BRATISLAVA, Slovakia When the Cold War’s ice finally began to melt
in the late 1980’s, the countries of Eastern Europe were the first
to feel the thaw. In 1968 Czechoslovakia, memories of Soviet tanks
crushing the Prague rebellion still burned. A mere 21 years later
the Velvet Revolution of 1989 would finally cast off
Czechoslovakia’s communist yoke. Soon after that, the Velvet
Revolution spawned the Velvet Divorce as Czechoslovakia splintered
into the two countries it had really always been one the Bohemian
center of Europe, the other a rugged and mountainous land where
Slavic Europe begins.
During the 12 years since the Velvet Divorce, the two countries
have had different trajectories. The Czech Republic has fared
better economically than its cousin to the east, the Slovak
Republic. In many ways, that hasn’t been such a bad thing. Thanks
to its ruggedness, Slovakia was spared much of the large-scale
development and exploitation that blighted a good portion of the
As a result, Slovakia’s stunning natural beauty remains mostly
intact. This is the wild East, blanketed in forests, mountains and
some of the prettiest terrain anywhere on the continent. It quite
possibly could become one of Europe’s premiere outdoor wonderlands.
And it’s not only beautiful, it’s a bargain to boot.
With more than seven national parks in a country roughly the
size of West Virginia, Slovakia’s compact size packs a big punch,
the biggest of which is the High Tatras National Park. Rising up
almost 8,000 feet from the central plains, the Tatras have long
been one of the natural wonders of Central Europe.
The Tatras also mark the passage to Eastern Slovakia. This is
the land of the Ruthenians, a Slavic ethnic group now spread out
across Poland, Hungary, Slovakia and Ukraine.
One of the most famous Ruthenians was Andy Warhol (born Andy
Warhola) whose family came to America from the Eastern Slovak town
of Medzilaborce. Oddly enough, after Warhol’s death, his family
decided to locate a museum in his honor here. While decidedly out
of place in this small orthodox town, the museum houses what is
likely the most elaborate collection of Warhol memorabilia anywhere
and an astonishing number of Warhol originals. It’s an unlikely
experience in a more unlikely setting and a perfect way to end a
visit to this wild, unspoiled corner of a crowded continent.
Hotels in the Tatras hint at a bygone era. The faded glory of
the Austro-Hungarian Empire can still be seen in many of the
elegant hotels built here around the turn of the century. One of
these is the Grand Hotel Praha. Built in 1903, its charm has
survived two world wars and the communist era. Today, visitors can
enjoy the same spectacular views of the High Tatras from their
wrought-iron balconies that Bela Bartok enjoyed in his day.
Inside, the hotel is like a trip into the Gilded Age, replete
with chandeliers, parlors and lounges where guests can relax in
overstuffed leather chairs and enjoy a Slovak beer by a crackling
Airy and bright, most rooms in the Praha have high brocaded
ceilings and French doors leading onto small balconies with
magnificent views of the surrounding peaks. All have full minibars
and spacious bathrooms.
A fine restaurant serves traditional Slovak fare in a stately
dining room. A hot tub, a massage room and a sauna are available on
The Praha welcomes IATA bookings and offers 10% commission. Most
flights to Slovakia use Vienna’s international airport; regular
shuttle buses finish the trip to Bratislava.
Rates: Suites $104 to $152; rooms $65 to $90 (buffet breakfast
Contact: 00421-52-4467-941-5; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Web site: grandhotelpraha.sk.