Inspired by Malaysia, a Slovak and an Iranian started a Bratislava hiking group for foreigners

One day it was an idea; three days later they started hiking.

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The ruins of the Biely Kameň castle near Svätý Jur.The ruins of the Biely Kameň castle near Svätý Jur. (Source: Tomáš Benedikovič)

It was a Wednesday afternoon when Slovak globetrotter Olívia Rišňovská confessed to Iranian researcher Javad Keshtkar during a language exchange meeting in Bratislava that she wanted to go on a hike with foreigners who live in the Slovak capital.

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Three days later, the first Saturday hike took place.

“Seven people showed up to the first trip, 12 to the second, 17 to the third, and the rest is history,” she recalls.

With a growing number of foreigners and Slovaks eager to get in touch with the city’s international community, Keshtkar started a Facebook group called International Hiking Bratislava. In the nearly three years since then, around 2,900 people have joined the group.

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“Thanks to this group a lot of friendships have been made,” the Iranian told The Slovak Spectator. “Even a couple,” he notes, with some pride.

The community of hikers has been setting out on adventures around Bratislava Region every Saturday since September 2020, interrupted only by the various lockdowns imposed during the coronavirus pandemic, as well as occasional severe weather.

Hiking to the ponds is now a tradition

Rišňovská, one of the founders, was inspired by a similar group in Malaysia that she had joined while living there. The Slovak had spent a decade abroad before moving back to Slovakia.

“I wanted to make some friends and stay within the international community,” is how she explains her motivation for creating a similar group in her home country.

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The first hiking trip took foreigners and Slovaks to Vydrická Nádrž, a set of two fishing ponds in the popular Železná Studnička recreation area at the southern edge of the Small Carpathian hills.

Following a blue-marked hiking sign, the trip started outside the Figaro chocolate factory in Bratislava’s Nové Mesto borough, from where the hikers walked up to Kamzík, a peak 439 metres above Bratislava that is known as the site of the city’s main TV tower, built in 1974. In the tower, hikers can find a restaurant that offers stunning views stretching as far as Lake Neusiedl in Austria, in addition to regularly updated menus.

At Kamzík, visitors can also try a renovated chairlift, a summer toboggan run, and a rope-bridge course through the trees. The hike then continues to the Pod Chlmcom crossroads and Snežienka, where the chairlift ends, before reaching the ponds. From there, hikers can catch a bus back to the city.

This particular hike has already become a tradition for the Facebook group of hikers. However, there are plenty of other maps and hiking ideas shared in the public group, which is open to anyone who loves walking. In the summer, for example, the Saturday hike sometimes leads to the Čunovo lakes, where foreigners can refresh themselves with a swim. By one of the smaller lakes, there are even several unofficial beaches for nudists.

Rišňovská does not have a favourite hike. She believes every one of them is special.

“There are always nice moments to remember,” she added.

More foreigners explore Bratislava’s natural riches

With a growing number of foreigners moving to Slovakia, for work or to study, the Facebook group is set to attract more foreigners. Meanwhile, Slovaks who have joined the group cannot sometimes believe how diverse Bratislava is becoming.

“I was quite surprised just by how many foreigners we have here,” said Daniel Šmihula. The Slovak hiker used to live in the Belgian capital, Brussels.

In December 2022 there were 278,595 foreigners with different types of residence permits in Slovakia, according to the Foreigners’ Police. This is a twelvefold increase compared to 2004. Most of them, 156,881, were Ukrainian people.

As the membership grows, the group’s variety also expands. Keshtkar, the Iranian founder, says that among the hikers are people living in Bratislava, people visiting their Bratislava-based friends, students, professionals, and people who simply want to take a break from their busy everyday lives.

“It is mostly foreigners. However, we have quite a few Slovaks who used to live abroad or like the energy of our group.”

But it is not just their nationalities that make these hikers easily recognisable during hikes. Instead, it is the long English-speaking line that they form on narrow Bratislava forest trails, which is still an out of the ordinary event for many Slovaks to see.

“International Hiking Bratislava is very special,” concluded Šmihula.

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