It certainly didn’t start well. The flight was delayed, our hotel room wasn’t ready when we arrived in Bratislava and we found the whole of the old town was swamped by riot police and anti-capatalist protesters, then to top it all, it started raining. So much for a relaxing summer holiday in sunny Slovakia!
But things started looking up from the moment we found the ice-cream shop. I don’t care if it’s raining and humid – as long as you’ve got handmade ice cream life is good. And the ice cream at Koun is really good. Locals and tourists alike queue for a minimum of 20 minutes, even in the rain, just to get in the door of this tiny shop to sample the daily changing range of homemade Italian style gelato. We tried the delicious apricot and passionfruit sorbets, and the luscious fig & ricotta, walnut, chocolate & mint ice creams – all only 1.20 Euro a scoop (this is pricey for Slovakia where ice cream starts at just 50 cents!)
If you can get past the hearty traditional Slovak cooking and the obvious touristy places, Bratislava has a quietly confident, foodie culture of small shops and delis, funky cafes and independent restaurants. We discovered and loved these places:
U Kubistu is a smart, modern brasserie with an exciting menu. Combining forgotten ingredients such as spelt nuts, oats, cottage cheese or trout in fermented brine to create amazing light salads and sharing dishes, served with socca chickpea bread.
Soho is a small, efficient Thai bistro with a limited but interesting menu of healthy soups, delicious main courses of chicken, beef, tofu or prawn with coconut, chilli, veggies and steamed rice for about 7 Euro a bowl. While we’re talking about chilli – the Slovaks LOVE their chilli’s hot. A cooling range of craft beers and homemade lemonades are served by friendly, multi-lingual, tattooed staff.
Mercado is a relaxed waterfront restaurant on the banks of the Danube at the Europark shopping centre. Using fresh, organic ingredients with a focus on lovely risotto and pasta dishes there’s plenty of vegetarian and gluten-free dishes on offer. Although the prices are above average for Slovakia it’s still cheap in comparison with other European capital cities.
Savage Garden is situated in the brutal concrete park ‘Namestie Slobody’ (Freedom Square). They serve large portions of salads, pasta and burgers and a daily lunch menu popular with local office workers. It’s a good escape from the touristy town centre, and only a 5 minute walk from the Presidential Palace. Lovely for a morning coffee in the park.
In every street and park in Bratislava there’s an exciting, funky cafe. You can hide away on a wet afternoon in Gorila.sk Urban Space, a ‘cafe in a bookshop’ with comfy armchairs, battered sofas and fast wifi connection. Great range of teas, coffees and beers. Snack on street food, healthy raw cakes and not so healthy cheesecakes.
After a few days in Bratislava we moved on to the tiny spa town of Piestany which is about an hour away by train. It’s a blissful countryside retreat from London life. This however is the Slovak idea of spa which has a robust, practical and medical approach so don’t expect soft music and aromatherapy. People travel from all over the world for the medicinal properties of the water. The thermal mineral water and sulphuric mud are renowned for treating rheumatism and arthritis. At the Art Nouveu Erma Spa the basic mud pool, mirror pool and wrap costs about 15 Euro for a 1 hour treatment.
The restaurants in Piestany are traditional and a little outdated, but behind the scenes there are a few less obvious places. Villa Zuckmann is a stylish bistro with rooms, opened in 2014 in the town centre. It’s an excellent place for coffee and cakes, antipasto and simple homemade pasta dishes for around 5 Euro. Lovely outdoor seating areas at the front and back plus a wood-burning stove for winter nights.
ZiWell – hidden away at the back of a courtyard at the end of the town, this community centre, bar and vegetarian cafe is popular at lunchtime for it’s daily-changing healthy menu. Serving 3 courses for only 7 Euro. Language classes, live music nights, friendly staff and a laid-back vibe – well it is next door to the yoga centre.
And finally, 20 minutes scenic walk along the riverbanks to Ratnovce in a quiet residential area we discovered Tri Grose.
In a traditional log cabin that wouldn’t look out of place in the Swiss Alps, seated on sheep skin covered pine benches, you can eat your fill of meaty stews and grills, expertly fried schnitzels and enormous pizzas. A meal for two with drinks and far too much food rarely cost more than 20 Euro followed by a lovely walk home to burn off some of those calories! Alternatively a taxi back into town costs about 5 Euro.
So if you do head to Slovakia we really recommend the modern restaurants in Bratislava. But you need only spend a few days in the city as it’s fairly small, then jump on one of the efficient trains. Go and explore the beautiful countryside and wallow in the mud baths – it’s rather fun as well as medicinal!