Štefánikova magistrála

The Carpathian Mountains are a 1500 km arc-shaped mountain range that begin on the Czech-Slovak border just north of Myjava, and stretch across Central and Eastern Europe. In contrast, the lesser known Little Carpathians (Malé Karpaty) are a low mountain range around 95 km in length, that run between Hainburg an der Donau in Austria, and Nove Mesto nad Vahom in Slovakia. The Štefánikova magistrála (Štefániks Highway) is a 114 km hiking trail and the main ‘touristic artery’ through these mountains. The route was named in honour of Milan Rastislav Štefánik, who played an important role in setting up the first Czechoslovakian State after the disintegration of the Austro-Hungarian Empire at the end of the WWI.

Kamzík TV tower and the Little Carpathian mountains

Cloud inversion after climbing Vápenná

Milan Rastislav Štefánik

Štefánik studied astronomy in Prague, and later travelled to Paris in search of employment. During the WWI, he enlisted in the French Army, and was also a founding member of the Czechoslovak National Council. As the story goes, in 1915 he hiked through the Serbian countryside for nearly 120 km over a period of eight days to escape from the advancing Bulgarian Army, whilst fighting various guerrilla groups along the way. He survived WWI, and after returning to Paris, he began his diplomatic career; his primary focus was contributing to the foundations of Czechoslovakia, a new country in post-war Europe. Tragically, he was killed in May 1919, when his plane crashed near Ivanka pri Dunaji whilst attempting to land at Bratislava airport (which incidentally, is now named after him). Štefánik is considered a national hero in Slovakia, and most towns have some sort of statue or bust to commemorate his life.

Milan Rastislav Štefánik

Milan Rastislav Štefánik

The Route

It’s extremely unlikely that Štefánik hiked this 114 km trail; instead it’s simply a tourist trail which includes several notable landmarks in Western Slovakia (whilst being of similar distance to what he reportedly covered in Serbia). Starting in the suburb of Devín (#1), which is situated at the confluence of the Danube and Morava rivers, the trail ascends over Devinska kobyla (#2) before making a slight urban detour through the edge of Bratislava. After Kamzik (#5), which is the highest point of the city, the trail leaves Bratislava and follows the rigeline of the Little Carpathians, whilst includes six of the ten highest peaks and several castles. The end point is his tomb in Bradlo (#17), near the small town of Brezová pod Bradlom. I’ve made an annotation route of the map, including the notable points of interest, and a profile of the terrain.

Although Štefánik’s trail ends at his tomb, the red trail extends a further 600 km eastwards towards Kosice, and then north to Bardejov and Svidnik, and into Poland via the Dukla Pass. That section is known as the Cesta hrdinov SNP, which roughly translates as ‘the Journey of the heroes of the Slovak National Uprising’.

Access, facilities and equipment

One of the most frustrating aspects of this trail is the lack of facilities; as expected, the public transport and accommodation options around Devín and Bratislava are excellent, however these diminish rapidly after Kamzík. There is a popular pub at Biely kríž, a small hotel and some seasonal eateries at Pezinská Baba, and several places in Dobrá Voda and Brezová pod Bradlom. Other than these, you will need to make a detour to one of the many small town or villages on either side of the mountains. Those on the eastern slopes usually have better connections than those on the west; check the Cestovné poriadky website for connections (Apple | Android).

You won’t need any specialist equipment, although I do recommend a decent pair of walking shoes and some long trousers – there can be a lot of scrambling over rocks and thick vegetation in places. The route is reasonably well marked, however there are places where the markings disappear, or at least are very spaced out. You’ll definitely need a map. VKÚ Harmanec produce several 1:25’000 scale maps that cover the region; Malé Karpaty – juhMalé Karpaty – stred, and Malé Karpaty – sever. The Kníhkupectvo Martinus bookshop on Obchodná is probably the best place to buy these. A slightly more convenient option is the mapy.cz app (Apple | Android). Whilst the language may pose some initial difficulties, it is easy to use and has all hiking routes marked for both Czechia and Slovakia. I never go anywhere without it!

My journey on this trail

Since moving to Bratislava in Spring 2016, I’ve spent many weekends exploring the region and inadvertantly started hiking sections of Štefánik’s trail. Consequently, I thought it would be an interesting challenge to walk the entire length; not all at once I hasten to add, but in manageable stages. I’m planning on writing a couple of blog posts which will provide some detailed information on the route, so watch this space.

