metamorphoses, in short, into what should be the pin-up for Slovak cuisine: a quality stodge stop with a fire, a sweet aroma of woodsmoke and a damned fine view.

There are a few of these celebrated krčma stodge stops across Slovakia – with a charming rustic wood exterior, smouldering log fires inside and an out-of-the-way, often forested location as common features. The out-of-the-way-ness usually prevents foreign tourists from ever finding out about them, which – due to their afore-mentioned place at the summit of the hierarchy of Slovak eating experiences – is a shame. Depending on where you find yourself, there are a ton of such places I could recommend. But for now I want to focus on one of the very best, and that is Furmanská Krčma above the small town of Modra (famous for its connection with the number one national hero Ľudovít Štúr, but that’s another story and another post).

Serendipity…

The best thing about Furmanská Krčma is that you never expect it to be there in the first place. After all, it’s on a something-to-nothing road over the middle of the Malé Karpaty, or the Small Carpathians hills – it’s not in a national park where you would expect such friendly wayside hostelries.

Forge up into the woods about 5km above Modra on what is now quite a good and busy road until you reach the summit of this particular Malé Karpaty ridge and, just where the trees seem thickest, Furmanská Krčma appears, in a cleared area of forest that actually contains a beguiling complex of buildings – all of the steeply-pitched roof log cabin variety.

A Historical Footnote…

This is the small community of Piesok. It has an intriguing history. It was one of those parts of Western Slovakia which, back in the age of the Hungarian empire, was blessed with an inundation of German settlers who came at the request of the Hungarian ruling elite to ignite the farming industry, much like Limbach outside of Bratislava, although it appears this particular community of Germans came much later (19th century). Under Communism Piesok also had an important role. It was one of the youth learning/holiday camps of which there are several across Slovakia and one can’t help but feel a tug of sadness as one strolls through the pine trees to the idyllic Handsel-and-Gretel-esque chaty (cottages) that once thrived with life (kids learned about nature here and there used to be several penzións) and are now often neglected.

On the Bright Side…

This is not to imply, of course, that Piesok is a lifeless place. People come here now with different motivations. The visitors are almost all Slovaks – so “outsiders” that make it here will feel a certain sense of having discovered the undiscovered. As well as Furmanská Krčma, there’s the top-end hotel of Zochava chata on the other side of the road that in fact are owners of the krčma (Zochava – named after Samuel Zoch, first commissioner of Bratislava after the establishment of Czechoslovakia). It’s a very nice hotel – tucked away from the road somewhat and recently refurbished, and I’d love to write more about it. I keep meaning to stay there, so I will then – as for now I have neither the time nor the money. Not having the money is why most folks seem to favour Furmanská Krčma over the hotel as a place to eat, but there’s also something very genuine and down-to-earth about partaking of a beer and hot traditional grub in the atmospheric rusticity of this krčma. Ultimately, if I am going to be eating typical Slovak food, I don’t want to be doing it in a modern hotel. I want to be doing it in place with a toasty old ceramic oven, a smouldering fire, oak beams and old farming implements on the walls. Why? Because it complements the cuisine.

It’s true that there’s been a bit of a refurbishment at old Furmanská Krčma which – depending on your viewpoint – either improved or slightly marred the ambience.  If you check the website (in Slovak only) you’ll see the camera panning around a distinctly more rustic space – with just rough wooden tables. It’s been refurbished (and differently) for a few years now, and makes no secret of catering to an “upmarket” crowd. If it was left to me I’d have taken Furmanská Krčma, as was: but the advantage is that the menu is now a lot more versatile: Slovak food with panache, if you will.

Inside Furmanska Krcma ©englishmaninslovakia.com

The Food

One of the most critical elements of typical Slovak food, of course, is the soup. Take away the soup from most lunch time meal deals and there would probably be a national revolt. Furmanská Krčma obligingly rustles up a couple of classic soups, any of which will set you back 3-4 Euros. Our first recommendation? Their delicious kapustnica (that is the best I’ve tasted in Slovakia apart from that rustled up in the kitchen of my friends’ mother). Secondly? Their feisty herb-infused local game gulaš (goulash) served with nigh-on a loaf of bread (if you thought goulash was solely Hungarian think again – this country made up a significant part of the Hungarian empire and Slovaks know how to make a classic goulash – their ancestors were probably the ones serving it to Hungarian nobility half the time).

