As you’ve probably worked out by now, Englishmaninslovakia.com doesn’t focus on well-known Slovakian places so much. We prefer to dig deep to find the truth under the cliches and to this end, on a cold, blustery and crisp day in February, we went to Hlohovec.
I confess we did go there with an attitude of determination to discover something beautiful, if only for the reason that people told us there was nothing beautiful there. Hlohovec is a good example of a medium-sized town in Western Slovakia (on the main route northeast from Bratislava between Trnava and Trenčin) that gets overlooked: because it doesn’t have quite the spectacular location of, say, Poprad, nor the beauty of, say, Bardejov AND because it is near enough to Bratislava and Trnava that its residents simply go to one of these larger cities if they need anything like a night out.
Hlohovec does have some claims to fame. It has a castle, Hlohovsky Zámok, in an expansive park just outside the town. It’s got landscaped gardens and a quite impressive theatre that often has Beethoven concerts in memory of the town’s most famous visitor, who stopped over for a night at the castle en route to the spa at Piešt’any and may have given a recital there, depending on which version of the story you listen to (actually, no joke, Bratislava and Slovakia do have a rich heritage of attracting top-notch composers – see a separate post on this very topic). The problem (aha I hear you say) is that whilst the park is great for a walk (you can even carry on walking above the castle into the hills and get to a small observatory with good views of Western Slovakia) it is, ahem, closed. And also in a bad state of repair.
If they invested money in the castle refurbishment, this town really would regain some more of the life it clearly once had back. In fact, a consortium tried to do this about ten years ago but local government officials doubted its potential to succeed and rejected the bid. More recently, some aspiring young inhabitants of the town tried to join the local council with a promise to focus on restoring the castle gardens and the castle.They too were crushed (another campaign, with a new young mayor at the helm, to refurbish the castle, is currently underway as of summer 2015 – let’s see how far it gets). In fact, it could quite accurately be said that Hlohovec is not a Trenčin (in terms of beauty) mainly because of terrible management by government officials.
Because there is a (very poorly publicised) castle tour here. I mean, in this sense, a tour of the many unheralded but spectacular castles in the immediate vicinity of Hlohovec. Starting at Červený Kameň to the southwest you can progress northeast via a spectacular Western Slovakia Castle Tour that cuts right through Hlohovec. I have rarely seen a town with so much unfulfilled potential as here. It’s not just the castle: Hlohovec lies in astoundingly beautiful scenery.
You can follow trails, right from where this picture is taken, up west above the banks of the Váh into the wooded hills of the Malé Karpaty, on red and yellow-marked trails through abandoned castles and old quarries almost all the way to Trenčin (there are chaty, or mountain houses, en route). A cycle path also connects it along the river bank itself to Piešt’any.
So, as for nature, Hlohovec is first-class. The architecture tells a slightly different story (yeah – a bit obliterated by Communism) but nevertheless in the centre there’s an attractive pedestrian street with a few surprisingly good cafes (and, get this, a jazz club!); there’s also the grounds of an old monastery (C. late 15th century) where the father of the Slovak language, Ján Hollý, lived for a while. Don’t shoot me down. I know Ľudovít Štúr gets credited with being the father of Slovak, but Hollý actually wrote in Slovak first (he was the first poet/writer to famously do so) and Štúr came asking for Hollý’s advice when he was establishing Slovak as an official written language. The grounds also contain a museum with lots of old pictures of the town back in the days when it was also one of the most prominent centres of Jewish culture and learning in the old Austro-Hungarian empire Slovakia was once part of.
So should you stop off there when you’re heading northeast for the more famous beauty of the Tatras? Probably. Just to see how a real Slovak town ticks along. And possibly to do some really amazing hiking.
Best Cafe: Berry Cafe, Kapitána Nálepku 4. The cakes come from the Piešt’any cake shop I’ve raved about on another post and with quite a modern vibe, it’s the place where everyone hangs in Hlohovec! It’s right in the centre: the Facebook link here has a map.
Best Restauraunt: Jašter. An out-of-town place on a hill backed by a wood which has nice summer barbecues and a high quality of food. The link here gives good directions.
Best Sights: The castle and the park, the museum, the river and the surrounding hills. Oh, and a special meadow called Poniklecová Lúcka, which is one of the best places in Slovakia to see the rare pasque flower growing.
Best Place to Stay: U Janásov. This is unconfirmed as I’ve not stayed there, but it has the best location (it’s where pic no. 2 is taken) and by all accounts it’s the best deal (it’s sometimes closed in the winter months). Hotel Jeleň is in the centre and is another option.
NEXT ON THE JOURNEY: From Hlohovec, it’s 23km north (hiking trails also lead through the hills) to one of Western Slovakia’s best and most serendipitous restaurants, Furman (above Piešt’any) and the hike in Beethoven’s footsteps that awaits there.