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Travel Guide: Sleeping Around - Bratislava, Slovakia

12th Oct 2011 1:53am | By Editor

Poor old Slovakia. One minute it's clutching its brand-new EU membership card and looking forward to an influx of adventurous young travellers, knowing that with its historic architecture, friendly people and beer that's every bit as delicious as its Czech neighbour's but costs 50p a pint, it's ahead in the running for the much-vaunted title of 'the new Prague'.

Then in blunders Hollywood with its outdated cliches of countries it has no idea about. Eli Roth's eye-watering gore-fest Hostel - in which a pair of dumb American jocks are lured to Slovakia with the promise of nympho totty, only to find themselves screaming for mercy on the wrong end of a hot poker - wasn't a great publicity coup, to say the least. With any luck, however, the only people scared off will be dumb American jocks. So save the price of a cinema ticket and buy yourself a round with the money instead.

Get your bearings
The concrete blocks in the 'burbs that surround it may scream 'Communist town planning' but central Bratislava is a cute, compact little city with a rather handsome setting on the banks of the Danube and a delightful old town (cobbled streets, church-lined squares, wedding cake buildings and the like - particularly camera-worthy are the Primate's Palace, Old Town Hall and Grassalkovich Palace).

It isn't hard to get your bearings with an hour or so wandering around, but for a bird's-eye overview, head to New Bridge/Novy Most (known pre-Velvet Revolution as the SNP Bridge, after the Slovak National Uprising) and take the elevator (or climb 444 steps) to the UFO-shaped restaurant at the top. Alternatively, if you can cope with feeling a bit like Noddy, hop aboard the little sightseeing train that tootles around the city.

Crowning glory
Bratislava proudly refers to itself as the Coronation City, in reference to its golden age of nearly 300 years (1563-1830) when 11 Habsburg monarchs were crowned here. This grand past is commemorated every year on the first weekend of September with a lavish, costumed re-enactment of the coronation ceremony after which wine from the city cellars is given out to the crowds. Visitors have the chance to experience the fabulously hammy acting year-round however, as a shorter version is staged every Saturday at 5pm in the Franciscan Church.

Two pints a pound
Or €1 for 0.5litres, to be precise. Slovak beer is served cold, with a head, and is similar in style to Czech. Popular brands - named, it would appear, after the evil intergalactic warlords responsible for your hangover the next day - include Kelt, Zorgon, Bopvar and Saris. If you feel like branching out, try a shot of Demänovka, a herbal liqueur from central Slovakia.

Mix with the locals
Bars and cafés cluster along the Korzo, Hviezdoslavovo and around the main market square. If the sun's shining, walk over the bridge to Sad Janka Krala park to loll on the grass or take a stroll along the riverbank. This is also a good place to snap a view of Bratislava with the castle rising on the hilltop behind.

With a few extra hours on your hands, you're also just a short walk from 'Aulandia', where you can don your bathers, hit the flumes and see what the Slovakian obsession with waterparks is all about.

Worth a look

Devin Castle
Like an upside-down dining table, the red-roofed castle was built on a strategic hilltop site which was first settled in Celtic times. The castle now houses exhibits from the Slovak National Museum.

St Martin's Cathedral
This 15th century Gothic church is where the Habsburgs were crowned in medieval glory. The 85m-tall tower is designed in the shape of the Hungarian royal crown. Look out for the comic murals on the walls opposite.

Bonus points for: Did I mention the price of beer?
Loses marks for: Selling itself too cheaply!
Check out: www.slovakiatourism.sk