Orava Castle soars over its namesake river.
For centuries the castle protected the fabled Amber Route, the most important trade connection between Baltic and Balkan countries. With its three parts - lower, middle and upper castle - each representing a different era, the castle was long owned by wealthy Hungarian proprietors including František Thurzo, his son Juraj, and František Tököly.
A museum today, the castle is home to a host of treasures, among the most valuable of which are original Thurzo family clothes. With striking colors and decorative jewellery, their style is distinctly adult, but their size is more fitting of a 14-year-old. Another indicator of how short Thurzo family members were are the doorways, which give even visitors of average height reason to bend over.
Other exhibits include furniture, paintings, and hand-made folk costumes. These green, red and yellow cotton outfits tend to be thick as Orava is one of Slovakia's coldest and wettest regions. Regional fauna is represented by wolves, foxes, deer and even bears, but most interesting is the white vulture, which the castle proudly claims was the last of its kind, towards the end of the exhibit.
Castle tours, which take almost two hours, are enlivened by the guides' intriguing stories. One claims that a daughter of the castle owner fell in love with a laborer and, because their love couldn't be fulfilled, she jumped out the window into the well.
Another story says that girls were laid across the maid's bed to determine if they were ready for marriage. If they were shorter than the width, then they could not marry.
An even more amazing one tells of how the lady of the castle requested that an extra large wardrobe separated into two halves be brought in to the master bedroom. This was done so that she could have three lovers with her at the same time without them knowing about each other.
But the funniest story is told in the kitchen. There are two types of chairs: tiny, uncomfortable ones for women, so that they leave the room shortly after supper, and specially designed ones for men, so that they don't fall over when they get drunk and so that they can be carried straight to bed in them when they fell asleep.
Open Air Museum
The people of Orava developed their own specific culture and efforts to preserve this heritage resulted in the establishment of the open air Museum of Orava Village in Zuberec.
The museum contains more than 60 wooden buildings framed by a mountain setting and a rapid stream flowing through the village center. The houses here, taken apart at their original location and reassembled in the museum, were collected from all over Orava.
In spite of - or perhaps due to - tough climatic and economic conditions, Orava significantly contributed to Slovakia's cultural development. It was home to such personalities as P.O.Hviezdoslav, the great poet, and Janko Matuška, lyricist of the Slovak national anthem.
Hviezdoslav, a lover of people and nature, was the frequent guest of a forest ranger in Babia Hora, where he drew inspiration for his epic, "The Gamekeeper's Wife." Restored to its original condition, today the house is a literary museum, displaying Hviezdoslav's hat, scarf and walking stick.
Early each October, the final round of a poetry recital competition takes place in Dolný Kubín in his memory. But in the end, Orava's greatest attraction rests in its beauty, unspoiled by industrialisation, commercialisation or crowds of loud tourists. It's one of those rare spots where the power of nature is still dominant.
S&S Travel tips
Oravská informačná kancelária. Oravský Podzámok 027 41, tel: 0845/893-302.
Take the train to Kra_ovany (on the main Bratislava-Žilina-Košice line). Then take a commuter train to Dolný Kubín, a good starting point for anywhere in the area. Trains leave every two hours from Bratislava and take about 31/2 hours to Kra_ovany. Trains from Košice take about 21/2 hours. IC (inter-city) trains do not stop here.
P.O. Hviezdoslav and L.N. Jégé Memorial Houses- Hviezdoslavovo nám., Dolný Kubín. Orava gallery.
Hviezdoslav's forest ranger's house- in Slaná voda, 0845/2056. Book a visit in advance.
The Museum of Orava village- Zuberec, Brestová. Wooden artefacts from the region.
Island of Arts- Slanicky ostrov. 18th century church houses an exposition of traditional Slovak folk paintings.
Hotel Park***- Námestie M. Kukučína, Dolný Kubín center, tel: 0845/864-110 and 864-118. Luxurious, with all facilities. Double room with breakfast 650 Sk for Slovaks, 1,300 Sk for foreigners. TVs 30 Sk/day.
Hotel Severan*- Ul. Radlinského, Dolny Kubín, tel: 0845/864-666 and 864-903. Very cheap, only showers included. Slovaks 300 Sk for double room and 400 Sk for foreigners.
Oravan Hotel**- Historical building in Oravsky Podzámok, tel: 0845/893-115 and 893-202. Double room: 350 Sk for Slovaks, 600 Sk for foreigners. Apartment for two: Slovaks 400 Sk, foreigners 800 Sk per person. Apartment for four: Slovaks 600 Sk, 1,000 Sk for foreigners.
Reštaurácia Marína- Hviezdoslavovo nám., Dolny Kubín, tel: 0845/864-351 Mon-Sun 11:00-24:00, live music, grill.
Reštaurácia Lucia- Hviezdoslavovo nám., Dolny Kubín, tel: 0845/3263. Mon-Sun 11:00-24:00.
Pizzeria Mamma- Obch. dom Belvončík, Dolný Kubín, opened Mon-Sun.
Reštaurácia Burg- Oravský Podzámok's best restaurant, tel: 0845/893-234. Mon-Sun 10:00-24:00, 250m walk from castle.
23. Oct 1996 at 0:00 | Zuzana Jalčová