Slovakia by bicycle: the Aquavelo itinerary through Western Carpathians and Tatra Mountains
Our No Plans Journey through Europe led us here, cycling through some of the Visegrád villages. The first is Slovakia: by bicycle we came from Ukraine and the last bits of Carpathians, to cycle West and touch the Tatra Mountains and dive into Poland. A wonderful itinerary of secondary roads and unexpected cycle ways.
Slovakia by bicycle: the autumn is magic!
Our short visit to Slovakia starts at the border with Ukraine, where we are coming from. Ubl'a is a small village immersed in the hills down by the Western Carpathians, North-East of the country.
The road running towards West occupies the less populated area of Slovakia, near the Poloniny National Parl. The slopes of the soft hills w face in this first stage are covered by broadleaved woods. We clearly see elms, birches, and beechwoods next to broad fields.
The first night, coming from Ukraine, we place the tent in one of these fields just outside the village of Ubl'a. It's autumn, the woods paint this territory with a polychrome palette like a Van Gogh.
As soon as the dark comes, with it we can hear many sounds from the forest: it's the deers! They'll try to impress the female all night long... well, for sure they impressed US! And the sleepless night is the consequence...
The morning fog covers everything while we get back on the bike towards the small villages. The traffic is insignificant until Stakcín and the sun gives some incredible lights. The road gets busier and busier, and we leave the Green bicycle - East Carpathian Greenway, a ring connecting Ukraine, Slovakia, and Poland, going up North.We keep cycling towards the setting sun on the road between Snina and Hummené. The city is pretty big, but we manage to cross it without any problems, to then leave the main street and jump back in the heart of the autumn hills in this corner of Slovakia by bicycle.
Sleeping in a castle
The sun sets very early during this time of the year, so we have to adapt. The first pub - like these last days - is for us: a couple of pints (1,50€ when it's expensive) help us in the study of the map for the place to camp for the night.
In 10 km we find some ruins... maybe there's a camping area nearby - we think. We get back on the bikes, pass by Topolovka and follow the plain road straight to the feet of the hill. The ruins of the castle of Čičva can be seen from the distance: tonight we treat ourselves and make a last effort and climb the hill to the top in order to "sleep in the castle". it's probably one of the most beautiful locations we camped lately, with a great view over the valley and a wonderful green field full of colorful leaves.
Hills, hills everywhere!
When we leave the ruins of the Čičva Castle to reach Kvakovce, we go from the heat of our tent to a freezing fog covering the valley.
After a few kilometers, we leave the traffic to climb the hills through a very fun dirty road. Nala thanks and start chasing wild animals: fortunately the predatory abilities of our four-legged friend are inversely proportioned to her enthusiasm!
After this first hill, we can reach the four houses in Michalok to get back on paved road in Petkovce and follow the river Top'la until Hanušovce nad Topľou. Hill after hill we're on the Sekcov embankment near Tulcik. The day runs fast and the sunset comes really early... we find another lovely spot for the tent.
The next morning we're aware that the road to Bardejov won't be too long, so we take our time to wake up and then we start following the river to Raslavice where we can leave traffic again. We slowly climb on the paved road when the morning sun becomes hot meridian heat, just before the descent to the medieval city.
Bardejov, a small medieval jewel
The city of Bardejov, in the Prešov, is a small medieval and well-preserved jewel. Coming from the hinterland isn't ideal, but as soona s you reach the centre through the protection walls, there is no doubt about that.The heart of this city is the Town Hall square, with gothic and renaissance buildings all around, where you can find the St. Giles Church, dating back to XIII century. In the middle of this square the Town Hall hosts a permanent exhibition. Riding in this city is so pleasant, and you can stop a for a fresh beer here.
The Aquavelo, a permament itinerary through Poland and Slovakia by bicycle
After a relaxing night in a comfortable bed and a real dinner, we feel ready to get back on our ride. We're pleasantly amazed by the cycle path out of the city that follows the river Topla: it's the beginning of a path called Aquavelo, realized thanks an Interreg project in cooperation with Slovakia and Poland. We didn't know about this itinerary, but after a look at the map in Bardejov, we decide to follow it for a while, crossing the nations.
