I get on the train to Trenčín at the Bratislava station, excited to return to the city I visited years ago. My first trip to Trenčín was on a whim and badly timed as the famous Trenčín castle, beloved by all Slovaks, was closed for restoration. The prospect of actually entering the fairy-tale fortress this time makes me giddy and after a short and pleasant journey, I’m ready to explore the city.
I exit the train station in Trenčín and look ahead. Directly above on a precarious cliff stands the Trenčín Castle, idyllic in appearance and rich in history.
Castle on the hill
The Trenčín Castle is an impressive fortress and one of the largest castles in Slovakia. The castle grounds spread far and wide and although it has undergone several restorations, the core of the castle has protected the city since the 11th century. Each part of the castle carries its own unique history, filling the popular grounds with stories of war and romance, torture and prestige.
For history buffs fascinated by the brutality of medieval times, the Starving Tower, built in the 15th century, is of particular interest. Here, replicated torture machinery and information on common punishments centuries ago can be viewed. I learn everything I don’t want to know about torture here, such as the inner workings of the "stretching rack", and try to balance out the gory images with a visit to the Well of Love.
The Well of Love houses the legend of the Ottoman prince Omar and his beloved Fatima, who was imprisoned in the Lord’s castle. In order to set Fatima free, Omar was tasked with digging a well for the castle out of hard rock. With the help of some friends, Omar completed the well after three years of back-breaking labour and left the castle with the newly-freed Fatima. Now, the romantic well is a perfect resting spot for the occasional pigeon.
For avid photographers such as myself that find city views just as romantic, several of the castle’s towers offer fantastic views of the city, which is split by the Váh river and framed with lush, green hills. Even on cloudy days, Trenčin paints a beautiful picture below.
Follow the falcon
The castle is also the perfect stage for several Renaissance-style performances and since I happen be here on the Night of Galleries and Museums, a few interesting acts take the stage. First up is a play about what appears to be a grumpy king and his fumbling knights. Since the play is in Slovak, the narrative is lost on me but as the king is dressed in Renaissance clothing and pink fluffy slippers, it still has entertainment value.
Next up is an impressive show of falconry. At the handler’s beckon call, a series of beautiful birds fly from one end of the castle to the other where the handler patiently awaits with a piece of food in his hand. However, the last bird, a particularly large and stately falcon, flies right by the handler and chooses instead to circulate the castle, much to the amusement of the crowd.
After the series of shows end, I follow the falcon’s lead and wander away from the castle grounds into the neighbouring Lesopark Brezina, perfect for a long and reflective walk. A soft dirt path weaves through the serene forest, which is spotted with playgrounds, memorials and even a hotel. Brezina, man-made in the 19th century and named for its many birch trees, proves the perfect place to read, relax and clear my head of all those disturbing images conjured up by the Starving Tower.
Towering over Trenčín
Trenčín Castle may be the city’s most famous landmark but the town’s centre is just as idyllic and meshes historical tradition with modernism seamlessly. The city’s main pedestrian walkway is cobbled and lined with trees that are reminiscent of a Dr.Seuss book. Their unique appearance gives the city an avant-garde feel without detracting from its medieval character. I walk up and down the street several times before climbing up to the grand city tower, the origins of which date back to the 15th century.
A quick elevator ride and short climb up the stairs brings me to the top where a gorgeous view of the castle awaits. It looks even bigger than it did before and suddenly, I’m quite jealous of the falcons that get to call the castle home.
I end the day with a frothy cappuccino at a cozy café hidden in one of several alleys leading to the castle, and then walk back to the train station and hop on a train back to Bratislava. I look out of the window for most of the journey and get off the train at Bratislava after a simple day trip to a city that should be on everyone's list when visiting Slovakia.
This article was created with the support of Železničná Spoločnosť Slovensko (ZSSK) who provided the author with return train tickets from Bratislava to Trenčin.