Although we were Slovakia bound on Monday we made a detour to Egerszalok to see the famous ‘salt hill’ before we left Hungary. Another thermal spa but this one is similar to only two others in the world (Turkey and Yellowstone in USA) in that the water contains minerals which are deposited on the hillside being known as a salt mountain. Along the side of the valley were several salt hills, the natural beauty is a little undermined by the gigantic Salaris spa hotel which makes use of the thermal waters and charges for admission, not to be thwarted we found a walk way behind the hills. The hotel does employ a guy who spends most of his day sculpting the salt so the thermal waters form pools as the drop down over the hills, worth the detour just a shame we didn’t get to ‘take the waters’.
Egerszalok Salt Hills
At the border for Slovakia, we were ready with all sorts of paperwork the AA state will be needed – it isn’t. We crossed at Balassagyarmat which was an unmanned crossing. We assume they are all Schengen so our information must be well out of date. We were over and into country number eight before we really had chance to spot the Slovakia sign, another blurred effort for the scrapbook. The only things on the border were a TESCO Extra one side and a garage the other, there was a couple of old sheds that Customs must have used once but it was never a busy crossing judging by the roads. We needed yet another vignette, this time €10 for 10 days, a lady in the garage sold it to us and even changed our Forint into Euro, no idea on the exchange rate she gave us but there wasn’t an exchange bureau or anything else so we took the money and headed for the hills, literally.
First stop was Slowakije Camping, a good few miles off a proper road but worth the hassle for the end result – views for hundreds of miles in all directions; herds of 30-40 deer passed through each morning; an old Russian truck passed several times and the Slovakian air-force were doing maneuvers for two days giving us our very own little airshow.
We were invited by Mark and Betty for welcome drink of the local Slivovitz plum drink – similar to schnapps and just as powerful. The evening read like the start of a joke – there was a Dutchman, Slovakian, Austrian, German, American, Welshman and a me, all with tales of travels made and routes still to come. Three of the visitors were on the WorkAway scheme, we keep coming across this and we are seriously considering giving it a try in the future. Payment for half a days work 4-5 days of the week is three meals a day, bed and board (or in our case electric and showers).
Making swift work of the lack of a road
Slovakia is another country of which our knowledge is lacking, severely so as we really only both knew it used to be part of Czechoslovakia and that was it. We decided the best plan would be to head for a town marked on the map as UNESCO to find something worth seeing. That wasn’t too necessary as there is something to see around every corner we didn’t have to search anything out at all. In the towns we were surprised to see the old concrete apartment blocks are always painted Tobermory style, pinks, blues, greens, turquoise and canary yellow – 20 odd storey blocks and each one using a different colour wash. The sun has been shining so everywhere looks bright anyway but this painting of the old blocks really does mean you need sunglasses.
Driving through the countryside we came across castles, manor houses, old fashioned villages and stunning views. In Svaty Anton we found what we thought was a monastery but it turned out to be a manor house set in miles parkland. Probably because we are out of season there wasn’t anyone there charging entry fees, even if there was it would have been worth the money. We stuck to minor roads so we could see the villages, the roads were pretty well perfect and as we always seems to find fairly quiet.
When we got to our UNESCO listed town of Banska Stiavnica it was without a doubt the most jaw-dropping town we have seen to date on this trip. It’s in the centre of an extinct volcano and was known for many years as Silver Town due to the extensive mining. A completely preserved medieval town there is an old castle and a new castle plus a Calvary on a hill which looks pretty much like a third castle. The town square has a monumental baroque plague column and is surrounded by rich burghers houses.
There were over 60 man-made reservoirs set around the upper parts of town which were used in the silver ore mining, only 24 remain and are used in summer for swimming and winter for skating. The buildings are amazingly well preserved and as they are set up the side of the hill there are fabulous views down through the roof tops. In olden days the miners were called to work by a wooden block being knocked in a tower above the town which also housed the treasury, now its a tea house with views from its terrace over the old town and the mines.
Town square and Holy Trinity Plague
We tore ourselves away from Stiavnica and took the main road East for our campsite which is just a few miles outside Brezno. More castles, villages and in Brezno town the biggest pile of scrap metal we have ever seen, it went on for about a mile and more was being delivered by the train load. We had emailed the campsite last week to check they were open and said we might visit this week – it was lovely to see the welcome chalked up to us as we arrived :). It might be another country but yet again the campsite is Dutch owned. There is a real lack of campsites in Slovakia, not just ones that are open – any at all.
Until last week the campsite was still snow covered so we are still running just about as close to avoiding the snow as we can. We will stay here until the end of the week as we plan to cross into Poland by the Tatras mountains so want to leave as long as possible to make sure we don’t get snowbound yet again.