The main courses are themed around furmanský platters, or coachmen’s platters. I think this has about the same significance as a ploughman’s salad in the UK. Original coachmen’s platters, back in the day when Piesok would have been an important staging post and horse-changing point on the route through the mountains, would have been far different. The significance now is more”large-sized and with meat” than anything else. Thus furmanský halušky are dumplings that come with a hearty klobasa (sausage) and the proper coachmen’s plate consists of numerous grilled meats and potatoes (16 Euros). The šulance here is also divine. This is hunger-busting food but it is also cooked with aplomb – it’s one of the top five in Slovakia for traditional tasty Slovak food that’s served in the rustic environs it should be served in.

The food is getting to that point where you think “that had better be good if I’m paying this price” because the menu bracket (14-20 Euros) is expensive for rural Slovakia (the deer with cranberries is certainly overpriced, for example). But I’m going to stick my neck out there and say it’s worth forking out for. Because you’re getting a microcosm of Slovak weekend life here. Inside it’s the traditional restaurant. But outside are the hiking/cycling trails to work up your appetite on and everyone, from meandering families to hardcore mountain bikers, is out there doing it, relishing what Slovakia excels in providing above all: a hefty portion of the Great Outdoors.

Because you are bang in the middle of the best of the Malé Karpaty here. Heading west, you can be within the vicinity of Bratislava in just over a half day’s walk (via Stage Three of the Štefanikova Magistrala, which also leads invitingly north-east from here to Bradlo en route (thereafter under the guise of the Cesta Hrdinov SNP, to Trenčin): the access point for the trail in either direction is a short walk up from Piesok at Čermák. You can also hike down to Modra from here, via the intriguing L’udovit Štúr trail, in about 2.5 hours.  Heading east? Aha, that’s going to be the subject of a post very soon: a walk involving old castles and one of the very best views in this whole hill range, by climbing what you see below…

A Quick Guide to the Other Content We Have on Modra:

Places to Go: L’udovit Štúr’s Modra

Places to Go/Shops: Modra’s fascinating ceramics

Places to Go: Hiking up in the hills above Modra all the way to Bratislava (the Štefánikova magistrála, stage three)

Places to Stay: Modra’s ceramic-themed hotel

© englishmaninslovakia.com

© englishmaninslovakia.com

 

MAP LINK: (notice the bottom of the map has the edge of Modra on; it has to be zoomed to this level to show the details of the buildings; Furmanská Krčma is directly opposite Zochava Chata hotel at the bottom end of the large parking area).

OPENING: Thursday-Sunday, late morning-10pm

BEST TIME TO VISIT: A winter’s mid- to late-afternoon, after the first fall of snow, when the small ski slope is working and you’ve finished your walk through the woods and are in need of sustenance.

NEXT ON THE JOURNEY: Tired after a hike and not refreshed by a hearty Slovak bite? Descend out of the hills and head 63km northeast to sample Piešťany’s best patisserie then sooth yourself in the spas there…

Štúr (the Cafe)

Wifi: Good.

I like cafes. And perhaps part of the reason I like them, over, let’s say, restaurants, is because I like sitting in them with a coffee and a laptop, eking away hours stealing subtle glances at newcomers to see if they could become characters in my next book, or will at least add some interesting colour to the article I’m working on (all things that are very hard to do in restaurants). Looking like a writer in them, basically.

In a cafe like Štúr that’s easy. The very theme of the joint is, after all, the father of the Slovak language, Ľudovít Štúr (Shtoor, as it mistakenly gets spelt by some, is NOT the correct way of writing it). Štúr is Slovakia’s national hero, but unlike most national heroes he did not heroically prove himself in some conflict or other. Štúr’s war was with words. That was the crusade he fought. The crusade – whilst Slovakia was a reluctant but increasingly proud and distinct part of the Hungarian Empire – to get Slovak recognised as a language.

RELATED POST: MODRA: THE L’UDOVĺT ŠTÚR TOUR (coming soon!)

Štúr the cafe has been successful enough to build up its own mini-coffee-chain in Bratislava – a novel thing in itself for a city which, to its credit, has none of the soulless international coffeeshop chains like Starbucks. I always patronised the original branch on Panská (pictured above, alas now as you will see this image will become a piece of cafe history), sitting at street level as close to the huge bearded likeness of Ľudovít as I could in order to gaze out at the crowds milling about on the cobbles. Yet, in the rapidly evolving world of Bratislava’s cafes, this branch has lamentably closed. Nevertheless, the caffeine tinted gleam on the horizon is that the mini-chain’s two other locations in the city centre are wonderful: near the Tulip House Boutique Hotel at Štúrova 8 (nice touch to have it on the namesake street) and, better yet, in the former location of Bistro St Germain in an atmospheric little courtyard back from Obchodná 17 (very peaceful and cosy). Map links below!

