100km (62 miles) N of Bratislava

Trencín (www.trencin.sk) is a welcoming town that has three things going for it: a picture-perfect, brooding castle; a small grouping of welcoming hotels and pensions at each price point; and a positive attitude. As recently as a few years ago, the town was in steep decline, with its major textile industries facing stiff competition from cheap Asian imports. That's changed as the town has begun to embrace the future and play up some of its cultural attributes. Trencín is now host to arguably the best open-air alternative and independent music festival in the country, the Pohoda Festival (www.pohodafestival.sk), each July.

The city's history dates back to Roman times, when it served as a northern garrison town to protect the Roman Empire from Germanic tribes. On rocks below the castle, a fascinating Roman inscription dating from the year A.D. 179 and ordered by Emperor Marcus Aurelius, celebrates a Roman victory over the hordes (you can see it from the first floor of the Hotel Tatra). In the Middle Ages, the town grew in importance because of it position on the Váh River, astride one of the main trading routes linking the Baltic and Mediterranean seas. Trencín achieved arguably its greatest place in history in the early 14th century as the seat of a renegade kingdom declared by Matús Cák. Cák, who made the castle his residence, proclaimed himself the king of the Váh and the Tatra Mountains. His kingdom ended with his death 20 years later in 1321.