If it is castles you seek, look no further than Slovakia. With over 300 hrady throughout the country, ranging from ruins to meticulously kept near-palaces, everyone can find one to their liking. Bojnice’s fairy tale castle is sure to please anyone in quest of their Disney princess experience. You could easily imagine any medieval knight riding off into the sunset towards Trencin’s fortress. The white and red modern marvel looming over Bratislava may come across as more palace than castle, but the capital’s fierce defender, Devin, guards the Danube from its rocky crag. But, despite all of the competition, it’s Spišsky Hrad that earns the premier spot on all of the Slovak tourism literature and guide books.
Although it will require traveling further east than any of the previously mentioned castles, you won’t regret the trip when you see the looming 12th century ruins come into view. The rocky remains rise up from an already rocky limestone base over the village Spišské Podhradie, which literally means, village under Spiš Castle. From the village, it is easy to walk (just follow the yellow trail signs), or drive to the castle. In light of the scenery, it really seems most appropriate to gallop up to the castle gate on horseback, but as far as I know the only four-legged creatures in the vicinity is a herd of deer that reside in the castle woods. In reality, it only takes about 15 minutes to walk to the entrance from the village. From this path, no tourist entrances, parking lots, or even modern buildings are visible to taint your view as you walk back in time.
You can take a path around either side of the castle and enter through the main gate. We were fortunate enough to run across a man setting up for paragliding on the hill near the parking lot just as we rounded the corner. Apparently the dreary, blustery, perfect-for-castling weather also made for pretty great paragliding as he soared over the castle the entire time we were inside.
Unfortunately, we weren’t able to listen to the supposedly intriguing audio tour as April is just a pinch before the peak season when they are offered. Instead, we paid the 5€ entrance fee and gave ourselves a walking tour with an English pamphlet as our guide. For the most part the views from outside of the castle trump the interior, but there is an interesting museum of artifacts from both inside the castle and from excavations of nearby caves. Climbing the narrow, winding staircases of the castle tower, which is thought to date back to the castle’s earliest days, also makes the entrance fee a worthwhile investment. If you can avoid the “flying ants” that a sign claims are an imminent threat (still unsure of what that means) you will be able to overlook the expanse of land that the castle once ruled over.
To my own surprise, even after feeling a little “castled-out” after several months in Slovakia, the afternoon spent playing in Spiš Castle’s shadow will probably remain one of my most iconic moments in this country.