As you travel by train from Banská Bystrica to the central Slovak region of Turiec, named after a meandering river, the high number of tunnels on the short route and the picturesque hills of varying shapes that embrace the region will enthral you.
"Turiec is known for its mountains, valleys, water springs and cultural heritage," said Stanislava Maťugová, a native of the Kláštor pod Znievom village. After her studies abroad, she returned to Turiec to promote her home region among Slovaks and foreign tourists through her initiatives.
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Its centre, the town of Martin, played an important role in the history of the Slovak nation, to which institutions such as the Slovak National Museum and the National Cemetery still refer. Today, it is better known as the capital of Norway in Slovakia due to the high number of Norwegian medical students studying here.
The picturesque region dotted with villages and valleys hides tourist places that many Slovaks have no idea about. It is here that tourists will experience a bit of Madeira or Tuscany, but they can also explore the mineral springs, the first Slovak ferrata and a bike trip to a unique tank road.
Cage of love in the Valča Valley
According to Maťugová, tourists should not miss out on a trip to some of Turiec's valleys. The most popular is the Gader Valley, which begins in the village of Blatnica. Above the village stands Blatnica Castle, which is only one of three castles in the region. It is in the village that many people start a hike to the well-known peaks of Tlstá and Ostrá.
"Along the way, you will come across the Mažarná Cave, which became famous for prehistoric findings," added Maťugová.
In winter, she said, tourists should go to Necpaly Valley, known for its waterfalls, for some cross-country skiing, or hit the slopes at the ski resort in the Valča Valley. Here, a statue of the waterman Matiáš sitting on a bench in a cage of love can be found.
Martin locals often go on hikes to the nearby Martinské hole mountains, where, in addition to the HZS ferrata, they can do winter sports such as skiing or snowkiting.
"It is a really special place because it is not as commercial as, for example, the High Tatras," said Maťugová.
Her favourite place for hiking is Zniev Castle. However, many locals would recommend that tourists climb up the charming Veľká Fatra peaks Lysec and Borišov.
Englishman enchanted with Turiec
Maťugová is convinced that the local churches are also worth a visit, each of which has its own story to tell. Some even compare the church in Abramová to the church on the island in Lake Bled, Slovenia.
Water is indeed an important part of the region. The famous mineral waters of Budiš and Fatra come from here. Tourists themselves can go to the springs with empty bottles to fill. Publicly accessible springs are located in the villages of Budiš and Dubové.
The place that many people do not know about is also related to water: Teplice Serpentines near the village of Turčianska Štiavnička.
"Whoever has visited Madeira, they will surely know the levadas. It is an irrigation system of canals. We have something very similar here," said Maťugová about the serpentines.
Scott Stonham, an independent technology analyst and content creator from England, also recommends visiting the magical serpentines, as well as one of the highest Slovak waterfalls, Šútovo Waterfall.
Stonham and his family currently live in Martin and have fallen in love with Turiec. They often spend their time in the spa town of Turčianske Teplice or at Martinské hole.
"One of the things I love about the region is how nearly every place you go to has a summer and winter side to it and you can go back in different parts of the season and see something completely different," Stonham said.
Views like in Tuscany
Martin also offers a wide range of activities. In addition to national institutions, there are a large number of museums, including the Museum of the Slovak Village which presents building culture from various parts of the country. One of the houses is used for the Museum of Roma Culture, which not everyone knows about.
At the other end of the city, on the area of former military warehouses, the SIM relaxation area is located. Sports grounds, fireplaces as well as railway and fire museums make it an ideal place for families with children.
"My favourite places are those where I can ski, go hiking or ride my bike," said Martin native Zuzana Valachová, who recommends taking a bike on a trip around Turiec.
It is an old road near the city, which was originally intended to serve tanks, that has become a popular bike path. Cyclists will also enjoy riding the SNP Road, which passes through the city and surrounding villages and ends in Turčianske Teplice. Both cycling routes, in fact, offer a trip through the Turiec villages as well as wonderful views, which can be enjoyed not only from the seat of a bicycle but also from several nearby lookout towers.
"The beautiful views you will experience here resemble those in Tuscany," said Maťugová about the SNP Road, one of her favourite places in Turiec.
The podcast was supported by the Žilina Tourism Region and implemented with the financial support of the Ministry of Transport and Construction of the Slovak Republic.