This journey, from Slovakia’s 10th to 6th biggest towns, also takes you from (towns with a view of) the High Tatras to the Low Tatras, though that was mostly serendipitous for me. I had pinned Poprad in my map because it was recommended by a Slovakian in whose AirBnB I had stayed, and travelled to Banská Bystrica because it seemed a fairly obvious way to break up the trip West. Bratislava was recommended by precisely no-one (despite a pretty old town), and so I was happy to spend time elsewhere.
Poprad is the gateway town for access to the High Tatras, and you can take a train to various small stations from which to start your walk, or pay a guide to sort the whole thing out for you. I did none of that, instead enjoying the bus ride from Krakow through the mountains and then walking South of town into the hills, from which the views back to the mountains (North) are dramatic.
I stayed in a cheap pension in Spišská Sobota, NE of the town (about a mile’s walk from the centre – definitely part of the town, but has its own beautiful town square, which felt very Swiss, or alpine, to me).
On the road heading South from Poprad, numbered 66, are a number of attractions, and there is an obvious patch of walking routes and hill off to the East of that. It seemed an obvious place for a walk, at any rate, so I took myself off that way, struggling up a hill or two before turning West to the lagoon at Banský náučný chodník v Kvetnici (trans as “Mining Educational Trail in Kvetnica). As an old mining site, this is a well-used site, and not a peaceful place for quiet contemplation. There is a quiet spot for barbecues and chilling out just to the East, which is where I cooled off after a few photos. The lagoon has prominent, and widely ignored, signs suggesting no swimming or fishing, and people were enjoying the place in the sun.
I took the train to Banská Bystrika, which involves a change at Vrútky and takes a few hours. It also costs a bargain €9.xx via www.zssk.sk. Checking routes via the site also pops up alerts for bus services – this seems not to mean there will be a bus replacement, just that you might use alternative bus routes for the same journey. Whether a ticket bought here works on the buses, I can’t tell you. My first train was delayed by over half an hour, though, and so I assumed I’d missed my connection (with a 20 minute gap between the two). I am just old enough, however, to remember how a connected rail service works, and so as I got half way down the steps from the platform, my brain suggested that perhaps the train waiting on the adjacent platform was relevant to my interests. Sure enough, once I asked (both, for some nervy reason) the signaller and guard (actual people working on a railway – they should do away with that as soon as possible, obviously) “Banská Bystrica?”, I got a nod and jumped on. The gent I ended up sat next to immediately chatted sardonically (I think) to me, almost certainly saying something like “isn’t it great for you that we have a national rail service, which can hold one train and save you a two-hour wait, albeit I’ve had to wait an extra 20 minutes for my lovely walk?” but my Slovakian wasn’t up to it, and I made some appreciative noises as we moved off. It was great but progress led by private companies will wipe it out at some point if they are not careful.
The lovely happy gent found his English “thank you” as he hopped spryly off at Turčianske Teplice, and he was not the only backpack carrier to do so, I assume because that’s a good point to start a walk into the hills. The train hooks South then East from Vrútky to Banská Bystrica, with several stops at small towns that all looked inviting. I was happy enough to arrive in town and walk from the train station into town, with the Low Tatras another lovely backdrop. Just as good was the lovely town square, just round the corner from my accommodation, and a great surprise to me – I’d not stopped here for any reason other than convenience and a sense of progression across the country.
That part of town is full of bars and cafes, all with outdoor seating well-used at this time of year. I found a quiet cafe (Kaviareň Poetika) on a side street to the North, which was fabulous, with friendly staff and delicious food. The beer choice was slightly limited on the day – would I like the 330ml Leffe or the litre (it might have been more) of IPA (or “eepa”). I picked the former, given hunger, though machismo very nearly picked the latter.
For my full day in town, I walked the hills which are directly to the South of town. There’s a steepish but otherwise straightforward walk up to a church and then an observatory, though South of there the trails get a little ragged, and an easy exit to the East takes you out onto a busy road, so what might have been a 5-6 mile walk became nearly 10 as I retraced steps and tried an alternate route further South. That did find me some excellent shiny beetles, though, so I called it good.