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Bratislava - The author’s take
I first visited Bratislava in spring 1982, while studying at Brno University nearby. In the pre-Velvet Revolution, pre-Velvet Divorce days, Bratislava was a charming, if sleepy, provincial town in Czechoslovakia and I stayed with a hospitable Slovak family in what I now realise was a very swanky apartment on a street leading up to the castle.
The view over the Danube, stretching from St Martin's Cathedral to the UFO Tower © QQ7, Shutterstock
Ironically, given all my Slavic studies, my fate became intertwined with Hungary from 1986 onwards and I lived in Budapest for 12 years; however, I frequently visited Bratislava to practise my Slovak verbs (over several litres of Slovak beer) and observe its evolution from sleepy and quiet to cosmopolitan and go-getting.
Bratislava’s small size is satisfying. You have the sense that you can discover everything in a few days, see all the important sights and get a real feel for the place without the nagging, lingering doubt that you might have missed something secret or spectacular. In spring, the Old Town turns into one giant outdoor café; it has a very Mediterranean feel with endless eating and drinking possibilities and superb quality at extremely reasonable prices. In the last couple of years, Bratislava has transformed itself into a foodie heaven and is getting more so by the hour. The Old Town has many world-class restaurants offering a wide variety of international cuisine. Slovak people are not grim Eastern Bloc types, but instead are unusually relaxed for a country that has seen so much tragedy and trauma.
I mustn’t forget the Opera House. Bratislava’s opera rivals those in Budapest and Vienna and the ticket prices are astounding – €4 for a last-minute ticket is mind-blowing.
Bratislava is also very green. There are many places to sit back and relax in the sunshine, or for the more energetic, endless opportunities for sports such as hiking, canoeing and cycling. Why not combine exercise with another of Slovakia’s natural attributes and sample the excellent wines along the Small Carpathian Wine Route? And have I mentioned the world-beating beer at jaw-dropping prices yet?
So, congratulations for stepping off the beaten track and trying out Bratislava. Your pioneering spirit will pay dividends; think of all the money you’ll save on the beer and be sure to tell all your friends about your discovery. Or maybe not; let’s keep this our special, Slovak secret. Bratislava, the ‘little big city’ is modest, charming and pocket-sized, like its cathedral. It doesn’t bellow its beauty like Prague but states its case quietly and insistently, until suddenly you wake up one gorgeous Slovak spring morning and realise you’re in love.
Na zdravie! (Cheers!)
Small but perfectly formed and easily negotiated, Bratislava is the ideal weekend-break destination. I’ve been visiting Bratislava for over 30 years and am constantly amazed at the little big city’s ability to regenerate and improve on its already spectacular setting and world-class facilities. I was in town again in spring 2015, enjoying the sunshine by the Danube, sipping superb Slovak beer, and I spied the changing skyline: towering fi ve-star hotel, mall and apartment complexes now jostle for space.
However, Bratislava never feels crowded despite the hordes of visitors who pack out the café terraces of the Mediterranean-style Old Town centre. There are many green regions to escape to: from the lush green hills of Koliba-Kamzík and meadows of Železná Studienka to a cycling tour of the Small Carpathian Wine Route – hic. I return to Bratislava whenever I can and it’s a real pleasure to delve into the ever-growing collection of attractions that the city has to offer. I decided, just off the top of my head, to jot down my top ten list of first-class restaurants in Bratislava, should a certain tyre company decide to dish out the stars. I had a collection of 25 fabulous establishments before I’d even drawn breath! I hope this third, revised and fully updated edition of Bratislava will be an indispensable companion for all visitors to this glorious central European gem.