Before I wax lyrical about one of my favourite ranges of hills and forests (the Small Carpathians, or Malé Karpaty) too much more on this blog it’s probably necessary to give you some context. So here we go.
In terms of mountains in Slovakia, it’s the Carpathians that rule the roost. They’re the peaks that start in the Czech Republic, run through the north of Slovakia (and therefore encompassing the Mala Fatra/Vel’ka Fatra, Orava Valleys, High Tatras and Low Tatras sections of this blog under “Places to Go”) and the south of Poland, cut the corner of Hungary, charge south through the west of Ukraine and wind up cutting across the central massif of Romania. All-told, they’re longer than the Alps – and Europe’s second-longest mountain range.
The Carpathians are well-known, and, in Slovakia at least, much visited. But there’s several less-visited extensions of these mountains: “arms” if you like, that bisect Slovakia. And of these, the Small Carpathians are the most significant. These forested hills run from their join with the Carpathians proper somewhere outside Trenčin southwest right to the edge of Bratislava: and they dominate the landscape of all Western Slovakia. Almost entirely tree-clad and never rising above 770 metres, they are a far gentler prospect than the Carpathians – but can nevertheless be dramatic, and full of little-discovered treasures.
1) What’s There?
It would be wrong to cite anywhere in the Small Carpathians as key sights: because they’re all relatively low-key.
– Then there’s the hiking: through forests which, now trees in the Tatras have been hit by storms, are the densest and perhaps most untrammelled in Slovakia. Signed trails often lead to some of these castles, and also include the likes of viewing platforms (mammoth multi-tier wooden platforms that give you a birds-eye view above the treetops) and open up into flower-dotted meadows. On all trails you will find the lovingly built fire pits where Slovaks come in summer with their barbecued picnic lunches. There are also some formidable biking trails (marked with a C)
– And for something more relaxed after all that energy, the hills are home to the homonymous wine route (website link in Slovak only). Pezinok, Modra and Trnava are the hotbeds of this, and home to many of the wine cellars open for tours and tastings: the happy end product from the surrounding vineyards, which carpet the lower reaches of the Small Carpathians. Read our post on attending one of the many locally-organised wine tastings here.
– For something still more relaxing, the trees sometimes give way to reveal a number of great places to eat and drink. Some of these places are proper, rustic, typically Slovak eateries, too – traditional yet refined wooden cottages with huge stoves and bundles of charm – and easily accessible: try our post on Furmanska Krčma above Modra for starters.
– But above all, what the Small Carpathians are best for is providing a lot of quintisential Slovak experiences (forests, low mountains, hauntingly ruined castles, wine) and having precious few other visitors outside Slovakia – despite being on Bratislava’s doorstep.
SCROLL DOWN to the bottom of the post for our Top Five Things To Do in the Small Carpathians
a) From Bratislava’s Mestské Lesy
The part of the Small Carpathians closest to Bratislava is known as the Mestské Lesy (local city forest). It has its own defined boundaries but there’s no visible distinction between the Mestské Lesy and the Small Carpathians. From Bratislava, the two main entry points to the Mestské Lesy (and thus the Small Carpathians too) are:
– Kamzik, the large TV mast you will not fail to spot wherever you are in the city (whilst it’s a TV mast, it’s also a really beautiful section of forest, and a popular outing at weekends for Bratislava folk). It’s possible to drive up here (through the suburb of Koliba north of the main railway station), take a cable car up here (you have to take a train from the main railway station to Bratislava Zeležna Studienka railway Station, then follow Cesta Mládeže up the couple of km to Železná Studnička, a lake from where the cable car runs) or, easiest, take trolleybus 203 up here from the central Hodžovo Námestie to the end of the line in Koliba and then walk up about 20 minutes on obvious trails. We’re actually going to be posting more on this blog on Kamzik (bolded until the thing is written) because there’s places to eat, trails to trek and even places to stay up here.
– Pekná Cesta, a car park, barbecue area and forestry ranger post above the district of Rača in northeastern Bratislava. It’s possible to drive up here (or walk the 2km) straight up the road of Pekná Cesta from the tram stop of the same name (trams 3 and 5 run here from the centre of Bratislava).
RELATED POST: Bratislava Mestske Lesy (Local City Forest)
b) From Devínska Nová Ves, Bratislava.
The Small Carpathians falls away into Bratislava only to rear up again for one last, brief hurrah on the city’s western edge, accessed from the suburb of Devínska Nová Ves. There is backdoor access to Devín Castle from here, as well as superb views across to Austria from the top of Devínska Kobyla. Read our post about it here.
c) From Marianka (on the northern edge of Bratislava).
Marianka is Western Slovakia’s key pilgrimage site: a nice village in the foothills with good places to eat – and connected directly to the Bratislava public transport grid. Take bus 37 (hourly) from the bus station under Most SNP to the end of the line. Several hiking trails lead off from Marianka, including the pilgrimage route from Bratislava and the trail to Borinka and on up to Pajštún Castle. Read our post on Pajštún here.
d) From Western Slovakia.
Best access points are (in order from Bratislava) the towns of Pezinok, Modra, Smolenice (which lies within the hills and has access to the highest point of the Small Carpathians, Zarúby), Piešt’any, Nové Mesto nad Váhom and Trenčin.
3) The Small Carpathians on Englishmaninslovakia.com
The Small Carpathians span two sections on this blog.
a) Bratislava & Around
Falling within the Bratislava & Around section are any posts that fall within the geographical range detailed on our Great Bratislava map: namely:
– Heading North
Marianka (and the hikes around Borinka, Stupava and Pajštún Castle which lie a fraction beyond the northerly extent).
– Heading East/Northeast
Anything up to and including the small village of Svätý Jur.
b) Western Slovakia
Beyond the limits just specified, the rest of our blog posts on the Small Carpathians fall in this section.
4) Top Six Things To Do in the Small Carpathians
1: Go wine-tasting in some of the small wine cellars in the countryside around Modra or Pezinok
2: Visit the majestic castle of Červený Kameň near Časta. (see our Western Castle Slovak Tour for more)
3: Climb up to the high-point of the Small Carpathians from the small, pretty village of Smolenice – which has a gorgeous castle (where you can climb the tower for great views)
4: Spend a day hiking the trails of the central tract of the Small Carpathians and round it off with a night’s stay at plush Zochova Chata and a dinner of typical Slovak fare at traditional Furmanska Krčma.
5: Hike up to the hidden ruins of Hrad Tematin – and spend the night in the mountain hut there! (see our Mysterious Ruins of Tematin for more).
6: Descend into Western Slovakia’s only explorable cave system, Jaskyňa Driny (Driny Cave) near Smolenice.
GETTING THERE: As previously detailed, Bratislava, as well as the towns of Svätý Júr, Pezinok, Modra, Piešt’any, Smolenice, Nové Mesto nad Váhom and Trenčin have the best access to the Small Carpathians and, with the exception of Smolenice, have excellent, regular bus connections from Bratislava. Smolenice is more remote, thus has less buses (about every 1.5 hours from Bratislava direct, at a cost of 2.80 Euros, so still not bad). Pezinok, Piešt’any, Nové Mesto nad Váhom and Trenčin are also served by trains every 1.5 hours from Bratislava.