Before reaching the main path, we enter the woods, starting a sweet climb through colorful beeches. There are no cars and when asphalt ends, a dirt road to many hills and woods starts. We enjoy the ride while Nala runs freely in these fields.We cross little villages like Sveržov, after which a steep climb starts between Slovakia and Poland.We cross the border at 680m altitude.
Our entrance in the Voivodeship of Lesser Poland is made through a fast descent following the river Muszynka. We avoid the touristic city of Krynica-Zdrój, following the river. Near a small restaurant imemrsed in Nature, where we find a mini-skilift (I smile thinking about our lifts), we ask to place our tent and we win another great dinner.
The morning humidity along the river hugs us until Muszyna, the main centre of this area. When the sun comes out, we literally get lost in the net of cycle paths coming in and out of the city, before reaching the right way along the Poprad river. This water flow defines the border between the two countries and we'll be following it for a few kilometres. before getting back to Slovakia by bicycle.This part of the itinerary is part of the Eurovelo 11 (Eastern Europe).
Tatra Mountains and the Dunajec Gorge
Back to Poland always along the river, not far from Piwniczna-Zdrój, the Aquavelo itinerary turns towards West, with a steep and hard ascent to Obidza, small mountain village where you can spot the Tatra Mountains outline. The ascent is very hard, paved until the first houses. On Sundays, this place is pretty busy by trekkers and Polish hikers. The last hundreds of meters are paved, and this helps understanding the gradients... which are a limit to our bikes with trailers and luggage! The hikers help us by smiling and cheering us: this gives us the strength to reach the highest point, where the road ends and a beautiful dirt road starts.
The view is stunning, the crowd ends and the woods protect us from the sun, that at this altitude is not annoying. We catch breath before the dirt road... we weren't expecting such a technical descent, but the fun is guaranteed, especially if you're travelling witha dog trailer! We reach Jawork: it looks like a mountain village in Switzerland Alps, with small wooden houses and cured gardens around.We get back on asphalt when the sun is already down and in a few minutes we ride for the last km until Szczawnica, a small but very touristy city near the Dunajec Gorge, natural wonder marking the end of our bicycle touring itinerary in Slovakia.
I leave for another article the narration of the circle we cycled the next day to reach the cycle path in the Gorge. Slovakia by bicycle gave us many views and stunning lands, secondary roads and technical paths. We cycled only a small part of this country, still we'd like to come back again in order to discover this beautiful mix of nature and traditions.
- The itinerary described here crosses the North-East area of this nation, but all the country offers many cycle paths.
- Through Bratislava, the capital, you can ride on the Eurovelo 6, 11 or 13.
- Once in Szczawnica, ride on the cycle path through the Dunajec Gorge.
- How much does sleeping in Slovakia and Poland cost? These two countries are way cheaper than other European countries: you can find a double room or an apartment for 35-40€.
- On this itinerary in Slovakia by bicycleyou can find a place to stay in Bardejov, Muszyna, Szczawnica or Humennè or look for a camping spot, always asking for permission when in a private area.
- In some places you can stop for more than 1 night, staying in an AirBnB apartment .
- Water is easy to find along the itinerary, even if there aren’t many fountains.
- Beer is a national institution, so you can find it everywhere, even cheaper than water… we never ended a day without a good pint!
- The kitchens of these countries are not very diverse, but the typical dishes are great and cheap. The Kapustnica, sauerkrauts and sausage soup, is a calories bomb for cyclists, the cheese gnocchi or the potatoes fritters with goulash are very much recommended.
- For further information about Slovakia and its cycle paths visit the Slovakian Tourism Board website.
ITA - Ho 31 anni e sono piemontese, anche se da qualche anno vivo e lavoro in Lombardia. Dopo un inizio da totale inesperto in questo campo, mi sono avvicinato al mondo dei cicloviaggi e della bicicletta sempre più. Oggi posso definirmi "cicloviaggiatore", e assieme all'altra mia passione - il videomaking - non mi fermerei mai! Cyclo ergo sum, pedalo quindi sono, per cercare di capire perché andare in bici sia così bello, terapeutico, ricco... E ogni volta che provo a capirlo, non ce la faccio, e sono costretto a ripartire sui pedali!