I certainly think that the Slovak national hero would have approved of the Štúr the cafe. You can usually tell a good cafe from its unassuming facade, in my experience, and the old-fashioned pink-brown sign with Štúr’s solemn countenance staring balefully through the window glass is the very antithesis of flashy (this is also the reason those not in the know might stroll by it oblivious). The waitresses that take your order are effortlessly urbane and welcoming simultaneously which lends the cafe a cosmopolitan feel. You don’t feel bad nursing your delicious espresso a couple of hours. No one will tell you it’s time to move on (even though the place does get busy and tables do fill up). The decor is simple, yet beautiful wooden chairs and tables are evocative of a decade – maybe quite a few ago now – of glamorous cafes frequented by artists, and writers of course, and people who thrashed out ideas as they hung out with drinks. And Štúr would undoubtedly approve of how the menu is laid out: in old Slovak, or in other words the nation’s language as he established it (none of the Czech-, German- or English-isms Slovak has today).

Regular double espresso is 2.20 Euros but there are some fancier, sweeter Štúr specials for only a fraction more (iced caramel and vanilla latte, as an example). Of the light lunches available, we love the cheese and spinach quiche most, whilst the cake selection (normally at least three types of cheesecake, including a chocolate one, and a divine lemon cake) will waylay you as you pass the counter on the way in long enough to have queues building up outside.

Štúr was 200 years old in 2015. Honour him with a visit here!

Štúr the Cafe’s Current Locations in Bratislava Old Town:

1:Right near the Tulip House Boutique Hotel, at (appropriately) Štúrova 8… MAP LINK TO ŠTÚROVA BRANCH

2: Bratislava’s cool mini coffee chain has also recently nabbed a very cool location – in those old premises of Bistro St Germain, in an idyllic little alley-courtyard off Obchodná (No. 17). In my view it was a mistake for Bistro St Germain to let this premises go.. MAP LINK TO OBCHODNÁ BRANCH

OPENING: – 8am-midnight Monday to Friday, 9am-midnight weekends

BEST TIME TO VISIT: – Any time in daylight: not because it’s dangerous afterwards, but because daylight shows up the place for what it is: a wonderful street cafe with an eye out on the bustling activity of the city centre.

NEXT ON THE JOURNEY:  25 metres further down from Štúr the Cafe’s Obchodná branch (following Obchodná, that is) and you’ll hit the crossroads with Poštova: from here it’s another 25 metres north up to the Panta Rhei bookshop/cafe and 40 metres north to the Austria Trend Hotel or, one block further down Obchodná, a full 50 metres from Štúr the Cafe’s Obchodná branch, there is the cool Bratislavský Meštiansky Pivovar.

img_2405

Around Trnava: Hlohovec, Beethoven & The Founder of the Slovak Language

The River Vah Flowing Through Hlohovec

The River Vah Flowing Through Hlohovec – image by www.englishmaninslovakia.co.uk

As you’ve probably worked out by now, Englishmaninslovakia.co.uk doesn’t focus on well-known Slovakian places so much. We prefer to dig deep to find the truth under the cliches and to this end, on a cold, blustery and crisp day in February, we went to Hlohovec.

I confess we did go there with an attitude of determination to discover something beautiful, if only for the reason that people told us there was nothing beautiful there. Hlohovec is a good example of a medium-sized town in Western Slovakia (on the main route northeast from Bratislava between Trnava and Trenčin) that gets overlooked: because it doesn’t have quite the spectacular location of, say, Poprad, nor the beauty of, say, Bardejov AND because it is near enough to Bratislava and Trnava that its residents simply go to one of these larger cities if they need anything like a night out.

Hlohovec does have some claims to fame. It has a castle, Hlohovsky Zámok, in an expansive park just outside the town. It’s got landscaped gardens and a quite impressive theatre that often has Beethoven concerts in memory of the town’s most famous visitor, who stopped over for a night at the castle en route to the spa at Piešt’any and may have given a recital there, depending on which version of the story you listen to (actually, no joke, Bratislava and Western Slovakia do have a rich heritage of attracting top-notch composers – see a separate post on this very topic). The problem (aha I hear you say) is that whilst the park is great for a walk (you can even carry on walking above the castle into the hills and get to a small observatory with good views of Western Slovakia) it is, ahem, closed. And also in a bad state of repair.

