Life gets, well, more laid-back the further east you venture. Somehow picturesque towns such as Levoča and Bardejov have avoided modern bustle and unfortunate 20th-century architectural decisions, while lingering over a streetfront cafe in delightful Košice is nigh-on obligatory.
Stupendous castles loom out of the trees along the Small Carpathians hill range on the main trail northeast of Bratislava. The country's premier spa, Piešťany, is en route, and vineyards cloak the fertile lower slopes. Small towns like Modra, Pezinok and Trnava have dozens of wineries around and about, many with shops and cellars open to the public.
The lolling, forested mountains of central Slovakia are home to the shepherding tradition that defines Slovak culture. This is where the nation's own Robin Hood, Juraj Jánošík, once roamed. Limited train routes means a car is helpful for exploring here. Look roadside for farmers selling local sheep's cheese before you lose yourself in a picturesque valley.
It's tough competition in the medieval wonderland of East Slovakia, but Bardejov wins the award for our favourite old town square, which would look barely a brick out of place 400 years ago. Bardejov received its royal charter in 1376 and grew rich on trade between Poland and Russia into the 16th century.
Poprad is likely to be your first experience of mountain country, being the nearest sizeable city to the High Tatras and the region's major transport hub. Most visitors just experience the so-so city centre but the 16th-century neighbourhood of Spišská Sobota and a popular thermal water park might make you stick around.
Alpine peaks in Slovakia? As you look upon the snow-strewn jagged mountains rising like an apparition east of Liptovský Mikuláš, you may think you're imagining things. But there they are indeed. The High Tatras are undoubtedly where the adventure-junkies head, along with those who can afford the luxury mountain resorts, mostly located here.
A time-trapped medieval delight, Banská Štiavnica enjoyed a 16th-century heyday as an internationally renowned architectural showcase and grew to become the old Hungarian Kingdom's third-largest city. As the minerals ran out and mines closed, progress stopped, leaving buildings wonderfully untouched.
Slovenský Raj & Around
With rumbling waterfalls, sheer gorges and dense forests, Slovenský Raj lives up to the name of 'Slovak Paradise'. A few easier trails exist, but the one-way ladder-and-chain ascents make this a national park for the passionately outdoorsy. You cling to metal rungs headed up a precipice while an icy waterfall sprays you from a metre away: pure exhilaration.