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Bojnice: A fairy-tale castle from deep Old Europe

The floor was so smooth in the courtyard of Bojnice castle in the hills surrounding the beginning of the Nitra River. It was if Cinderella would glide gracefully out at any moment. Crystal tears of light rain fell slowly from the sky. Up the steps under an arch, a wooden door swung quickly, closing the entrance. The echos of a guide explaining the history of the castle could be heard off the walls. We moved swiftly toward the group's patter of steps, our destination being to intercept their path. Somehow the group disappeared into the castle without a trace and a confusing sense of direction set in. A medieval tapestry of maidens by a river combing their hair had jagged edges and worn corners. The tapestry hung on a wall where the last sounds of the others were heard.

The floor was so smooth in the courtyard of Bojnice castle in the hills surrounding the beginning of the Nitra River. It was if Cinderella would glide gracefully out at any moment. Crystal tears of light rain fell slowly from the sky. Up the steps under an arch, a wooden door swung quickly, closing the entrance.

The echos of a guide explaining the history of the castle could be heard off the walls. We moved swiftly toward the group's patter of steps, our destination being to intercept their path. Somehow the group disappeared into the castle without a trace and a confusing sense of direction set in. A medieval tapestry of maidens by a river combing their hair had jagged edges and worn corners. The tapestry hung on a wall where the last sounds of the others were heard.

There were no doors, only the hall way and stairs leading up. At the end of the steps a narrow walkway presented itself full of radiant light. Further investigation showed that the corridor had two meter high windows on one side overlooking the fairy tale courtyard letting light from the outside in.

A door stood at the end of the walkway, dusty and rough. Unlocked, old statues and paintings filled an artisan's room. Religous statues, Mary holding baby Jesus, a priest with a high staff, sat all around the room, at least 30 or 40 of them.

All of the statues or paintings showed their age, as the centuries have counted away from their time. Chisels and paint brushes spread across the floor. It was clear that some artist of care was slowly piecing the history of Bojnice back together.

It is recomended to take the guided tour, but sometimes a castle presents itself in a unique way. A step back in time to childhood is what it is like at Bojnice. The castle is what everyone who has never seen a castle pictures one to be. There is a moat with water around the outside. There are tall towers and high walls. There is a gate with pointed jaws of steel above the main entrance. Dense forest surrounds the town as the castle sits perched on a high hill.

Someone had called this castle home. It is a real place with real names and a real history. The year was 1852 when Ján F. Pálffy inherited the fairy-tale palace. The green terrain and the small city of Prievidza, just two kilometers to the east, rise as a backdrop behind the soaring turrets and toothed walls. The castle has been the star of Bojnice since the 11th century, when a wooden building stood in its place. It was converted to stone in the 13th century and underwent numerous facelifts until 1888, when Pálffy began major reconstruction.

A great admirer of the chateaux along France's Loire valley, Pálffy wanted to create an enormous yet charming home for himself and his collection of fine arts. He renovated one of the round towers and erected another. He refurbished the interior with his own decorative details on doors, windows, and wall paintings. And Pálffy furnished the castle with antiques he bought across Europe.

Pálffy died in Vienna in 1908 and many of his plans for the castle were never realized, but his treasure endures. Guides in period-piece costume lead tours through the castle's labyrinth, including the chapel, where Count Pálffy lies in his closed sarcophagus. Perhaps the most impressive room in the castle is the Golden Hall, which has a carved and plated ceiling and has long been the setting for wedding ceremonies.

The castle sits atop a rocky mound that contains a deep cavern with a mineral spring in its center. The spring was converted into a 27-meter-deep well, which visitors can see at close hand by descending into the cave, which is 20 meters wide and six meters high. Back outside, Bojnice also boasts a spa and Slovakia's oldest and largest zoo. Among the 2,250 creatures housed on more than 100 acres are 260 species, including African elephants, pumas, lions, and apes.

How to get there:

Bojnice is tucked behind the city of Prievidza, just off the main motorway between Trenčín and Banská Bystrica. The best bet for hotels is in Prievidza.

Important place

The Castle- Chateau and Environs No. 1, 0862/326-24, 316-34, or 215-35. Open May-September Tue-Sun 8-17; October-April, Tue-Sun 9-15.

Hotels

Hotel Hviezda- Nám. Slobody 32, Prievidza, 0862/225-65, 225-66. Double room, 200 Sk for Slovaks, 400 Sk for foreigners.

Topic: Tourism


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