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Small Carpathians are a wonderful escape into nature

Stretching from Bratislava's Vinohrady district to Smolenice, 50 km away, the slender belt of vineyards lacing the eastern slopes of the Small Carpathians constitutes Slovakia's premier wine-producing region. All along the "wine trail," the main road which skirts along the foot of the hills, lay a collection of beautiful villages highlighted by Modra, the "Pearl of the Carpathians" and the center of Slovak viticulture.
The vines were brought here in Roman times, and their produce has long been exported. In 982 King Svätopluk, ruler of the Greater Moravian empire, sent a cask of Carpathian wine to the Czech prince Bořivoj, whose chroniclers wrote that it was "a gift unheard of and unseen in this land. When the princess, prince and their guests sampled it, they all marvelled at its taste."


The proud fortress Červeny Kamen guards the folding tree-lined Little Carpathian mountains.
Rick Zedník

Stretching from Bratislava's Vinohrady district to Smolenice, 50 km away, the slender belt of vineyards lacing the eastern slopes of the Small Carpathians constitutes Slovakia's premier wine-producing region. All along the "wine trail," the main road which skirts along the foot of the hills, lay a collection of beautiful villages highlighted by Modra, the "Pearl of the Carpathians" and the center of Slovak viticulture.

The vines were brought here in Roman times, and their produce has long been exported. In 982 King Svätopluk, ruler of the Greater Moravian empire, sent a cask of Carpathian wine to the Czech prince Bořivoj, whose chroniclers wrote that it was "a gift unheard of and unseen in this land. When the princess, prince and their guests sampled it, they all marvelled at its taste."

The gently rolling hills of the Small Carpathians also provide a wonderful escape to the woods from Bratislava's drabness. Day trips are easy, either by car, train, bus, mountain bike or simply by walking from Koliba, the peaking hill with the rocket-like Kamzík TV tower on it. Villages tucked right next to the carpet-like forest give easy access to delightful trails leading to impressive views, crumbling castle ruins, and even to watering holes. Plus the villages have great food with many restaurants providing game, Gypsy music, and of course, local wine.

Sväty Jur

The first town on the route is Svätý Jur, just 14 km west of the capital. Seven hundred years ago, the town was the military hub of a dynasty of counts who ruled the region from the castle, Bielý Kameň. Over the next three centuries, Svätý Jur grew as an economic power as well, taking in money from wine and crafts until 1663, when the town was burned down by the invading Turks.

Bielý Kameň now stands in ruins, hidden deep in the forest above Svätý Jur. An old ski jump at the end of the road leading up and out of the town gives a clue to hikers of the ruin's whereabouts. Go up to the launching arc and pick up the path to the castle. There is a bar at the foot of the jump.

The town center is picturesque and pure. Look for the vintners' houses with their high arched passageways designed to let loaded carts pull right up to backyard wine presses. Most houses still have wine cellars in their basements, and many local residents still produce their own wine (vino), even if they buy the grapes from local farmers.

Pezinok

The Small Carpathians Museum in Pezinok, a few kilometers up the road, explains more about the history and process of wine-making. Housed in an old wine-maker's house, the museum even has a reconstruction of a vintner's kitchen, along with all the necessary presses and casks. At the end of the tour comes a chance to sample the local product: an "ochutnávka" of the local vintage, one red and two whites, is available for 80 Sk per person. After the museum, walk to the end of M.R. Štefánika ulica and find the kaštieľ, a manor house built in 1609 on the foundations of a medieval castle. In the 1930s the mansion was made into a wine store. The Pezinok wine company still has its headquarters there, and offers wine tastings in the manor's cellar. Pezinok is so wine-focused that its central square even bears a statue of two vintners at the press.

Modra


Wine cellars under villages store the precious vintage.
Hannah Wolfson

The ancient tipple has been the main reason for Modra's existence for centuries. The first known town seal incorporates a vine, and after an expansion in wine production in the 16th and 17th centuries, a college of fruit and vine was founded in the late 19th century to train vine-growers, dressers and pressers in the art of good wine-making.

In Modra, however, the next stop on the wine trail, a stone-white statue of Ľudovít Štúr, the codifier of the Slovak language, stands over the main street. The national hero wasn't born in Modra, but died there in 1855, the victim of a self-inflicted gunshot wound; the Ľudovít Štúr Museum on the main street (Štúrova ulica, of course) tells the whole story of his life.

But Štúr isn't Modra's only claim to fame: Modra pottery is the favorite in Slovakia of all the traditional ceramics. The brightly-painted bowls, pitchers, and jugs that can be seen in so many Slovak kitchens are made in Modra, at the Slovak Folk Majolika Cooperative. Tours of the factory are available, in English, with a stop afterward at the factory's shop, where you can buy items such as wine pitchers decorated with the local grape right from the source.

Červený Kameň

From Modra, continue up the road past Harmonia, where a cluster of Slovak summer cabins, or chaty, dominated by the mountain hotel Zochova Chata, is the hub for several hiking trails across the hills. The yellow trail weaves through the woods to Červený Kameň, a massive fortress said to be based on designs of Albrecht Dúrer.

Excellently preserved, the castle, which offers a great view of West Slovakia (you can't miss the nuclear cooling towers in the distance), now houses a museum of historical furniture and a grisly collection of arms. Local buses also run between Harmónia and Červený Kameň.

Another option is to let a horse do the walking for you; trail rides start from the stables behind Zochova chata. Trail rides cost 500 Sk an hour per person; if possible, call Zochova Chata to reserve in advance.

However you travel, plan to end up in the one-room koliba, or "sheperd's hut," a few yards from the chata for a real Slovak meal. Choose between chicken or fish cooked on a spit over the massive fireplace and roasted oh-so-slow; the folk band and the local wine will keep you occupied for as long as it takes dinner to be ready.


S&S Travel Tips

MODRA
Turistická informačná kancelária - Štúrova 84, Modra, tel: 070492/4295.

Getting There

By car- From Bratislava, leave the city via Rača and in ten minutes you will be in Pezinok, another five to Modra.
By train- There are at least 10 trains daily that stop in Sväty Jur or Pezinok leaving at least once every hour from the main train station. However only buses link to Modra, which also run every hour.

LODGING

Hotel vrchu BABA- Pezinok 902 01, tel. 0704/403-636. Prices double room: 600 Sk. Bring your towel for the sauna.
Hotel Modra- Šturova 111, 900 01 Modra, tel: 0704/472-265. Prices double room: 640 Sk. Located right in the center.
Penzion Palmarín- Modra Harmónia 3061, 900 01 Modra, tel.: 0704/473-457. Prices double room: 200 Sk. Overlooks the vineyards outside of town.
Mountain Hotel Zochová Chata- Modra-Piesok, tel.: 0704/475-292. Prices double room with bath: 650 Sk, 350 Sk without bath. Great atmosphere, good breakfast, friendly service.

RESTAURANTS

Café-Restaurant Slimáčka- Pezinok Holubyho 12, tel. 0704/412-452. Choose between the wine cellar, garden or restaurant cafeteria.
Koliba Zochová Chata- Modra-Piesok, tel.: 0704/475-292. Traditional shepherd's hut with roasted chicken or fish over a fire pit. Gypsy folk music and the area's best wine make for a memorable evening.

Topic: Tourism and travel in Slovakia


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