Bratislava is far and away the most dynamic of Slovakia's real estate markets, but with its 17 districts, the city can be confusing for newcomers looking for a place to live. The Slovak Spectator asked the directors of two prominent real estate firms in the capital - Martin Holec of Bratislavská Realitná Kancelária and Adriana Litomerická of 1. Národná Aukčná Spoločnosť - to evaluate each of Bratislava's neighbourhoods from a homebuyer's point of view.
In general, few places remain to be developed near the downtown core. Holec named an area above the main railway in the Nové Mesto district, "on the sunny slopes of the Small Carpathian mountains," as one of the most attractive spots for new development, but added that here as in the atttractive parklands of Karlova Ves, pressure from environmental groups had so far kept the backhoes at bay.
Litomerická, on the other hand, pointed to the less-frequented environs of Jarovce, Rusovce and Čunovo in the southeast as the most likely candidates for any future development boom. A recent wave of interest in the hilly western reaches of the city, she said, had inflated prices and gobbled up available groundlots, but the quieter districts beyond Petržalka offered low prices, land for the asking and good access to the main city.
But Holec and Litomerická agreed that for those with cash to spare, flats in Bratislava's Old Town or houses on Castle Hill are still the most desirable residential real estate possessions in the city.
1. Čunovo: Lying on the bank of the Danube River at Slovakia's triangle border with Hungary and Austria, Čunovo (pop. 816) is over 750 years old and began as a village with Hungarian and Croatian inhabitants: until 1910, local schools taught all subjects in Croatian. In 1947, the district was appended to Czechoslovakia, and in 1972 to the city of Bratislava.
Still largely ignored by Bratislava residents, Čunovo has managed to preserve its village character almost intact, and sports a castle and the aging Church of St. Nicolas. As Litomerická said, "I have always lived in Bratislava, but I never visited Čunovo until two years ago. It is quiet, comfortable, and has excellent access to the Danube."
2. Devín: This ancient site lies at the conjunction of the Danube and Morava Rivers, and has been inhabited at least since 864 A.D. The town (pop. 769) is dominated by Devín Castle, which was reduced to rubble after being blown up by Napoleon's soldiers in 1809.
Says Litomerická, "there are many, many advantages to living in Devín: the hills, the water, the feeling of being in a real village, the sense of history and the absence of housing estates." Devín lies approximately eight kilometers from the city centre and has excellent road connections.
3. Devínska Nová Ves: Although an ancient settlement, Devínska Nová Ves has more recently become known as a bedroom community for employees of the local Volkswagen plant, and was swallowed up by the town of Bratislava in 1973.
"For every advantage that Devín has, Devínska Nová Ves has a disadvantage," said Litomerická. "It has too many large housing estates, no atmosphere and is very far from anything. It is one of the most uncomfortable places to live in Bratislava."
4. Dúbravka:In the thirteenth century, Dúbravka was the property of Jacob, the mayor of Bratislava, but was colonised in the 16th century by Croatians fleeing the Turks and attached to the Devín district.. The grapes, cherries and peaches grown by the Croats have long since vanished, and in their stead, housing estates constructed by the communist government in the 1970's crowd the hills. "You can feel that you are somehow far out in Dúbravka," said Litomerická. "It's one of those places that lack atmosphere because it was built for no other reason than giving people a place to sleep."
The nearby Devínska Kobyla nature reserve gives some relief, with its pretty trails and spectacular walk to Devín castle, but the district's distance from the city centre is a serious handicap.
5. Jarovce: Like the neighbouring districts of Rusovce and Čunovo, Jarovce is a quiet spot that retains its village atmosphere. Lying on the border of Petržalka, the village has Hungarian, German, Croatian and Slovak roots, a multicultural history that is preserved in local architecture. Today, only one in ten Jarovce inhabitants work in the village.
"People discovered this neighbourhood about one and a half years ago," said Litomerická. "It's rather flat, in contrast to the hilly western areas of the city, but it's great for swinning and biking, and there are no housing estates."
6. Karlova Ves: A hilly region directly to the west of downtown Bratislava, Karlova Ves offers the advantages of proximity to the city centre as well as a large area of park land and forest. Considered the healthiest area to live in from the bioclimatic aspect, Karlova Ves is one of Litomerická's three top places to own a flat. "Near the park, people have a wonderful view of the woods," she said, "while the excellent transport infrastructure brings the city very close."
Inhabited since prehistoric times, Karlova Ves was a part of Devín district until 1939, and was attached to Bratislava in 1945. Today, the neighbourhood contains the dormitories of university students attending Bratislava's Comenius University, as well as the recently-built Dlhé Diely housing estate.
7. Lamač: The smallest district of Bratislava, at 6.5 square kilometres, Lamač lies on the main highway to Brno and Prague in the Czech Republic. Bordering on the city's massive Forest Park, however, Lamač has largely managed to avoid the pestilence of housing estates, and has retained some of its original village character. It was the site of the last battle in the Austro-Prussian war in 1866, and was occupied by German troops during World War II.
Although no closer to the city centre than Dúbravka, Lamač "is nice, because it still has a core of family houses and relatively few blocks of flats," said Litomerická.
8. Nové Mesto: The third largest Bratislava neighbourhood in terms of area, Nové Mesto is also the city's most diverse district and one of its brightest development prospects. Originally a wine-growing region, Nové Mesto was the site of the Bratislava area's first large firm, Dynamit Nobel, which began producing dynamite in 1873. Chocolate producer Stollwerck came next in 1896, beginning an industrial heritage that survives today in Slovakia's beleaguered chemical giant Istrochem.
