Sunday, February 12, 2012

Banska Stiavnica and Kremnica

We made a spur-of-the-moment decision to head out to Podrecany for the weekend to visit the in-laws, and with beautifully sunny weather on Saturday, we took Terka's dad's Skoda for an excursion to sort of nearby towns Banska Stiavnica and Kremnica. We took a day-trip to Bansk Stiavnica last year, but it was so horribly cold and snowing so heavily that just being outside was deeply unpleasant, so we didn't get a chance to explore the place or anything. This time, however, conditions were perfect for tromping around the historical hill town.

Picturesque Banska Stiavnica is situated dramatically amid mountainous, tree-filled terrain. Its steep, curvy, narrow roads snake back and forth along the slopes. It was originally a prosperous mining town, and the mines were owned and operated by German settlers. Now it's got UNESCO world heritage status, and is a fun place to wander. There's an old castle and a new castle, the latter being more like a glorified look-out and defensive tower. Pesky Ottoman invaders were an ongoing threat in the 1500s, so all of these old towns have castles or defensive walls of some sort.

Banska Stiavnica's old castle, center right. 
Banska Stiavnica's new castle. 
We had lunch in the same mediocre pizza place that we ate at last time. That first occasion was notable because the waitress took our order while talking on her cell phone (Slovakia, sadly, kind of has a reputation for bad customer service). We had the same waitress again, but she was a bit more pleasant this time.

After lunch, we slowly made our back to the car and headed over to another picturesque medieval hill town, Kremnica. I'd never been there before, but its claim to fame is having been one of the earliest coin minters in the region. Coins minted at Kreminca were said to be of such good quality that they were highly revered all over Europe. Today it's a sleepy town that's stuck on the side of a fairly steep slope. The surrounding area is not quite as picturesque as that of Banska Stiavnica, but it's still pretty darn nice. Kremnica at first appears to have a larger population, as it has a dense patch of panelaks that you drive through before hitting the center of town. But Stiavnica is more spread out and its population is actually about double that of Kremnica's.

We wandered the town, searched in vain for a place to pee, and then found one in a cool cafe where all the young locals were on a first name basis, and we had some awesomely amazing, rich, thick hot chocolate. You have to pay through the nose at chi-chi yuppie joints to get hot chocolate like this in the US. But here it was about a euro per cup. The main square is quite large and sits on a steep slope. It was covered in snow and a bunch of kids were sledding down it. The town appears to retain most of its original medieval walls. Perched dramatically at the historical center's highest point are a couple of medieval towers, one of them being a Prague-ishly ornate clock tower. These are part of the castle, which actually has its own set of medieval fortifications even though it sits inside the town's walls. These folks were evidently big on security.

Both of these towns are pretty remote (Banska Stiavnica is particularly isolated and inconvenient to get to in anything other than a car) and I don't know if they attract many non-Slovak tourists. Neither of 'em are in Rick Steves' book, so that should tell you something. I don't know how busy these places get in the summer, but it was nice to experience them free of tourists in the winter.

Click here to see all the photos from Banska Stiavnica and Kremnica!

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