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.
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.
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 – juh, Malé 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.