When I said that I am going to Bratislava, I got a “mixed bag” reaction…. Where is it? What is there to see? Who goes to such unknown and “untouristy” place? Well! That decided it… I needed to visit, see and then write about this capital city of Slovakia, the other half of breakaway country from the former Czechoslovakia. It is not as glamourous or famous as its close neighbours like Budapest, Prague or Vienna but it has its own historical stories and awesome castles.
Sunrise over Bratislava
My husband and I took the train from Budapest to this charming city. The journey took about two and a half hours. Normally, visitors make a day trip to Bratislava from either Vienna, which is about 60 km away (an hour’s ride on the city shuttle), or Budapest. We decided to stay a night and see more of the place.
The old town is very similar to any other old squares of a European city with its mandatory church and pedestrian lanes lined with souvenir shops, canopied bars and restaurants. It is situated on one side of the Danube and the other side is the very modern part of city with typical high rise buildings.
The massive castle of Bratislava looms over the city, sitting atop a hill. The main gate to the castle is very impressive and ornate. The gardens are decorated with beds of spring and summer flowers and tree lined pathways. The architecture is simple and there are statues all over the place. But, aesthetically, there is nothing very remarkable about them as compared to the castles in Austria, Germany or France.
The view of the city and the Danube, from the terraces of the castle, is very scenic and the mellow lights of sunrise and sunset give a very romantic tinge to the city below.
The UFO observation tower is another landmark in the city. It is situated at the end of the bridge near Most SNP and has a restaurant where visitors can enjoy beautiful sunset over a cup of coffee or wine.Bratislava CastleView of the town and the UFO observation tower at the end of the bridge from the Bratislava Castle
The main attraction of Bratislava is the Devin Castle, which is about 10 km from the old town and is situated on a hill at the confluence of rivers Danube and Morava. It has an interesting medieval history as it served as a fortress, military base and trade centre. The Maiden Tower and the castle itself (called Dowina previously) gets its name from the Slavic word Deva meaning Girl. Now, of course, it is in ruins but stands elegantly and proudly high above the ground on the banks of Danube as a witness to the turbulent past.View of the Devin castle from the bus stand
The hike to the castle is an easy one and takes about half an hour from the bus stand. The surroundings are wonderfully lush green. Fortunately, we got a glorious weather and started early in the morning to avoid the mid-day sun. There is a direct bus (no. 29) which starts from the bus stand under the bridge Most SNP and terminates at the castle parking area. Another bus (no. 28) which passes by the castle also has a stop under the bridge and drops off visitors on the main road which is about 500m from the lane leading to the castle. Most SNP is at the edge of the Old Town and very close to the UFO observation tower.
The place has many hiking and biking trails to nearby mountain and vineyard areas. We saw many cycling enthusiasts zooming past us on the way to the mountains.
As we had reached early (castle gates open at 10:00 am), we walked along the river bank and soaked in the peaceful and ambient atmosphere. The point where the Morava River meets the Danube is clearly visible even from the ground level. We saw huge barges quietly floating on the Danube transporting cargo. The chirping of the birds and the swish of the water was the only sound to be heard at that early morning hour. The blue of the river and the vibrant green of the flora and fauna created a very tranquil and soothing atmosphere.Cycling trails from the Castle
There is a simple memorial by the riverside, dedicated to the people who lost their lives during the Iron Curtain rule fighting for their rights.Memorial by the Devin castleAtop the Devin castle
The view from the tower is amazing and very picturesque. On one side is the triangular meeting point of the two rivers and the other side has the quaint village of Devin and the lovely vineyards on the hillside. Every part of the castle has a panoramic view and is a treat for the shutterbugs!Confluence of Danube and MoravaDevin village and the vineyards
We spent the entire morning walking along the river bank and then roaming around the castle grounds without getting bored or feeling tired. We found many local people also enjoying their weekend here and they said that they come whenever there is sunshine and the weather is pleasant.
The local people sell homemade wines and jams in stalls at the car park. They provide wine tasting from their produces so that the visitors can choose and buy their wine.
Devin Castle may not have manicured lawns and landscaped gardens. It is sans any fountains, statues or ornate gates but it has been endowed with spectacular natural green environs. It is worth a visit just to relax, contemplate, meditate and of course to taste the excellent wine produced in the area! For the adventurous, it offers one of the best cycling trails in Slovakia and easy to hard hiking trails through the forests and the mountains of Devinska Kobyla.
There are two other interesting places worth a visit and which can be combined with the Devin Castle as a full day itinerary. One is the Sandberg which is an archaeological site amidst a desert and showcases the geological past of Slovakia. The other is imposing but little known Schlosshof across the border in Austria, which can be reached by walking over a bridge from Novoveska. Bus No.28 has a request stop for Sandberg and Novoveska.