The romance of Kremnica

Former mining towns do not rank high on most lists of romantic destinations, but central Slovakia's Kremnica is a beguiling exception.
A town of 7,000 snugged into the hills near Banská Bystrica, Kremnica combines those features which make Slovakia so memorable - unpolished natural beauty, a storied past and a timeless small-town feel.
Kremnica also fits the bill perfectly for a romantic weekend trip. There are plenty of monuments and museums one could visit if the need arose, but not so many that visitors feel guilty about sleeping in until 4 p.m.. The woods that stretch into the hills north of the town are ablaze with colour at this time of year, but no path leads one tediously far from downtown, and almost every trail seems to end at a pub.


Kreminca's castle tower rises from the surrounding hills.
Jan Sláma

Former mining towns do not rank high on most lists of romantic destinations, but central Slovakia's Kremnica is a beguiling exception.

A town of 7,000 snugged into the hills near Banská Bystrica, Kremnica combines those features which make Slovakia so memorable - unpolished natural beauty, a storied past and a timeless small-town feel.

Kremnica also fits the bill perfectly for a romantic weekend trip. There are plenty of monuments and museums one could visit if the need arose, but not so many that visitors feel guilty about sleeping in until 4 p.m.. The woods that stretch into the hills north of the town are ablaze with colour at this time of year, but no path leads one tediously far from downtown, and almost every trail seems to end at a pub.

Evenings, too, are memorable more for the autumn mists that drift down out of the forest than for raucous nightclubs and drunken fistfights. There is actually only one pub in town serving alcohol and food past midnight, the Gotická pivnica (Gothic Pub) on the old square. Even there, the management has matters well in hand - at the bottom of a long stone circular staircase, a locked gate greets visitors. Would-be Gothic Pubbers are scrutinized through the grille by a well-mannered thug, who has a fine ear for slurred speech and little patience with drunken pleas for admission.

As for accomodation, Hotel Central is as decent a place to put up for the night as one will find in Kremnica. Located in the old town around the corner from the bus station, Central charges 950 Sk ($25) a night for a double room, which is expensive by Slovak standards but well worth the money given the considerable luxury of the fittings. The two-storey hotel was recently renovated and is comfortable and well-run, with the exception of a ludicrous 10 a.m. check-out time.

Travellers in need of a dose of Culture can try the main town square (Štefánikovo námestie), which rises steeply from the Barbican gate at the south end. Around 50 Renaissance buildings line the square, the most impressive of which is the 15th century town hall on the north side. The square also hosts a gothic-era mint, as well as a Franciscan monastery and a museum of coins and medals. A baroque plague column sits in the middle of it all, but has unfortunately been shrouded by scaffolding for the past three years, presumably to conceal the lack of progress in renovations. Towering over everything is the town castle.

Still, it isn't Culture that impresses travellers about Kremnica: it is the tangible sense of harmony that the town generates with its natural surroundings. Kremnické vrchy, as the hills that dominate the skyline are known, used to contain rich seams of gold, and were the wellspring of Kremnica's prosperity from the 14th to the 19th centuries. Now that the gold is exhausted and the mines abandoned, Kremnica has fallen somewhat out of the limelight. But gold of a different nature remains - in the turned leaves that carpet the forest floor, in the floodlit castle walls at nightfall, and in the rainwear of old men asleep in a pub on a Sunday afternoon.

If you love someone, don't set them free - take them to Kremnica instead.

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