Going on holiday in Slovakia really is like going back to the future.
On the one hand time stands still, sometimes deliberately and sometimes because there simply has been no reason to change it. On the other Slovakia has the proud Tatra Tiger, the nickname of its burgeoning economy. And of course it also has its incredibly successful hi-tech motor and aviation industries.
But there is no doubt that Slovakia remains the beating heart of European history with its ancient cities and towns, its boiling underground lakes and its snow-capped mountains where great bears and wolves still roam like antediluvian shivering armies
It is a small enigmatic country, bordered by Poland, Ukraine and Hungary, and is so ancient that you can taste history in the air … the smell of Kapustnica soup cooking on a stove in a witch’s hat of a hillside Koliba or the sulphur of the great Poprad River flowing from the Carpathians.
And then of course there is the world’s greenest and technologically astounding hotel, AquaCity, Poprad, Eastern Slovakia, a town which now in so many ways brags the best in the ancient and modern.
History has made Slovakia what it is today … look at the stone tools dating back to the Ice Age and the Venus of Moravany, a female figure carved out of mammoth tusk dating to 22,800 BC. The ivory figure was dug up by a farmer in 1930 in Podkovica, less than two hours from Poprad.
Sometimes in Eastern Slovakia you will come across the remains of hill forts standing against the skyline. Some date back to the First Century and are stark monuments to the Celtic invasion at the first documented turn of the pages of history.
Yes, the history of the glorious little country just goes on and on. It is rife with tales of invasion and revolution. The Romans, the Huns, the Mongols, the Bohemians, Hungary, Poland and Germany have all wanted to steal a piece of it.
And then of course in November 1989 there was the Velvet Revolution which led to the downfall of Communism in Czechoslovakia and finally showed the way to the independence Slovakia had battled so hard to win.
The final revolution of course was in 2004 when it joined the EU and was placed firmly on the international tourism map.
So, here we are in the first quarter of the 21st Century with politics and the economy, hopes and aspirations taking on an entirely different complexion.
Eastern Slovakia is a wonderful and evocative place to be, with its hills and mountains and, its lowlands with its sublime vineyards. Tokaj is probably the most famous wine fermented there.
Poprad is likely to be your first experience of the mountainous country of the East, it is the closest city to the High Tatras Mountains and boasts the region’s major transport links, trains, buses and planes. There is Poprad airport which was renovated and updated a few years ago and a there is a plethora of taxis waiting there to take you to the ancient city centre or indeed AquaCity, quite simply the place to stay and be seen.
Poprad is alive with quaint and charming bars and restaurants and is the gateway to the Tatra Mountains. But it has its own ‘hidden gem’, Spišská Sobota, a village less than ten minutes’ walk away which is a conservation site boasting Baroque burghers houses, merchants and artisans houses and a beautiful market square with a 15th century church and Renaissance bell-tower.
The real draw in the region though has to be AquaCity with its saunas, Olympic swimming pool, outdoor pools, centres of well-being, laser light shows, bars, restaurant, cafes, sumptuous rooms and its cryochamber. Amazingly the hotel is powered by a geothermal lake and the sun itself.
It’s the place to be to take part in all the things the mountains – described as the teeth of Slovakia – offer from dog sledding, skating on the mirrored lakes, snowboarding, horse riding, climbing and even golf.