Bratislava is often overlooked as a destination for the high-end traveller. The city’s reputation tends to be founded on its modest, undiscovered qualities and low prices. Yet Slovakia actually has a remarkably modern capital, with luxurious hotels on the banks of one of Europe’s most spectacular rivers, as well numerous glorious old buildings containing exquisite restaurants, boutiques and spas. Each is packed with unique central European charm, but with standards to match the best of the west.
It is possible here to take romantic walks by the Danube, visit enchanting little cafés in the Old Town, else relax in spas and five-star hotels. The city boasts delicious cuisine, beautiful golf courses and even venues for polo matches. You can experience extraordinary views from hotel suites, without the noise and crowds of many European cities.
As a bonus, everything is in walking distance. Many of Bratislava’s finest hotels, boutiques and galleries are in the Old Town. But if you wish to stray further, there are ample opportunities to picnic by mediaeval castles, or play sports in exceptionally well appointed facilities. You can return in the evening for a spot of opera at one of Europe’s most enchanting theatres.
SLEEP AND EAT TRENDY
Bratislava Airport is situated only ten minutes drive from the centre of the Old Town, but if you take a room at the Kempinski Hotel River Park, you can take a ride from the airport in a glamorous Rolls Royce limousine. Kempinski is one of several five-star establishments in Bratislava, and, like the Albrecht Hotel, situated on the top of a hill close to Bratislava Castle, is appointed with the finest modern designs. Other high-end establishments, such as Marrol’s Boutique Hotel, combine historical appeal with luxurious fittings. Marrol’s was named the best hotel in the world by the Expedia’s 2012 Insiders’ Select ranking. Similarly, the Arcadia Hotel in the heart of the Old Town offers stunning Renaissance arcades in the hotel lobby.
The Danube offers a host of possibilities for romance in the Slovak capital, starting with dinner in one of Bratislava’s landmarks: the restaurant in the pod at the top of the SNP Bridge, looming 85 metres over the river. As well as serving wonderful seasonal Mediterranean and Asian cuisine, the UFO restaurant offers a unique opportunity to watch the captivating sunset over the river and city.
Walking into the Old Town centre, you will be greeted by the magnificent historical building of the Slovak National Theatre, which also serves as the opera house. A full program of operatic performances plays from September by the end of June, including those from travelling companies, and featuring all the biggest hitters: Verdi, Mozart, Rossini, etc.
Bratislava has always been a thriving commercial hub, and there are numerous glossy shopping centres dotted around the city with hundreds of stores and boutiques. But the best work of local designers can be found in the Old Town and, for example, in the small M.ONA fashion store that opened on Dunajská Street in October 2012.
The shop’s Czech owner Eva Příkaská decided to support local designers by giving them a space to present their collections, and the stylish concept store is now a showcase for the established and up-and-coming alike. Libor Komosný, Marcel Holubec, Kateřina Geislerová and Michaela Ľuptáková, among others, have their wares on sale here. Alternatively, Slávica, owned by a Slovak model Ivica Sláviková, located on the fourth floor of the Dunaj department store, also stocks the best of Slovak fashion and design.
While golf is gradually beginning to take hold in Slovakia, it is also possible to go several steps further up the ladder of elite sports and sample the refined world of polo. “Polo is in fact like a golf on a horse,” said Peter Godanyi, a professional polo player and a founder of Polo Klub Bratislava, the only polo club in Slovakia - even if their main facilities are 25km away in Niederweiden, Austria.
Polo fields are four times as large as a soccer pitch but are maintained like golf courses. The tournament pitch in Niederweiden is close to a wonderful Schloss Hof castle and visitors cannot only watch official tournaments, but can also observe the team practice during the season.
“Visitors don’t have to play polo themselves, they can experience the atmosphere as well,” said Godanyi. “Visitors can organise picnics, have a lovely day with the horses and they can see something they don’t see every day.”
After a long day either in or out of the city, weary visitors can bathe their limbs in one of the exclusive wellness and spa facilities found in the best hotels. Few can match the Zion Spa in the Kempinski Hotel River Park, located on the 11th floor and offering amazing views over the Danube and Bratislava through the glass walls. Alternatively, the cellar of the Arcadia Hotel, which now serves as the wellness area, is the oldest part of a building listed on the National Heritage of Slovakia list. Ironically, the area now used for pampering and relaxation was used as a torture chamber in the 13th century.
“We’ve travelled a lot, all over Europe, and this is right up there with everywhere else – Paris, Vienna, Lubljana,” said a 54-year-old American tourist named Chris, marvelling at the buildings in Bratislava’s main square.
Even though it maybe smaller in scale, standards are high here. Bratislava can offer the same luxury as Paris, London or New York – all with a dose of a certain Slovak charm.
This article was published in the latest edition of Bratislava City Guide , which can be obtained from our online shop.For those who would like to see it online first, you can read it for free here.
13. Dec 2013 at 0:00 | Miroslava Germanová