With summer over and fall passing, time is running out to enjoy Slovakia's spectacular outdoors before the first snow falls.
For most of those living in the capital, this means heading east into the mountains. If you're a member of this group, you may be surprised to learn of the abundance of green areas in and around Bratislava.
The city has 809 hectares (2,020 acres) of parks and forests, 34 protected reservations. Most of this is formed by the Bratislavský lesov park (Bratislava Forest Park), to the north of the city. Roads and tram lines spread from the Old Town northwest to the Dúbravka district and northeast to the Rača district, forming a giant V enclosing the park.
One of the most accessible and congenial areas in the Bratislava Forest Park is Železná studienka, to the north of the Kramáre district. A wide paved pathway snakes through its flat centre surrounded by forested hills. It is a capital park for both picnics and hikes.
In the winter, visitors skate and play hockey on the park's two frozen-over ponds; in the spring, fall and summer, they play football and volleyball on the grass nearby. Year round they fill bottles from a natural spring at the park's southern tip.
Bus 43, which leaves from the Patrónka stop in Karlova ves, goes through Železná studienka, before continuing into the centre of the city forests. Trolley-bus 212, which leaves from Zimný Štadión and stops in front of the Presidential Palace (on Hodžovo námestie), terminates near the park. Get off at the second to last stop, Záhorácka, walk a half kilometre in the same direction and follow the signs.
Most Bratislava bookstores sell maps of the Small Carpathian mountains (Malé Karpaty) which include the Bratislava City Forests. With or without a map, the hike from Železná studienka to the television tower Kamzík is easy to negotiate, using the tower itself as your guide. It lasts just over an hour.
At the top you will find restaurants and a lovely view of the city. Trolley-bus 203 heads back to the centre, stopping in front of the Presidential Palace. For a day-long hike, start from Kamzík and take the Štefánikova magistrála mountain trail (marked by a red stripe sandwiched between two white stripes) to the nearby town Pezinok, or switch to the Pekná cesta an hour into your journey and back down to Bratislava. You will emerge in the Rača district
Bratislava Forest Park is never closed. Camping is prohibited.
The largest park near the city centre is the 50-hectare (125-acre) Horský Park. It is thickly forested, with 150 types of trees, and marked by a labyrinth of dirt trails. Hiking and picnicking are popular here too. A multitude of restaurants are nearby.
Horský Park is a 10 minute ride on trolley-bus 203 or 207 from the Presidential Palace. Get off at stop Budková and take a right onto Majakovského Street. The park is 10 minutes away.
A favourite Slovak fall activity is barbecuing (a word that now passes in the Slovak language). For the real native experience, buy sausages (špekačky), bacon (slanina), fresh tomatoes (paradajky) and peppers (papriky), bread (chlieb), mustard (horčica) and beer (pivo) or wine (víno). Build a fire, find a good, long stick (palica), roast (opekať) the meat over the fire, toast the bread, open your beverages, throw the meat on to the bread, add a dollop of mustard and alternately bite into your snadwich and fresh vegetables.
Fires may be built in Bratislava Forest Park in designated areas only. These are recognisable by circles of stones and charred ground (if you visit the Železná studienka you will find that many people build fires wherever they want). Building fires is allowed in Horský park only next to the park's horáreň (lit. gamekeeper's cottage). It's open every day 9:00-20:00, except Monday and Tuesday, when it is closed all day.
Bratislava's best parks for sitting on a bench and feeding pigeons or reading a book in the grass are the manicured Medická Záhrada (Medical Gardens) off Americké námestie (American Square) and Grassalkovichova záhrada (Grassalkovich Gardens) behind the Presidential palace. American Square is two tram stops from Tesco supermarket.
Both parks have well-kept flower beds and regularly mowed lawns, and both are open daily 9:00-19:00, except for the winter months, when they close at 17:00. You may be frisked when you enter Grassalkovich Gardens, because of its proximity to the presidential palace. Treading on the grass is forbidden there, as is playing frisbee and walking a dog. All of those activities are permitted in the Medical Gardens, which also has a children's playground.
Foreign Affairs is a bi-weekly column devoted to helping expats and foreigners navigate the spills and thrills of life in Slovakia.
The next Foreign Affairs column will appear on stands October 22, Vol. 7, No. 40.