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Vlkolínec - rustic life in an open-air museum

That people still live in Vlkolínec may come as a suprise - one of Slovakia's best-preserved historical sites, the tiny village has few of the conveniences that modern city-dwellers take for granted. But amidst its stunning natural surroundings, and as a UNESCO World Heritage Sight, Vlkolínec offers a picturesque glimpse into a uniquely Slovak past.
Accessible by car, via the E77 main road, or on foot via 20-minute hike on the yellow trail from the Malino Brdo ski area, Vlkolínec sits at 718 meters above sea level. The village's name derives from the Slovak word for wolf (vlk), a reminder of the wolves which once howled in the nearby mountains.
The trail from Malino Brodo crosses between two peaks and then plunges down a forested hillside. The first glimpse hikers get of the village is a fairytale log cabin perched on an embankment to the right. This Hansel and Gretel set-piece is served for water by a piece of garden hose propped on a forked stick.


Spartan living. Vlkolínec's wooden houses have few amenities and villagers must take their water from an ancient well.
Matthew Evans

That people still live in Vlkolínec may come as a suprise - one of Slovakia's best-preserved historical sites, the tiny village has few of the conveniences that modern city-dwellers take for granted. But amidst its stunning natural surroundings, and as a UNESCO World Heritage Sight, Vlkolínec offers a picturesque glimpse into a uniquely Slovak past.

Accessible by car, via the E77 main road, or on foot via 20-minute hike on the yellow trail from the Malino Brdo ski area, Vlkolínec sits at 718 meters above sea level. The village's name derives from the Slovak word for wolf (vlk), a reminder of the wolves which once howled in the nearby mountains.

The trail from Malino Brodo crosses between two peaks and then plunges down a forested hillside. The first glimpse hikers get of the village is a fairytale log cabin perched on an embankment to the right. This Hansel and Gretel set-piece is served for water by a piece of garden hose propped on a forked stick. A small stream trickles continuously across the trail here, and is the drinking water source for most Vlkolínec dwellers.

100 meters further along, the trail spills out into the village's main street and continues down the hill, flanked by uniformly beautiful traditional wooden houses. Although little more than rudimentary log cabins in structure, the exterior finish is entirelyof a higher order.

At their first glance down main street, tourists may feel they've stepped into a time warp. But Vlkolínec is not merely a museum. People still live here, enjoying some modern conveniences and getting by without others. One house contains a small grocery store, while cars are not an uncommon sight.

Running water is another thing, though. A stream, still used for washing clothes, cascades off the hill down the center of main street . Women still draw water for their households by bucket from early 20th century pump wells, or from an even more ancient well on lower main street.

House number 17 shelters the local museum. For five Slovak crowns (15 cents US) you get a tour of the house, fully furnished as it was in 1910. A recording explains the furnishings and tools on display, and fills you in on typical family life and Vlkolínec town history in English, German, Hungarian or Slovak.

The history section of the tour is worth listening to. The first written reference to the village was recorded in 1376, but life was apparently pretty rustic and quiet until the late 16th century under the Lakalva monarchy. The four homesteads which made up the village at the time each paid a bewildering array of taxes, including 90 Hungarian Florints, one calf, two pieces of cake and 100 eggs at Easter. The town also tended the royal cabbage garden.

Under the supervision of the Urbar, the town development manager appointed by the monarch, the town grew peacefully. By 1685, the four homesteads also included 5 dwellings of poorer peasants. Trouble came in 1770, however, when taxes were raised so high that the town's resources were exhausted. The townsfolk revolted the next year, touching off 60 years of conflict that ended in 1832 when the town was given autonomy. Greater freedom caused a population explosion: By the end of the 18th century there were 41 houses and a population of 280.

Tragedy struck the town during WWII. 20 houses were burnt down by the Nazis during the Slovak National Uprising. People from Vlkolínec were forced to move to Ružomberok until after the war.

What remains today are 45 structures, including two and three-room houses, outbuildings, a well, a brick church with a bell tower, and another free-standing bell tower on main street. This wooden bell-tower, reminiscient of the wooden churches in Eastern Slovakia, is the highlight of a trip to Vlkolínec. Built in 1770, it looks like the guard tower of an old western fort, capped by a pointed thatched hat and a matching flared skirt.

The entire village was declared a National Open-air Museum of Folk Architecture in 1977. It was then added to the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1993, and according to the plaque on the building housing the Information Center, is open until 17.00, Monday through Saturday.

Topic: Tourism and travel in Slovakia


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