From Austria, Slovakia is so close and yet so far. Apart from the capital Bratislava, the country is still relatively unknown among its western neighbours. This was also true for me. But last summer, I wanted to change that and my girlfriend and I decided to head east by bike. Slovakia made a big impression on us and there’s still so much to discover.
From the first day, I was captivated by the somewhat rough, mystical charm of the impressive nature. Slovakia has one of the largest populations of brown bears in Europe, as well as a seemingly endless number of castles and ruins, despite the High Tatras being the smallest high mountain range in the world. It’s the simple things here that make it a perfect destination for bikepackers: the beautiful back roads, the traffic-free valleys, cosy inns, and good railway network that makes it easy to travel to and from your adventure.
This Collection is the result of our journey – a 600-kilometre (372 mile) ride from Vienna to Slovakia’s second-largest city, Košice. The route mostly follows cycle routes on minor roads, with a few gravel sections. It’s suitable for both touring bikes and gravel bikes. The nine stages vary in length from 35 to 105 kilometres (21.7 miles to 65 miles). The distance is shorter on days when it’s worth spending more time exploring off your bike.
If you are visiting Slovakia for the first time, you will be surprised how mountainous the country is. Much of the landscape is shaped by the Carpathian Mountains which begin near Bratislava and continue in a wide arc across Ukraine, Romania and Serbia. You also pass several sub-mountains of the Western Carpathians en route. The detour towards the Tatra Mountains and riding along the Low Tatras is really impressive. But, don’t worry, you don’t have to be a well-trained mountain goat to enjoy the route. Except for the crossing of the rather gentle Little Carpathians and somewhat longer climbs in the Slovak Paradise and Ore Mountains, the elevation gain is easily manageable.
With the exception of the stage to Žilina and the last stage to Košice, the daily stages always end at campsites. However, it is never a problem to find a room if you prefer to travel light. In general, the food supply situation along the route is very good. There are many small inns that serve inexpensive and tasty Slovak cuisine. You’ll appreciate the national dish, Bryndza which is made from sheep’s milk cheese, after a long day on your bike! You also pass towns that are connected to the railway network so you don’t have to cycle the whole route. The best way to travel from Košice back to Vienna is by train. The journey takes about seven hours, but the time flies when you look out of the window and see some of the magical places where you have ridden passing by.
The bikepacking adventure to Kosiče starts at the Praterstern in Vienna, right next to the Ferris wheel, one of the landmarks of the Danube metropolis. You will complete the first kilometers on the traffic-free Prater Hauptallee, the most popular running and cycling route for Viennese people. After the main avenue, change to the northern bank of the Danube and follow the Danube Cycle Path, which is part of Eurovelo 6, for around 30 kilometers. The relaxed start is just the right thing to get in the mood for the upcoming adventure and slowly bring your legs to operating temperature.At the level of the village of Eckartsau, you leave the Danube Cycle Path and drive through small, lovely Weinviertel villages. After a mix of gravel and asphalt sections you will reach Schloss Hof, which was once owned by the famous Austrian general Prince Eugene. If you are interested in the history of the Habsburg Empire, you should find out whether an exhibition is currently being shown. But the castle and the beautiful garden are also worth a visit for just a short tour.Immediately after the castle you will reach the impressive bike bridge of freedom, on which you cross the March and reach Slovakia. On somewhat bumpy bike paths you will now ride along the magnificent Marchauen, which on the Austrian side are part of a Natura 2000 area and are known for their biodiversity.For the last few kilometers you drive on a main road towards the Small Carpathians. Unfortunately there is no real alternative here, but the traffic is limited. The destination of the stage is the campsite in Kuchyňa, where you can end the day in the nice garden.
The second stage of the cycling adventure from Vienna to Kosiče is also the longest at 105 kilometers, which is why I recommend you start early. The route starts out along the western edge of the Little Carpathians. On the well-developed road you keep coming back through small towns. Use the markets for catering, as it is a matter of luck whether the inns also offer food. For a longer break, the town of Brezová pod Bradlom is around 50 kilometers away, where you will certainly get something to eat in the nice main square.Freshly strengthened, there are now only a few meters in altitude to the highest point of today's stage, which is also the top of the Little Carpathians. In Košariská you turn left and there follows an enjoyable bike route down into the Waag Valley. With the exception of a few waves, it goes gently downhill, the asphalt is good and the surroundings wonderfully peaceful.In the Waag Valley, after a few kilometers you will reach the town of Nové Mesto nad Váhom, where you will switch to the eastern bank of the Waag and can look forward to the well-deserved end of the long day. Before you reach the campsite near Opatovce, you have to walk partly on beautiful riverside paths, partly on a quiet side road. Shortly before the destination, you will pass Beckov Castle, which towers majestically over the town of the same name.
