Long under the thumb of one power or another since the Stone Age— the Avars, Romans, Hungarians, Ottomans, or Austrians—Slovakia finally wrestled free in the 1990s with its Velvet Divorce from Czechoslovakia. The economy isn't as robust as in neighboring Czech Republic, and Slovakia's tourism sector took some time getting off the ground. But in the end, this all works out in the visitor's favor—experience the unspoiled nature of the Tatra Mountains, the massive Karst cave systems in the east of the country (the largest in Central Europe and a World Heritage Site), and some the prettiest rivers on the continent. There was almost no significant urban development during the 20th century, so Slovakia's old towns still retain a sooty veneer of authenticity, with plenty of hidden nooks to explore.
- Appreciate Art Slovakia's artists provide an impressive repertoire both in galleries and on the street, where quirky statuary sometimes competes for attention with graffiti art, especially in Bratislava.
- Trek the Back Roads Slovakia's natural landscape is impressively varied and unspoiled, from the northern Carpathian and Tatra mountain ranges to southern Danube lowlands, so it's a haven for hikers. Spelunkers love Central Europe's largest cave systems too.
- Wander the Villages Like many places in the Eastern Bloc, small towns and villages look neglected and shabby, but are still brimming with an authenticity often lost in the highly polished hamlets of the West.
- Wine and Dine Slovakia's central location and long history of foreign domination has left a rich cuisine that blends Polish, Russian, Austrian, and Hungarian traditions. Visit the Takaj wine region, which is known for its sweet, distinctively flavored dessert wines, though drier Tokaji wines are becoming increasingly popular.