The crisp fall air and changing colors beckon travellers out of the cities and into the mountains. But venturing into the Slovak countryside can be a challenge, especially for non-Slovak speakers. Finding a place to stay off the beaten track is difficult, and negotiating for accommodations over the phone can be a nightmare.
A group called the Returns to the Landscape Foundation wants to remedy that. The foundation was set up in 1992 to revive the culture and the economy of rural Slovakia. To reach their goal, the group has published a catalogue of rural tourism.
The 47-page booklet, available in both Slovak and English, lists private homes throughout the Slovak countryside that offer rooms, cottages, or even separate houses for rent. It gives tourists a personal experience of rural Slovakia - most hosts are farmers who offer guests the opportunity to help in the chores. Visitors can find places to pick mushrooms or berries, to help in the fields, or to learn to knit, weave, carve, or cook traditional specialities.
While most of the houses included are in the picturesque High and Low Tatras, listings range from Modra, just northeast of Bratislava, to Ulič, virtually on the Ukrainian border. Each village gets a brief description listing its highlights, such as ski areas, swimming pools, natural and cultural sights. And each entry explains the type of housing available, whether the owners will cook or allow access to the kitchen, and what kind of work the hosts do.
Symbols mark places to stay in traditional houses, ride horses, ski, hike, buy fresh produce, learn crafts, or participate in farm work. Many of the host families list the ages of their children, and welcome young visitors. In fact, the whole project is very much geared towards children, and towards city-dwellers who are looking for an authentic, down-home vacation. And an affordable one, too - most of the housing runs about 200-300 Sk a bed in the peak summer season.
The booklet is available through the Returns to the Landscape Foundation, located at Medená ul. 13 in Bratislava 07/533-2245. The Foundation also runs a travel agency called Limba that specializes in rural and folk tourism; the staff there - they all speak English - will help contact any host families and can arrange full tours depending on your interests. They are at the same number.