Home also to most of Bratislava's sports stadia, Nové mesto is interesting to real estate developers primarily for two reasons - the expensive Kramáre and Koliba neighbourhoods. Both border on the town's rugged Forest Park and offer breathtaking views over the city. They also have a certain rustic charm, said Holec, "because the infrastructure is not very well developed, especially in Koliba."
For home buyers, however, Nové Mesto has lots to offer besides exclusive locations. "It combines living and industrial opportunities," said Litomerická, "and with the mountains and Kuchajda Lake, the mixture of older flats and family houses, Nové Mesto has a comfortable atmosphere at medium prices."
9. Petržalka: Were Petržalka a city in its own right, it would be the third largest in Slovakia with 130,000 inhabitants. But since the first massive housing blocks went up in the 1970's, however, Petržalka has been treated as a bedroom community of Bratislava, and still has neither an identifiable centre nor an appropriate range of services to offer its residents.
"Housing estates are the enemy in Petržalka," said Litomerická. "The old village has been completely overwhelmed, and there is no centre, no atmosphere, no attractions. The worst thing is the size of the buildings, which all look similar." Home to the cheapest real estate in Bratislava, Petržalka "is mostly a place where people move from the east of the country who are trying to start a new life in Bratislava," said Litomerická.
The hopes of residents for more shopping and entertainment facilities have been so frequently raised and then dashed by timid developers that Litomerická is reluctant to speak of Petržalka's future. "But if there is a part that can be developed and changed, it is the neighbourhood around the Incheba building [on the banks of the Danube]," she said. "As a congress and exhibition centre, it is becoming a more and more important part of our town."
10. Podunajské Biskupice: Originally the possession of the Esztergom Archbishop, Podunajské Biskupice began to evolve from a small village after World War I, and was attached to Bratislava in 1972.
Biskupice is now mainly an industrial district that borders on the massive Slovnaft oil refinery, but it is home to Holec, who says that it is a "special" part of the city. "It is not very valuable as real estate," he said, "and you have to travel past Slovnaft to get there, but it is not affected by the air pollution [from the refinery], and travel to the city centre is much easier than if you approached from the west."
11. Rača: Rača is perhaps best known for its vineyards. First settled in the 8th century by the Slavs, it was overrun by Croats and then Germans before finally passing into the hands of the Bratislava municipal government in 1946. Since 1767, the region has held the right to produce Frankovka wine, which supplied the King's court in Vienna during the Austro-Hungarian empire.
Today, real estate developers are less interested in the wine producing potential of Rača's slopes than in their recreation potential for new inhabitants. "The surroundings are ideal," enthused Litomerická, who said Rača was one of the top two places to own a house in Bratislava. "The land is hilly, with excellent skiing and biking facilities, and is still not far out of the centre. The only disadvantage is that transport facilities are less than ideal."
12. Rusovce: One of the most attractive Bratislava neighbourhoods south of the Danube, Rusovce has retained a Windsor-style castle, the third century Gerulata watchtower, a baroque church and a museum of Roman-era archaeological finds.
"It's like a village, with no blocks of flats or housing estates," said Litomerická. "And to get to town, you only have to cross one intersection."
13. Ružinov: In terms of area and size, Ružinov is the second largest district in Bratislava. It is home to industrial giants like the Slovnaft refinery and the Kerametal factory, as well as to shipping and port facilties.
Holec, who was born in Ružinov, extols the districts residential attributes. "It was one of the first parts of Bratislava built up by the communists in the 1950's," he said, "so now it forms one of the older parts of the city with an excellent location and infrastructure. It is one of the best real estate values compared to other recently built locations."
14. Staré Mesto: The cultural and social heart of Bratislava, the Old Town is also home to the most expensive real estate properties on offer. "If I could choose a place to own a flat, it would be a renovated Staré Mesto attic with a view of the surrounding rooftops," said Litomerická.
However, with the recent decision of the Finance Ministry to deregulate rents as part of its economic package, the demographic make-up of Staré Mesto is set to change. Older residents clinging to large, unrenovated flats will be forced out by rental increases, giving way "as in other cities to people who have the money to live there," said Litomerická.
15. Vajnory: Settled by the Celts in the third and fourth centuries B.C., Vajnory has a storied history that includes a tribe of slingshotters who lived in the area in the 13th century and were engaged for protection by the town of Bratislava.
Vajnory is a former Bratislava satellite that has a life of its own," said Litomerická. "It is very similar to Rusovce, but without the transport advantages."
16. Vrakuňa: Another former village with a thousand year history, the Vrakuňa neighbourhood is now overshadowed by the presence of M.R.Štefánik International Airport and two massive housing estates - Dolné Hony and Medziarky.
"Not many people want to live [in Vrakuňa]," said Litomerická. "It's very far from downtown and there are not many interesting things to do or see. Many people [looking for accommodation] who come in to the office say, 'not Petržalka or Dolné Hony'."
17. Záhorská Bystrica: This area, to the west of Bratislava town, has been continuously inhabited since the 7th century A.D., and according to Holec, is currently undergoing something of an invasion from Bratislava residents fleeing the congested city centre. "It's quite far removed from downtown," he said, "but the suburban development in family houses is quite interesting and is becoming something of a boom."
11. Jan 1999 at 0:00 | Tom Nicholson