TOPOĽČIANKY manor house and Presidential apartment (inset).
photo: Ján Svrček
But in Slovakia it's different. Since President Schuster spends his summers stalking panthers and getting kidnapped by natives in the Brazilian Amazon, the former Czechoslovak presidential summer retreat is available for other guests. Consequently, anyone with Sk2,000 ($40) to spare can sleep in the very bed that presidents of the first Czechoslovak state slept in, at the Topoľčianky manor house.
"You are breathing history right now!" exclaimed the vociferous chateau manager, Milan Klecka, when I stayed in the Presidential Apartment in May. "You are breathing in a very important, representative part of our culture! This is the very room the presidents stayed in! That is the exact bed they slept in! Everything has been left as it was!"
The last part of that statement can be translated as 'everything is still fancy and real big'. The living room of the Presidential Apartment, the bedroom, the bathroom - everything is huge and elegant, befitting a president. The night I stayed there, a raging thunderstorm knocked out power to the town of 3,000 three times. The first time, it took me a full 10 minutes to stumble through the pitch-black from the bathroom sink to outside. The bathroom is also massive, bigger than the first flat I rented in Bratislava. Even the walls are tremendous: "You won't get a signal here!" Klecka told me when he saw my mobile. "The walls are 150 centimetres thick! No signal can get through!"
Topoľčianky is indeed a wonder. This is where the first Czechoslovak president, Tomáš Garyk Masaryk, spent every summer he was in power. Other presidents stayed here as well, the last being Antonín Zápotocký in 1951. As an American traveler I find it hard to believe that such a historically significant site is so accessible to the public, at such a cheap rate. Forty dollars? If you could visit Camp David for a night the bill would surely be in the tens of thousands.
But not at this stately manor house, a four-winged structure first built in the 15th century. The front neo-classical wing is today home to the Presidential Apartment, the 'Small Presidential Apartment' and a museum of antique furniture, paintings, clocks, pottery, carpets and weapons. The remaining three wings all sport an elegant series of arches overlooking a large courtyard in the middle (cheaper rooms are also located in these wings). Out back is the sprawling Presidential Garden, dotted with a few wooden sculptures and an artificial pond with sitting benches on a peninsula.
Next door to the palace is the 'National Stud Farm', a state-owned firm established in 1921. Arabian, Lipican, Hucul and 'Sport' horses are all bred here. Visitors can rent a mount for the day or take a ride in a horse-drawn carriage. For more information, check out www.zrebcin.miesto.sk.
But the main reason to visit Topoľčianky is the presidential suite. To sprawl out on the large double bed is a unique experience, especially when you consider who sprawled here before, and particularly when you've been staying in the dives I frequent.
"All the most important Czechoslovak figures stayed here!" Klecka continued (and it is understandable why he is so excited). "All of our famous writers, politicians, artists... everyone! Today it is very popular among foreigners and people from Bratislava! Just today we had an American woman stay here and recently the Dutch Embassy also came! People buying horses at the stud farm often stay here as well!"
But you don't need to buy a stud to stay here. You don't need even need to be rich. Forty dollars! And ponder this: the ugly Devín Hotel in Bratislava is more than three times as expensive. All things considering, Topoľčianky is a magnificent holiday. And ridiculously, almost scandalously, affordable.
To get to Topoľčianky (Zlaté Moravce district) from Bratislava by car, follow the Bratislava-Nitra motorway and then continue to Zlaté Moravce (27 kilometres). By bus, there are regular connections from Bratislava to Zlaté Moravce, from where a local bus brings you to Topoľčianky (circa 20 minutes). For bus schedules, check www.vlak-bus.cz
This article will be published in The Slovak Spectator's seventh annual travel guide Spectacular Slovakia 2002, coming out in July. To pre-order copies of this year's 150-page full-colour magazine contact Lucia Hakeová at 02/5923-3302 or e-mail her at <firstname.lastname@example.org>.