Bratislava Castle, overlooking the Old Town of Bratislava and the Danube River.

BRATISLAVA - DANUBE’S RISING STAR

WHILE lesser-known of the European ports of call, Bratislava’s Stary Mesto (Old Town) is becoming a ‘hot spot’. JOY DODDS reports.


WITH Budapest downstream and Vienna upsteam, it is easy to see why there’s a tendency for Bratislava to play second fiddle to the two tourism giants. Yet this small city has a character of its own, and a rich history.

Bratislava was an important city in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and a royal seat for 200 years. Known at the time as Pressburg, the city flourished during the 18th-century reign of Queen Maria Theresa during which Baroque palaces, squares, churches and mansions were built.

When Czechoslovakia was formed after World War I, the focus switched to Prague. Post-1945, the city suffered architecturally under Soviet domination, but since 1993, when it became capital of Slovakia, a metamorphis has taken place with squares and buildings, some dating back to the 14th century, restored to their former glory and charm.

Bratislava’s charming medieval centre with its two main squares and narrow, winding streets is overlooked by its massive hill-top castle beside the river Danube. Its numerous museums are surprisingly rich and the opera productions of the Slovak National Theatre rival anything in Europe.

The city exudes a great sense of pride - and fun. The Old Town offers numerous good places to eat and a rich nightlife. On warm days almost every cafe has an outdoor seating section in the street, bustling with life and giving the city a unique cozy feeling.

For authentic Slovak food, such as dumplings with sheep's cheese topped with meat, potent garlic soup, schnitzels and goulashes, head to a pub or try one of the local micro-breweries, such as Meštiansky Pivova. Slovak beer is famous, as is its plum brandy, Slivovica.

To reflect its growing tourism, the city boasts many new hotels one of the best being centrally-located Austria Trend Hotel Bratislava (bratislava@austria-trend.at).

Wander the narrow streets of the Old Town, with its old historic squares, pastel-coloured C18th buildings and sidewalk cafés. Enjoy the view from Bratislava Castle, or take an excursion to the ruins of historic Devlin Castle, along the Danube. One of the smallest historical centres, Bratislava’s charm is more concentrated, not as swamped by tourism, and transmits its emerging optimism.

More details: wwwvisitbratislava.eu

SIGHTS:

Bratislava
Castle:

Dominates the western side of the Old Town on a hill overlooking the Danube. A fire in 1811 left it in ruins and reconstruction is ongoing. From the ramparts you can see nearby Hungary, Austria and the Danube Valley. The Slovak National Museum is inside.

St Martin’s Cathedral:

The Gothic C14th church, the coronation place of 11 Austro-Hungarian monarchs, sits below the castle, near the Danube.

Michael’s Gate and Tower:

Bratislava’s only remaining gate of the original medieval fortifications, circa C14th. The tower has a green copper roof. Above the five floors of medieval weaponry is a viewing platform with panoramic views of the old town.


Grassalkovich Palace .

Built as a summer residence in the 18th-century, this huge rococo-style palace and centre for Hungarian aristocracy is now the presidential residence.

Maximilian's Fountain :

Built in 1527, this was the first fountain in Bratislava.

The Primate's Palace:

An 18th-century palace inspired by French classicism, and one of the most beautiful buildings in Bratislava. The Old Town Hall next door.houses the City Museum with clock tower or historical dungeons.

Academia Istropolitana: the oldest university in the area, now occupied by the state , from the C13th.

Blue Church:

The Church of St Elizabeth (1911) on Bezručova street is an art nouveau fantasy in cool blue hues.

New Bridge – a high bridge over the Danube river, its flying saucer-shaped structure housing a restaurant called UFO. Great views over the city

Eurovea

This new restaurant/retail complex beside the Danube is en vogue and adjoins the new Slovak National Theatre.

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