Due to an alarming rise in COVID cases, Slovakia is currently under lockdown. It sounds much more menacing than it actually is, but my daily interactions with friends and the outside world have been severely limited. Under this week-long lockdown, we are not allowed to leave our homes for anything other than work, school, grocery shopping, and essential chores. Weirdly, the curfew is not in place from the hours of 1-5 am so should I get the urge to roam the streets during the early hours, all is well.
As traveling is out of the question, the next best thing I can do right now is to relive my amazing trip to the central Slovak town of Banská Štiavnica. So, for all those interested in making the trek to this very underrated gem after this never-ending pandemic, here is a suggested list of things to see and do.
Open-air Mining Museum (Banské múzeum v prírode)
Banská Štiavnica was once one of the most important towns in the Kingdom of Hungary due to its booming silver mining industry. From the 17th-19th century, miners worked long hours under rather horrid conditions, sometimes even using literal horsepower. Yes, you understood me correctly. Horses were sometimes used in the mines to operate heavy machinery. Sadly, the life expectancy of mining horses was severely shortened; most did not make it to 10 years of age.
The city’s mines are no longer in operation, but they are still open to the public for educational purposes. We visited the Bartolomej shaft, dressed to the nines in retro mining coats and helmets. The underground tour was only in Slovak, so I did not retain much information. However, exploring the mine and its curious natural phenomena was fun and certainly worth the admission fee. We even spotted a sleeping bat or two… at a safe distance
After we ascended back to the surface, we walked to the nearby Klinger Tajch, an artificial mining lake used to power the mines. Now, it is simply a pleasant place to walk and inhale some crisp clean air.
There’s a reason Banská Štiavnica has been named the most romantic city in Slovakia. This city where many a couple vacations houses the longest love poem in the world!
Marína, which consists of 291 stanzas and 2900 verses, was written in 1844 by Banská Štiavnica native Andrej Sládkovič to his love Marína when he discovered she was betrothed to someone else – someone her parents approved of. Although the lovers sadly never got to be together, their romance lives on in the city’s Love Bank!
Housed in the recently restored House of Marína, each letter of the famous poem has been transformed into a keepsake box where couples, families or friends can store a token of their love…for just over 100 euros.
If you’re lacking in coin or desire to spend that much on a small keepsake box, you can still tour the house, which is brought to life with some impressive interactive exhibits. Plus, the gift shop has some cute mugs.
Botanical Garden (Botanická záhrada)
Well within walking distance from the very center of Banská Štiavnica, the Botanical Garden is a lovely, expansive space for an afternoon stroll or reading session. The garden was planted in the middle of the 19th century under the supervision of the local Mining and Forestry Academy. It is characterized by more than 200 varieties of trees and shrubs from various continents, including a Mammoth sequoia.
Hike to Calvary (Kalvária)
When walking around the town center, one of the very first things you are likely to notice is the impressive Calvary, perched on top of one of Banská Štiavnica’s many characteristic hills. Built by Jesuits in the 1700s as a place of pilgrimage, this monument consists of three Baroque churches and nineteen chapels. It’s just a short hike away from the center and a lovely place to admire the UNESCO-protected town from above.
As you may have guessed from my previous blog post, Čajovňa Klopačka is one of my all-time favorite cafes. It’s one of those places you always wind up returning to the following day because it’s so dang scrumptious and cheap!
However, this small city is chock-full of many other lovely cafes with a knack for brewing delicious drinks. We absolutely loved the decor and overall vibe of Divná Pani (Weird Lady). Their drinks are a little on the pricey side, but the decadence of their hot chocolates and chocolate-infused coffees is irresistible.
Bratislava is not a big city by any means when compared to most other European capitals. However, it does suffer from light pollution, often cloaking the stars at night. But in sleepy Banská Štiavnica, the stars twinkle without inhibition, so be sure to reserve an evening for star-gazing. We absolutely loved our walks through the center around Trinity Square at night, when the freckled sky guided us home.
A final note
I realize most of you, my dear readers, are reading this from far away. The prospect of traveling is likely both a calming and troubling thought for you during a time when staying stationary is the best thing we can do to keep each other safe. I hope, at the very least, this post helped your mind take a mini-vacation to a lesser-known destination.
When any of you do manage to make the trip to Banská Štiavnica, I will gladly tag along. But, in the meantime, I hope you all continue to take care of one another and do your best to find the beauty in ordinary things. After all, there are more ways to find inner equilibrium than standing on the crooked cobblestone scattered throughout Banská Štiavnica 🙂
PS: The local potraviny (small grocery store) in Banská Štiavnica is a chaotic gem, filled to the brim with 90’s candy and a bunch of random delights. Be sure to check it out!