Tasting the high life (Spectacular Slovakia - travel guide)

Lomnický štít peak in the High Tatras (Source: Courtesy of Tatry Mountain Resorts)

Slovakia is often noted for its rustic charms, natural beauty, and unpretentious tourism options, but luxury travellers need not be discouraged. Upscale accommodation, dining, and relaxation options are increasingly available with some of the best blending of the old with the new.

This article was published in the latest edition of travel guide Spectacular Slovakia.

Any talk of luxury accommodation begins with the Grand Hotel Kempinski High Tatras. Comprised of three different buildings, now interlocking, its stunning setting on the edge of a glacial lake Štrbské pleso, which serves as the name of the surrounding village high in the mountains gives it a head start on its competitors. If there is place where one is more likely to hear sir or madame more frequently, it has yet to be discovered. Everything about the place just sings of top-notch service – including the live music in the hotel’s lobby lounge, which goes down well with a champagne welcome drink.

The hotel’s Zion Spa lives up to its divine name. A massage there just may change your life. Seasonal leisure options in the area are plentiful, with skiing in the winter and hiking in the summer leading the way. At breakfast, the selection is breathtaking and the mountain air just begs the weary traveller to sleep with the window open. Big spenders are likely to be travelling to the hotel by car, but it would be a shame to miss out on the cog railway that brings visitors up the mountainside from the village of Štrba.

Just east on the High Tatra mountain range is the ski resort of Tatranská Lomnica. Hit up some of the country’s highest altitude ski slopes, but don’t miss out on the chair lift-cable car combination that takes you to the top of the country’s second highest peak, Lomnický štít. Reservations are necessary and visitors only get 50 minutes at the top. There is a cabin with observation decks and an observatory at the top. A small bar offers refreshments. For early risers, a hearty mountain breakfast including sausage, traditional Slovak braided cheese (korbáčik) and vegetables is available. A sidecar of borovička can help bolster the courage for the trip back down. If you can’t get enough of the high life, and want to stay up a little longer, it is possible to stay on the peak overnight in a suite – but there is only one available. Contact the Tatry Mountain Resorts to book it. In Tatranská Lomnica itself, the Hotel Kukučka offers high-end apartments and condominiums just steps from the ski lifts.

Only slightly less spectacular in geographical setting, but equally pleasing and a world away in southern Slovakia sits Chateau Béla. Set in the small village of Belá, it is a stone’s throw from the the Danube River amid rolling hills with Hungary visible on the horizon. Construction of the chateau began in 1732, launched by a local nobleman. After changing hands a number of times, Countess Ilona von Krockow, whose family owned the estate in the early 20th century, bought the then dilapidated complex back from the Slovak state in 2000. She has since put it through an extensive renovation and transformed it into a state-of-the-art five-star hotel.  Much of the excellent food served in the house restaurant comes from on site – including poultry, rabbit and herbs. The most notable potable however is the wine from the regional vineyards. If you find yourself lucky enough to do a tasting with vintner Miroslav Petrech, do so. The winery produces long-time central European specialities, including an excellent Riesling or Cabernet Sauvignon.

Another notable stop for luxury travellers is Piešťany, the best known of Slovakia’s many spa towns. While its long history as a resort means there are myriad accommodation options, the Thermia Palace has a grandeur befitting the royalty that have come to sample the healing sulphurous waters. This art nouveau treasure was constructed in 1912 and offers more than 60 different spa treatments, but is best-known for its healing mud. It is the focal point of the so-called Spa Island across the famed Colonade Bridge for the town of Piešťany itself. The restaurant is adorned with an original painting by Alfons Mucha, who is said to have donated the painting as thanks for the spa’s revitalising effect on his daughter. The resort still largely functions with medical motivation, helping to treat all sorts of ailments, but there are also plenty of massages and the like for those just looking to relax. A soak and a walk or two around the surrounding park goes a long way toward recharging the batteries. In Bratislava itself, there are a number of five-star hotels, including the Grand Hotel River Park on the banks of the Danube. It too has a spa and is integrated with the city’s waterfront walkway.

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Further inland the Hotel Albrecht sits atop a hill overlooking the capital in an otherwise quiet residential neighbourhood. Its airy outdoor café is a fine place to sip a cappuccino away from the main hustle and bustle of the city. Other top notch accommodation options in town include Marrol’s Boutique Hotel and Tulip House Hotel, which offer a blend of history and luxury. The Arcadia Hotel in Old Town has immaculate Renaissance arcades befitting its prized location. Unsurprisingly, Bratislava is also the centre of the country’s high culture as well. The Slovak National Theatre doubles as an opera house and offers a full slate of performances from September through June. Once a rarity, upscale shopping and dining opportunities now abound in the city centre.

Luxury in Slovakia

B Bratislava:
-Arcadia Hotel*****, www.arcadia-hotel.sk
-Grand Hotel River Park*****, www.grandriverpark.com
-Hotel Albrecht *****, www.hotelalbrecht.sk
-Marrol’s Boutique Hotel*****, www.hotelmarrols.sk
-Sheraton Bratislava Hotel*****, www.sheratonbratislava.com
-Tulip House Boutique Hotel*****, www.tuliphouse.sk
-Slovak National Theatre, www.snd.sk
-Limousine Service: www.limousineservice.skwww.limuziny-rai.sk
W Vrakúň: Hotel Amade Château*****, www.hotelamade.sk
W Piešťany: Thermia Palace*****, www.thermiapalace.com
W Belá: Chateau Béla*****, www.chateau-bela.com
C Banská Bystrica: SKY service (aero taxi), www.skyservice.sk
C Sliač: Let stíhačkou (Flying with fighter jet), www.najzazitky.sk
N Štrbské Pleso: Grand Hotel Kempinski High Tatras*****, www.kempinski.com
N Tatranská Lomnica: 
Cableway (Tatranská Lomnica-Skalnaté Pleso-Lomnický štít), www.vt.sk 
-Apartment on Lomnický peak, www.vt.sk
E Košice:
Aerotaxi, www.aerotaxi.sk
-Košice State Theatre, www.sdke.sk

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