If they invested money in the castle refurbishment, this town really would regain some more of the life it clearly once had back. In fact, a consortium tried to do this about ten years ago but local government officials doubted its potential to succeed and rejected the bid. More recently, some aspiring young inhabitants of the town tried to join the local council with a promise to focus on restoring the castle gardens and the castle.They too were crushed. In fact, it could quite accurately be said that Hlohovec is not a Trenčin (in terms of beauty) mainly because of terrible management by government officials. The castle refurbishment issue remains unresolved because, ignorantly, local officials just don’t seem to see the point.

Because there is a (very poorly publicised) castle tour here. I mean, in this sense, a tour of the many unheralded but spectacular castles in the immediate vicinity of Hlohovec. Starting at Červený Kameň to the southwest you can progress northeast via a spectacular Western Slovakia Castle Tour that will be the very next post on this blog; a castle tour that cuts right through Hlohovec. I have rarely seen a town with so much unfulfilled potential as here. It’s not just the castle: Hlohovec lies in astoundingly beautiful scenery.

Looking Back on Hlohovec as you ascend into the Male Karpaty

Looking Back on Hlohovec as you ascend into the Male Karpaty

You can follow trails, right from where this picture is taken, up west above the banks of the Váh into the wooded hills of the Malé Karpaty, on red and yellow-marked trails through abandoned castles and old quarries almost all the way to Trenčin (there are chaty, or mountain houses, en route, and this particular arm of the hills is known as Považský Inovec). A cycle path also connects it along the river bank itself to Piešt’any.

Church in Hlohovec's old monastery complex

Church in Hlohovec’s old monastery complex – image by www.englishmaninslovakia.co.uk

So, as for nature, Hlohovec is first-class. The architecture tells a slightly different story (yeah – a bit obliterated by Communism) but nevertheless in the centre there’s an attractive pedestrian street with a few surprisingly good cafes (and, get this, a jazz club!); there’s also the grounds of an old monastery (C. late 15th century) where the father of the Slovak language, Ján Hollý, lived for a while. Don’t shoot me down. I know Ľudovít Štúr gets credited with being the father of Slovak, but Hollý actually wrote in Slovak first (he was the first poet/writer to famously do so) and Štúr came asking for Hollý’s advice when he was establishing Slovak as an official written language. The grounds also contain a museum with lots of old pictures of the town back in the days when it was also one of the most prominent centres of Jewish culture and learning in the old Austro-Hungarian empire.

So should you stop off there when you’re heading northeast for the more famous beauty of the Tatras? Probably. Just to see how a real Slovak town ticks along. And possibly to do some really amazing hiking.

Hlohovec Best-of:

Best Cafe: Coffee Berry, Kapitána Nálepku 4. The cakes come from the Piešt’any cake shop I’ve raved about on another post and with quite a modern vibe, it’s the place where everyone hangs in Hlohovec! It’s right in the centre: here is their map.

Best Restauraunt: Jašter. An out-of-town place on a hill backed by a wood which has nice summer barbecues and a high quality of food. The link here gives good directions.

Best Sights: The castle and the park, the museum, the river and the surrounding hills. Oh, and a special meadow called Poniklecová Lúcka, which is one of the best places in Slovakia to see the rare pasque flower growing.

Best Place to Stay: U Janásov. This is unconfirmed as I’ve not stayed there, but it has the best location (it’s where pic no. 2 is taken), looks by far the most photogenic spot in town and by all accounts is the best deal (it’s sometimes closed in the winter months). Hotel Jeleň is in the centre and is another option.

