Slovakia became an independent state in 1993 when what had been Czechoslovakia broke up. But many nations and cultures have battled to control this country over the millennia -- Celts, Germans, Romans and finally the Slavs themselves. They built the Moravian Empire, but it ultimately fell to the Hungarians. Slovakia was part of Hungary for a thousand years. It briefly achieved independence on the eve of World War II, but the war’s end saw it become part of Czechoslovakia.
Slovakia’s early history spawned a network of castles; the 750-kilometer Castle Route takes visitors from the capital city of Bratislava to the foothills of the Carpathian Mountains and the banks of the Vah River. It’s a route with castles, chateaux, manor houses and more. Bratislava, on the banks of the Danube, reflects the country’s history as well, with picturesque and winding streets in its Old Town and concrete housing developments that were an architectural hallmark of the Communist era. But much of this is changing; Bratislava is a dynamic city that’s rebuilding itself and enjoying life in the process.
Beyond Bratislava are lowlands and forest-covered hills, which mean you’re never far from nature, even in the city. The Tatra Mountains are famed for the beauty of their peaks as well as their lakes (also known as tarns). Slovakia has numerous mineral springs, many are thermal, and you’ll find spa towns in western, middle and northeastern Slovakia. Its food is similar to the Czech Republic and Austria, although somewhat spicier. That means plenty of meat dishes, rich dumplings and noodles.
You can get to Slovakia by train or plane; there are several good train connections between Bratislava and other cities from Prague. Once within Slovakia, you can travel about by train, by bus to smaller towns not served by the train or by renting a car.