Bratislava

MAPS

Czech Beer

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Břevnov Monastery, Prague

A BRIEF HISTORY OF CZECH BEER

The Czech Republic is a beer nation, and the Czech lands have a rich history when it comes to brewing. The first written mention of brewing beer was at the Břevnov Monastery in Prague, in 993 AD. During the 13 th century several breweries were founded in various towns, including those in České Budějovice and Plzeň. Since the birth of Pilsner in 1842, demand switched from the traditional dark lager to pale lager, and exports of Czech beer steadily increased and became well established throughout the world. Those brewing traditions have continued to present day, and in 2008, the international reputation and uniqueness of “České pivo” led to the possibility of a Protected Geographical Indication mark for beers brewed within the Czech Republic; an option that several breweries have since taken. I recommend the following article for a comprehensive review on the history of Czech Beer.

Czech beer today

The following blog posts outline some useful information on Czech beers, and what you can expect when visiting the country.

Making sense of Czech beer

Breweries in the Czech Republic

A return to historical brewing methods

Unusual beers

THE BEST CZECH BEER?

As mentioned in the posts above, Czech beer is brewed with ingredients that are locally sourced; much of which is not subjected to pasteurisation or filtration, and those that are don’t spend long in transit. I believe these factors contribute to taste and quality, thus any Czech beers that you may have tried outside of the Czech Republic will probably taste very different to those same beers that are brewed and sold within the country.

There are no shortage of places to grab a beer. If sitting in a tourist trap drinking crap beer is your thing, then fair enough. However, it would be a shame to ignore the high quality unfiltered (nefiltrovaný) beer produced by the many smaller breweries scattered throughout Prague and the rest of the country. If you can’t manage a visit to one of the 350 breweries, then there are many pubs which specialise in beers from these lesser known breweries. When opting for one of the well known brands, it’s almost essential to visit one of the busier restaurants that sell unpasteurised (tankové) beer. Here you’ll understand why the Czech Republic became famous for brewing; not only is the beer of excellent quality, it’s well maintained and expertly poured, and as the famous Czech proverb goes:

“The brewmaster brews the beer, but the bartender makes it.”

 

 

 

 

 

Sport in Prague

If you’re travelling to Prague and are interested in football or ice hockey, then I definitely recommend that you take in a game if possible. Whilst both are extremely popular, ice hockey is definitely the firm favourite due to their rich history and the famous gold medal win at the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano. Given their modest population of around ten million, the Czech’s have performed reasonably well in the world sport. Since the dissolution of Czechoslovakia in 1993, their football team have qualified for every European Championship and one World Cup Finals, and are currently 26th in the FIFA rankings. Consistent performances, in addition to a silver medal at Euro 96 and a semi-final appearance at Euro 2004, have seen many promising younger footballers earn moves to teams in the top European leagues. It’s fairly common to see them return home in the twilight of their careers. Similarly, a golden age in ice hockey starting in the mid 90’s saw the Czech’s win five gold medals in the space of six years, with many of their players currently playing in the NHL or KHL. They’re currently 6th in IIHF rankings.

Slavia v Sparta, Eden Arena

SK Slavia v AC Sparta, Eden Arena

The experience of watching club games in Czech Republic (and central Europe) is very different from that of the UK. As a general rule of thumb the sections behind the goals are home to the hardcore supporters and ‘ultras’ who generate a terrific atmosphere through their drums, chants, and the regular impressive choreographic displays used to promote their own club or mock their rivals. Occasionally pyrotechnics are used, although this tends to be more prominent with away fans. Attending games is generally safe and you’re unlikely to encounter any problems or issues. However, there can be rare incidents of isolated violence at some local derbies, whilst games involving FC Baník Ostrava tend to have a larger police presence. If in doubt, avoid club colours and the sections behind the goals. The catering stalls within the grounds are reasonably priced, and you’re allowed to take alcohol to your seat (unless it’s a UEFA competition); typical snacks include sausages and potato pancakes. Tickets are easy enough to come by. There are many tourist agencies that offer ticketing services, although this is an unnecessary waste of money given that many tickets can be purchased online and printed out at home. Furthermore, games very rarely sell out so you’ll be able to purchase tickets at the venue on the day.

Below are links to the options for watching either football or ice hockey in Prague.

Watching Football in Prague

Watching Ice Hockey in Prague