We have just returned from traveling five days in Slovakia. I wanted to write about it here because there is so little travel information available for such a fantastic destination. Slovakia was beautiful, full of culture and things to see, delicious food, exceptionally friendly people, and modern infrastructure. To read about it you'd think it was still 1970 there. We did not find that to be the case, at all. I highly recommend going there before everyone else finds out about it.
We flew into Budapest and after 3 days took the train direct to Kosice (3 hours, early morning train, no dining car...) Walked to our hotel, Penzion Villa Regia. We loved our hotel—centrally located, friendly, welcoming, staff who spoke English, outstanding breakfast and great rooms. The restaurant is also excellent.
Kosice has culture, St. Elizabeth's Cathedral, great restaurants, shops, etc. We had great food at Republika Východu, right on the square—delicious food with vegetarian or gluten-free options (!), fabulous staff, desserts, beverages, etc. We went twice.
We did a day trip to the Spis Castle which was impressive and Levoca which we loved.
Driving in Slovakia was very easy. The roads were excellent, the drivers were sane, everything is well marked and it's easy to get around. We plan on coming back just to road trip around. The scenery is beautiful and we drove through some amazing forests, valleys, and mountains on winding roads that were stunningly picturesque.
We traveled a bit of this without even knowing it. Next time this will be our itinerary. The Gothic Route of Slovakia is a circular route of towns with amazing gothic and renaissance towns and churches to see. I wish I had known more about it before I left. I'd have changed our plans. At any rate, if you like seeing 15th-century art in situ, this is for you.
Stayed at Hotel Kuria, right off the main square. Great rooms, easy parking, good breakfast buffet. We really liked Banska Bystrica but it was a national holiday, so many things were closed.
We day tripped here and it was an interesting town with lots of shops, restaurants, and energy.
I really didn't know what to expect when I recommended to my friends that we travel to Slovakia. Compared to other European countries, there isn't all that much travel information available from the big name sources (Rick Steves, Lonely Planet, Rough Guides, etc.) Even this forum has taken to ironically pointing out why to travel here. I was in search of some family history, which inspired the trip. In the end, there was so much to see and do, I wish I had planned for twice the time here. Beauty, culture, cuisine, scenery, affordability(!), friendly people, safe—Slovakia had it all. I am shocked Rick Steves doesn't do more than Bratislava. It truly is Europe through the back door!! We loved it here.