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Today's stage is shaped by the Waag, the longest river in Slovakia. The stage is quite long at just over 100 kilometers, but mostly flat, so that you can make good progress. A main cycle route runs along the western bank of the Waag, which you essentially follow to Žilina. The highlights of the stage include the nice cities along the route, which offer beautiful centers and a wide range of nice restaurants.A few kilometers after the start you will already reach Trenčin. The city with its castle, which can be seen from afar, has a beautiful old town, where cozy cafes and outdoor dining areas invite you to take a break. If you have time and feel like it, you can also take the short tour up to the castle on foot. From there you have a great view over the Waagtal.The rest of the route then runs along the main cycle route on the western bank. You keep coming back through small towns on the banks of the Waag. The traffic is limited thanks to the motorway that runs on the other side of the river. Another place to take a break is the small town of Bytča with its beautiful Renaissance castle. Now there is another 20 kilometers to Žilina, the destination of the stage. Shortly before the city center, Budatin Castle is ideal for a short visit. I don't know of any campsites in Žilina, but there is a wide range of other accommodation options.
Today's stage is divided into two parts, as the road through the Waag breakthrough is relatively narrow and heavily traveled. Not an ideal combination for cyclists and therefore not recommended. It is therefore best to take the train for the short stretch from Nezbudská Lúčka to Kraľovany. You can check the timetable in Žilina and avoid long waiting times. The route is generally served very regularly by the Slovakian railways.After starting in the old town of Žilina, you leave the city behind you relatively quickly and you will soon be riding eastwards along a bike path on the dam. After a few kilometers you will reach the Strečno train station near Nezbudská Lúčka. If you feel like it, you should switch to the other bank of the Waag and complete the few meters in altitude to Strečno Castle on foot. Back to the train station in Nezbudská Lúčka you come back over the bridge. You could also make the decision dependent on the timetable.If you want to avoid the train ride, you could take a closer look at the alternative route via Terchová. But here too, increased traffic is to be expected on the stretch from Varín to Terchová.
When you arrive in Kraľovany, you first drive a bit on the main road. At Stankovany you switch to the northern bank of the river and follow a cycle route with gravel passages. Here you have to pass a major construction site at kilometer eleven. You should be able to pass here without any problems pushing the bike (as of summer 2020). After 20 kilometers you will reach the town of Ružemberok. The city is a tourist center and offers many restaurants. A detour is worth it!It's not far to the next destination, the Liptovská Mára reservoir. On back roads it goes relaxed through small villages before you have to pedal again properly. The road up to the dam wall has a steep ramp ready for you at the end.The reward of the effort is the great panorama with the High and Low Tatras that now opens up to you. After a few kilometers you will reach the small town of Bobrovník, where there are inns and a campsite. My tip for dinner is Salaš Bobrovník, where very good Slovak dishes are served.
Today's stage is deliberately kept a little shorter. So you can look for a cozy place at the reservoir, swim and let your mind wander. At the same time, the stage deviates somewhat from the main direction to the east and makes a turn towards the Tatra Mountains. If you are already so close to the smallest high mountains in the world, you should of course pay them a visit.The first 15 kilometers run along the pleasant shore road. You will then reach Liptovský Mikuláš, the tourist center of the region. The city offers a wide range of restaurants and shopping opportunities - a stopover is worthwhile.We continue on a well-developed bike path along the Waag in an easterly direction. In Okoličné you branch off onto the main road, but leave it after a few kilometers and follow a small side road. Now it's up to today's stage destination. The gentle ascent, with the peaks of the Western Tatras in view, turns into a forest road, but it always remains mobile. After a pleasant 300 meters of altitude you will reach the Račkova campsite, which is spaciously laid out and beautifully located in the forest. In the quaint inn located in the middle of the square, you will be served good Slovak home cooking.You could actually spend several days in this beautiful place, because there are many great hiking trails around the campsite. If you want to go high, the Baranec is ideal. But you can also simply hike comfortably into the long valleys without having to make many meters in altitude. The latter is perhaps more recommendable, because there are still a few kilometers to go on the bike.
