Spis

Picture of countryside The Spis region is a historical area of northern and eastern Slovakia that roughly corresponds to several days of our trip. We based ourselves in Poprad which is a convenient location to get to the smaller Spis towns, the High Tatras, the lower Tatras and southern Poland.
Picture of vlkolinec_above Probably not technically part of Spis but close enough for an easy day trip is the village of Vlkolínec. We came in through the industrial town of Ruzomberok from whence it's hard to imagine you're just a few kilometers away from an idyllic mountain village. The road to Vlkolínec branches off the main highway just south of Ruzomberok and winds up a narrow valley. Vlkolínec is a living museum where the town has collectively agreed to preserve the history and way of life.
Picture of vlkolinec_entrance The town is still inhabited and the presentation is of an 18th century (or older) Slovak mountain village. There are indications of modern life if you peer around enough like cars parked out back and satellite dishes. It was rainy and a bit cold when we visited and the only real signs of life were a handful of other tourists and a school group.
Picture of vlkolinec_houses There's not a whole lot to do in Vlkolínec other than enjoy the surroundings. There is one very small museum / gift shop. The church can be visited and there's an over priced art gallery of local works (on top of the fee to enter the village and another to take pictures). Hiking trails run over the mountains to other towns and seem to have great views of the mountains. We didn't travel all that far on any of them since the weather was generally miserable.
Picture of vlkolinec_barn UNESCO says Vlkolínec represents a remarkably intact settlement of traditional log homes. This picture happens to be a barn but most of the houses were originally home to two families - one in the front of the home and one in the rear. Now there are about 45 families remaining in town and a couple of the homes act as very small guest houses.
Picture of david_well The center of town is where two roads meet, the 150-year old well is located here and a small channel of river water bisects the street. The entire town can be seen at a leisurely pace in an hour. In another hour you can walk out to some of the surrounding fields, visit the museum and sample the excellent mead (honey-wine) made nearby. If it's cold and rainy, we recommend sampling the mead before you wander the village.
Picture of high_tatras North of Poprad and Ruzomberok along the border with Poland are the High Tatras. The peaks here are mostly in the 8000 ft (2600m) range. There is skiing in the winter and alpine trekking / climbing in the summer. We couldn't really do either as we were between seasons so we stayed close to the resort towns. A narrow gauge train makes a circuit of all the High Tatra towns and would be a useful way to visit them - especially since parking is inconvenient and expensive.
Picture of stary_smokovec We actually gave up on a couple of towns because parking was such a hassle and in some cases, outrageously expensive considering nothing was open. Stary Smokovec was an exception as parking was close to town and there was plenty to see within easy walking distance. We had lunch here - ordering a couple of Slovakian staples. Garlic soup can be found just about everywhere in Slovakia and if you happen to like garlic (we do) then you can't go wrong ordering it. We also had pirohy - the Slovak version of pierogi which are typically swimming in melted butter.
Picture of levoca_street Levoča is an impressive town just east of Poprad. The city walls are intact and very obvious from the autoroute. We stopped by on another day trip and wandered around town one afternoon. Inside Levoča's walls is a confusing maze of one-way streets and alleys that will probably lead to the main square (eventually).
Picture of levoca_center This picture is of Levoča's town hall and the church next to it. Levoča is well-preserved mainly due to two major accidents in the town's history. The first is a fire in 1550 that led to the entire town being rebuilt (and thus a lot of 16th century architecture). The second is that the train line which arrived in the 19th century bypassed Levoča (at the town's request) which left it more isolated and ultimately actually helped preserve the existing buildings.
Picture of spissky_stvrtok Just west of Levoča is Spišsky Štvrtok. You can't miss the little town because of the Gothic church which sits on a hill and can be seen for miles in all directions. That's about all we learned about it as the church was not open and we just stopped by because we were impressed with the view.
Picture of castle_overview Most people visit the Spiš region to visit Spiš Castle. We had heard it was impressive and seen pictures like these but they don't really do it justice. From afar the castle looks like an impossible collection of walls and towers that extend from the natural rock atop the hill. Curtain walls run down the hillside and help make this one of the largest castles in Europe.
Picture of castle_keep There are parking areas near (but well below) the castle on both sides. It's a decent hike up to the admission area which is actually inside the second set of walls. There's a self-guided brochure available in a dozen or more languages which is minimally informative but most of the castle is ruined now so a basic map is sufficient.
Picture of castle_yard Spiš castle started at the top of the hill with a circular fort that dates from the 12th century. It expanded outward from there gaining a tower and a palace under the Hungarian kings of the 13th century. It was heavily involved in politics from then on and successive owners built successive layers of walls including the huge courtyard that can be seen here.
Picture of castle_us The castle was never conquered in a military battle although the palace portion did burn down. Now there is a museum in the remnants of the palace near the central tower. Collectively we spent almost 4 hours in the castle and on the assorted walls and structures around it. Supposedly on a clear day there are good views of the Tatra Mountains as well. We were happy just to get an hour of sun during our visit.
Picture of castle_green

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