Slovakia's humble tourism motto, "A Part of Europe Worth Visiting," seems to sum up the country's rather modest ambitions when it comes to luring visitors. Just barely a teenager -- Slovakia became an independent nation in 1993 -- the country still seems unsure of itself and what it has to offer. But the motto surely underestimates Slovakia's very winning charms. The mountains, starting in the hills of the Malá Fatra and running east to the Alpine peaks of the High Tatras, are some of the most starkly beautiful in Europe. And it's unlikely that any country in Europe, or anywhere else for that matter, has a castle with the pure drop-dead shock value of Spisský Hrad.
Slovakia's youthful capital, Bratislava, has shed some of its hulking Communist-era architecture and fixed up its charming Old Town. The result is a fun, lively, and energetic city that makes Vienna feel fusty and overly mannered and Prague feel forced and overly touristed by comparison. And the Slovaks' humility is part of the charm. The rudeness or arrogance you sometimes find in more popular destinations is absent here. Just let slip in conversation that you've come all the way from the United States, or Canada, or wherever, and the reaction you get will be nothing short of amazement. You'll feel like a treasured guest.
To be sure, you may have to put up with some relative hardships now and then. Standards for food and lodging, especially off the beaten track, are a slight step down from western Europe, and even perhaps lower than you might find in the Czech Republic or Hungary. But don't let that deter you. Relax, enjoy the largely unspoiled countryside, take a meal and a glass of wine in a traditional koliba restaurant, and let the natural warmth and hospitality of the people win you over.