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DAY HIKE CONNECTS BRATISLAVA TO THE WINE-MAKING TOWN OF PEZINOK

Malé Karpaty: Small mountain range big on natural beauty

Pining for a mountain getaway, yet shackled to Bratislava by the constraints of a light wallet, I trained my hiking sights on some tracks a bit closer to home, in the Malé Karpaty (Small Carpathians) mountain range. Often overlooked in favour of the country's more famous mountains, the relatively small range nevertheless provides beautiful (and convenient) hiking opportunities for capital city residents.
Beginning just north-east of Bratislava, the range peaks at over 750 metres above sea level and extends some 70 kilometres to the forests south of Čachtice. Ruins of castles and churches, mountain meadows and forests of beech, oak, ash and maple await visitors. At lower elevations, small towns dot the sloping hillsides, and vineyards produce white wines for which local regions have become famous.


Several areas designated for campfires and picnics line the trails of the Small Carpathian mountains.
photo: Chris Togneri

Pining for a mountain getaway, yet shackled to Bratislava by the constraints of a light wallet, I trained my hiking sights on some tracks a bit closer to home, in the Malé Karpaty (Small Carpathians) mountain range. Often overlooked in favour of the country's more famous mountains, the relatively small range nevertheless provides beautiful (and convenient) hiking opportunities for capital city residents.

Beginning just north-east of Bratislava, the range peaks at over 750 metres above sea level and extends some 70 kilometres to the forests south of Čachtice. Ruins of castles and churches, mountain meadows and forests of beech, oak, ash and maple await visitors. At lower elevations, small towns dot the sloping hillsides, and vineyards produce white wines for which local regions have become famous.

From the city centre, the Malé Karpaty can be reached by taking trolley-bus 203 from Hodžovo námestie (from in front of the Hotel Forum) to the end of the line near the top of Kamzík, the 439 metre hill above the city's Kramáre and Koliba districts. Hike up the road towards the television tower where a few outdoor pubs stand alongside a dry bob-sled course, which can be run in the warmer months for less than 50 crowns a ride.

For a lovely day-hike ending in the wine-making town of Pezinok, take the Štefánikova magistrála trail (marked by a red paint stripe sandwiched between two white stripes). The trail is named after Milan Rastislav Štefánik, who with Czech Tomáš Garyk Masaryk carved the first Czechoslovakia out of the old Austro-Hungarian Empire after World War I. The trail actually begins near the Austrian border at Devín, and continues across the entire length of the Small Carpathians.

For an hour, the trail winds through the forest, passing by a natural spring signified by a red painted square set against a white rectangle. Potable water sources are marked thus throughout the park, although hikers are well-advised to bring at least two litres of their own water as some stretches between water sources are quite long.

The trail cuts across Pekná cesta (Pretty Path), which to the right leads down to the Bratislava suburb of Rača and, to the left, meanders into the Železná studnička valley. In the wintertime, the valley's small lakes freeze, attracting pick-up hockey matches; in the spring they are overrun with so many frogs that walkers have to tread cautiously; in the summer, they are converged upon by hordes of local picnickers.


Hiking in the Malé Karpaty is preferred by many because of its gentler grades and less strenuous hikes than those found in the Tatras.
photo:Chris Togneri

Back up on (the now paved) Pekná cesta, follow the red path east into the forest for an hour and 15 minutes to the Biely križ (White Cross) recreational area. From here, hikers can follow the yellow path down two hours into the town of Svätý Jur.

For those sticking with the red trail, the way winds up and down the gentle Carpathian hills, peaking some two hours and twenty minutes later at the Somár (Donkey) summit (649.7 metres). Higher than most of the peaks to the south-west, the walk leading up to Somár offers hikers a view of the Kamzík tower far off in the distance, giving an idea of how much ground has been covered (about 18 kilometres so far).

The mountain resort of Pezinská baba sits less than two hours further along the Štefánikova magistrála. The resort town offers skiing in the winter months; camping, hiking and motocross events in the summer. The motocross is quite popular, evidenced by some of the locals who on this day were tearing up and down the hiking trails on their motorcycles.

After six plus hours of hiking, Pezinská baba is a good place to head down from the mountains. From Baba pass, the blue trail to the left descends 90 minutes into the small forest town of Pernek. To the right, the trail winds two and half hours down into Pezinok.

The descent slowly leads hikers into a different world. Starting in thick forests with sprawling mountain meadows, the trees begin to thin out and the soil takes on a dustier character. After an hour and a half or so, I stumbled upon the first Pezinok vineyard, the grapes roasting in the arid micro-climate of the range's south-eastern slopes. Walking by the manicured rows, I passed several bee hives, a couple on horseback, and nearly stepped on two black snakes.

Pezinok is well known for its Rizling vlašský (Weischriesling), Veltlínske zelené (Green Veltliner), Müller Thurgau, and Rulandské biele (Pinot Blanc) wines. Local wine-maker Ľudovít Tretina says wine-making conditions in this region are ideal: "Pezinok is in a unique, God-given setting for wine-making. The gentle slope of the Carpathian mountains means that the sun hits the vineyards as it rises in the east, peaks in the south and even as it sets the last rays of the day are laid on the hills."

Passing the vineyards, the blue trail flattens out, passes a reservoir on the town's outskirts, and leads into the heart of Pezinok, finishing at the train station. Trains back to Bratislava - a 20 minute journey - leave every hour or two, costing 19 crowns. If you have time, stop for dinner at a local restaurant and try a glass of the town's wine.

A final note: Before hitting the trails, be sure to pick up the Malé Karpaty-Bratislava hiking map (number 127). The map outlines hiking and biking trails throughout the region, including trips into Hungary and Austria, and trails in the Carpathians to castle ruins such as Pajštun and the Červený kameň castle north of Modra. The maps cost 89 Slovak crowns ($1.78) and can be purchased at most information centres and book stores; they can definitely be bought at Danubia Press on the corner of Jesenského and Štúrova streets.


A more complete version of this article will be published this summer in The Slovak Spectator's sixth annual travel guide Spectacular Slovakia 2001. Leading up to the magazine's publication, travel stories will be printed in this space over the following weeks.

To pre-order copies of this year's Spectacular Slovakia, contact Ján Svrček at 02 5923 3302, or e-mail him at jan.svrcek@spectator.gpp.sk.

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