The sixth stage is, so much has already been revealed, the most impressive scenic of the route. You also start with a descent right away. On the following kilometers, you should drive a little slower, because it is difficult to concentrate on the road, the panorama is so wonderful in all directions: in the north the peaks of the Western Tatras are enthroned and in the south the Low Tatras present themselves. Make a quick stop to absorb the magic of the landscape!After Liptovský Hrádok you cross the Waag and the next particularly beautiful section along the river Čierny Váh (Black Waag) awaits. Here you drive through a sparsely populated, pristine valley. After the nice town of Šuňava, there is a pizzeria here, you follow the bike route towards Poprad. You leave this at Lopušná Dolina and drive south-east. Here the route leads past a small ski area, uphill a few more meters. At the height of the city of Poprad you come to a small quarry pond, where you can also cool off.After the break at the lake, concentration is called for again, because you are driving in sections over trails along the railway line and it is briefly a little more technically demanding. The last few kilometers you roll relaxed on asphalt, down to the destination Betlanovce. Due to the proximity to the Slovak Paradise National Park, there are also other accommodation options in addition to a campsite.
Today's stage is not too long, so you can make a detour to the national park. Especially when it is hot, the water-rich, cool valleys and gorges of the Slovak Paradise are highly recommended! After a few kilometers you will pass the Podlesok visitor center. From here you can tackle one of the numerous hiking trails.The actual tour then follows the road to the southwest, into the center of the national park. This section comes pretty close to a bicycle dream: it goes through a quiet forest area, almost without traffic and pleasantly steep. After 20 kilometers you will reach the highest point on the road, Sedlo Kopanec. In the small shelter on the roadside you can take a break and enjoy the view!Today's destination Dedinky is located on a reservoir and offers a tourist infrastructure including a campsite. To reach the place, you only have to tackle the long descent and unwind a few more kilometers on a road with a little more traffic. There are several hiking opportunities around the village, in case you need a change from pedaling.
The stage along the Hnilec River is probably the loneliest section of the tour. So take some provisions with you to be on the safe side, because you may not find any shops until Smolník. Immediately after you have left the town of Dedinky in a southerly direction, the cycle route along the river begins. It goes past dreamy settlements and through cool forests. Orientation is quite easy and you can concentrate fully on the driving and the surroundings.Before Nálepkovo the valley opens and the road invites you to enjoy rolling. Without much effort, you drive down to the small town and change here to the main road, which you follow to Mníšek nad Hnilcom. Here you turn south and drive to Smolník. In Smolník the hustle and bustle is getting a bit busier again and you will find bars and a shop again. In the area you will also come across evidence of the German-speaking history in the region.Immediately after Smolník, there are a few bends up to the Štóske sedlo saddle. Now there is a long descent to Medzev. There is a good range of restaurants and pensions here. Two kilometers from the city center, in Vyšný Medzev, is the small Sokol campsite.
Today you can take your time at breakfast. The last stage is not too long and only has two shorter climbs ready for you. After starting in Medzev, you drive along the main road. The old, dilapidated factory buildings that line the street and are a reminder of the heyday of Medzev as a mining and industrial city are striking.After ten kilometers you will reach Jasov. The Jasov Monastery is a national cultural monument that is well worth a visit. Immediately afterwards there is a short climb and you will reach a beautiful plateau. The area here is part of the Slovak Ore Mountains, whose wooded. rolling hills provide a beautiful backdrop for the last few kilometers. At Hýľov, where the Kosiče water reservoir is located, you have reached the highest point of the stage. From now on it is only downhill to the center of Kosiče.The town of Kosiče has a lot to offer and it is worth spending a day or two here. The city center is ideal to let yourself drift, to visit one or the other sight and to indulge in culinary delights. The train is ideal for the return journey. The connections to Bratislava and on to Vienna are numerous, but you should reserve the bike parking space early enough.