Slovakia, the Czech Republic’s less glamorous partner, emerged dishevelled and sleepy after the ‘Velvet Revolution’ of 1989. Although it’s now holding its own in a rebuilding Eastern bloc, there’s a refreshing absence of Prague-style glitz glamour. lt is a land of real spirit, where folk traditions have survived the domination of foreign rulers and where a plethora of castles and chateaux pay testament to untold wars and civil conflicts. Strike up a conversation at a bar and you’ll find an intelligent, engaging and friendly person at the other end.

May to June (for sunny weather)-or before Bratislava becomes sold as ‘the new Prague’

Roaming the crumbling ruins of Spis, Slovakia’s largest castle Discovering Levoca, a medieval walled town and a treasure-chest renaissance architecture Wandering, wining

and dining in the bustling, renovated old town of Bratislava Luxuriating in the spa at Bardejovske Kupele after exploring the skansen (open-air museum) in the spa’s foothills Exploring the caves of Slovak Karst Following the crowd to Bojnice, the most visited chateau in Slovakia

Read the brilliant village tales of Bozena Slancikova and the poetry of lvan krasko

Listen to Dezider Kardos’s second symphony, Hero’s Ballad, and Jana Kirschner

Watch seminal vampire chiller Nosferatu, set in spooky Orava Castle

Eat brynzove halusky (small potato dumplings, similar to ltalian gnocchi, topped with sheep’s cheese and a sprinkling of fried bacon bits) and cakes that would be three times the price in a Viennese cake shop

Drink homemade slivovice (plum brandy) and Zlaty Ba ant (Golden Pheasant beer) made in Hurbanovo

Ahoj (hello)

The poor sister of the Czech republic; Stalinist architecture; high-rise apartment blocks; farmers; villages; mountains

The largest meteor ever to hit Europe landed near the East Slovakian town of Zboj in 1866, its flight was visible from the High Tatras, over 200k away

For the majority of foreign tourists, the High Tatra mountains are Slovakia’s biggest attraction-and with a splendidly jagged and snow-patched central massif rising abruptly out of a green plain, it’s easy to see why. lt’s also Slovakia most diverse wildlife area-home to brown bears, wolves, lynxes and other wild cats, marmots, otters, golden eagles and mink. One animal protected even outside national parks is the chamois, a mountain antelope, which was for a time near extinction but is now making a comeback.

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