MAP LINK

GETTING THERE: Leopoldov is the nearest station on the main Bratislava-Košice train line and it’s here you’ll need to change for trains to Hlohovec. (42 minutes past the hour every hour between 6:42 and 20:42, journey time 6 minutes – you can see the station on the map link above)

NEXT ON THE JOURNEY: From the lovely town of Hlohovec it’s 24km north to one of our most idyllically located Western Slovakia restaurants, Reštauracia Furman

LAST UPDATED: April 2017

brat-presporak_791x591

Top Ten Bratislava Cafes (March 2017)

Fun at the Hangout Cafe... after hours when there's less peeps hanging there

Fun at the Hangout Cafe… after hours when there’s less peeps hanging there

OK, so this list is subject to change – when I hear of a new entry worthy of the list or of one of these entries deserving a different position I’ll update it. But as of right now, here we go:

10: Café Dias

Only come here for coffee and cake. These two items on the menu are pretty damned fine. The coffee at Café Dias is fair trade, often from Africa, and you’ll salivate over choosing your cake from the many-tiered display cabinet. It’s in the bookshop, Panta Rhei, and the other reason it goes in at number 10 is as a great people-watching spot.

Location: Poštová under Austria Trend Hotel

More on Café Dias

9: Next Apache

Next Apache does good coffee, including its own special blend, amidst one of the best selections of English and Slovak language second-hand books in the city.

Location: Panenská 28

Website: 

8: Caffe l’Aura

A great hidden-away little spot by St Martin’s Cathedral: at front it doubles as the Old Town’s coolest antique shops, at back the café, decorated with quirky knickknacks, is a place where you can sit and sip and never be rushed.

Location: Rudnayovo Námestie off Panská

Facebook:

7: Corny Café

Another hidden-away place in an interesting area just east of downtown near the Blue Church. There’s a small outside garden, and the inside is lovably, cosily retro: you could imagine Communist leaders making breakfast business deals here. The coffee is great (fair trade, with produce from coffee growers around the world available, and in my opinion a candidate for the city’s best) and the cake selection is very good. It’s slipped down the list a tad of late because sometimes if you go in it can be quiet, and this can detract from the atmosphere.

Location: Grösslingová 20

Facebook:

6: Caffé Trieste

This little place at Floriánske Námestie goes in at 6 for the quality of its coffee. It is up there with the city’s best, and for the quality/ price ratio (an espresso costs just €1) for a caffeine fix it could be top. It falls down for having a poor cake selection and for there being a lot of competition for seating: you often feel rushed. It’s so popular though that the outside seats are taken even in winter!

Location: Floriánske Námestie 1

Website: 

5: Avra Kehdabra

And indeed, perhaps you will feel as though uttering the classic incantation to incite magical happenings (the name is the Slovak way of saying Abracadabra by the way) really can occasionally work, when you clap eyes on this cute, tucked-away place on Grösslingová, which styles itself as a literary teahouse, but also serves incredible coffee amongst heavily book-stacked shelves. Places come, and places close, but this little joint has become a permanent fixture in the Bratislava hot drinks scene and comes the closest to replacing the lamentably departed Prešporák – my all-time favourite Bratislava cafe (but watch this space for an interesting update on that score).

Location: Grösslingová 49

More on Avra Kehdabra

4: Bistro St German

Most people know about Bistro St German now, tourists included. But that’s because it’s a great place: with an atmosphere reminiscent of the Parisian bistros of old, formidable cakes, including a gluten-free option, decent (although betterable) coffee. The soups and lunches (a delicious burger, a succulent quiche) are worth a stop too.

Location: Rajská 7 (It’s now moved as of May 2014 to this new location from its former one off Obchodná – it’s new location is not QUITE as atmospheric which means its position on this list has now changed.)

More on The New Bistro St Germain

Website:

3: Štúr

A bit of an institution now but a pretty good one,  has a menu in old-fashioned Slovak (faithful to founder of the Slovak language, Ľudovít Štúr, after whom it takes its name) and great baguettes and lunches. The cakes are also very good, and it’s open until 10pm.

Location: Štúrová 14

More on Štúr Cafe

2: Hangout Café

The owner claims he does the city’s best espresso and he could well be right; the word on the street often backs him up at least. It’s a nice interior: bare-brick walls, seating at the bar or at window tables and a nice big blackboard touting the specials. It only doesn’t get a higher entry because the quality in the centre is getting pretty high.

Location: Kapucinská, right by the tram stop.

More on Hangout Cafe:

Facebook:

1: Kava.Bar

Kava.Bar was treated with much excitement by englishmaninslovakia.co.uk when we spotted it on a walk up to the castle a couple of winters back. It’s a small place, but huge blackboards and cute window seats and a liberal decoration with various curios make this very eye-catching as cute cosy cafes go. The coffee is great, the cake selection not bad, but  I would also have liked to see a little more in the way of food. But the ambience is perfect.

Location: Skalná 1 

More on Kava.Bar: