Slovakia: The Malé Karpaty
(Little Carpathians)

A beguiling forested range of hills branching off the Carpathian Mountains. 

Why Visit?
Everyone knows about the Alps – and a fair few about Slovakia and Poland’s High Tatras mountains. But almost no one visits this fascinating forest upland in-between – which is the main reason, of course, to go. Particularly, that is, if you like wild hikes to ruined castles - or are partial to a glass of Central Europe’s finest white wine.

The Malé Karpaty kick off just outside the Slovak capital Bratislava and spreading some 100km northeast to join the Carpathians proper near the medieval city of Trenčin. Map.

THE CITY OF Bratislava may not be as pretty as nearby Vienna and Budapest. But it boasts a proximity to some absolutely stunning nature that outshines either: this rugged chain of hills known as the Malé Karpaty which – back in the days of Communism – was the physical embodiment of the divide between west and east, rearing up as it does right on the edge of the Austria-Slovak border.
Červený Kameň from viewing tower ©
Why it remains so unvisited by foreign tourists remains a mystery, because aside from the activities within, it’s also incredibly easy to access (you can be lost within this forest wilderness within an hour’s walk from Bratislava’s main train station). 
Vineyards above Bratislava ©
The lower vineyard-clad slopes produce some of the finest wine in this neck of the woods. There is a wine route (known in English as the Small Carpathians Wine Route) that you can follow from Bratislava through towns such as Svätý Jur and Pezinok – with stop-offs for tastings in some of the wine cellars.

The entrance to the Malé Karpaty from Bratislava is through one of Europe’s most beautiful city parks, the Mestské Lesy. In the forest here there are picnicking spots with Slovakia’s legendary barbecue facilities, running trails, a cable car, a ski slope and a couple of really nice rustic restaurants in log cabins. It’s known and loved locally, but tourists rarely visit. 

Then, a superb system of trails leads off into the remoter forest that soon has the crowds (such as they were: crowds by Slovak standards still means relatively quiet!) left far behind. Perhaps the main reason why this wilderness is so unique unravels itself. There are very few, if any, other places in Europe where you can, from the centre of a capital city, be transported into countryside where you can keep on hiking, barely disturbed by another person let alone a road or a town, for over a hundred kilometres. In actual fact, this an intact wilderness corridor which keeps running until you reach the greater wilderness of the Carpathians, meaning that you could walk almost all the way across Slovakia without really running into civilisation again! 
Gýmeš Castle ©
Hidden up in the forests here are several ruined castles, such as the lofty ruins of Pajštún or Gýmeš, as well as one of Slovakia’s biggest fortifications in the form of Hrad Červený Kameň. (Hrad is Slovak for castle: a useful word to familiarise yourself with in Europe’s most densely castellated land).  

And perhaps the most welcome thing of all to the hikers and mountain-bikers that use the extensive system of trails here is the presence of some excellent rural restaurants – great places to try Slovak specialities such as Bryndzové Halušky (dumplings in a thick sauce of sheep's cheese topped by bacon) and kapustnica (rich cabbage soup served with piles of bread). There will invariably be a big wood fire to add to the ambience. 
Gulaš and venison in a mountain krčma ©
Every now and again, too, there are log viewing towers, where you can climb up above the forest canopy for some sensational surrounding views. Down below, the wildlife includes an abundance of deer, and even the odd wild pig or brown bear…

Getting there:
You can access the Little Carpathians directly from Bratislava by hiking (head towards the TV mast known as Kamzik) or trolleybus 203 from the city centre up to the end of the line. 

Useful links:
Author Luke Waterson keeps a fantastic blog about all things Slovakia,

About the author:
Luke Waterson is a travel writer based in Slovakia, where he runs the leading English-language blog on Slovak travel and culture. Writing for publications including Lonely Planet (he writes the LP Slovakia guide), BBC Travel, the Telegraph, the Independent (UK), Dagens Nyheter (Sweden), Rough Guides and Insight Guides, his passions besides all things Slovak are hiking, brutalist architecture, good coffee, great whisky - and Latin America generally.  


  1. Wonderfully written and helpful.

    ...I live in the U.S. though family heritage is from SK...would love to do some hiking in these places in the event that I visit.
    3-4 day journey.
    Any places to camp privately? Is it permitted?
    Thank you.

    1. The Male Karpaty is not a national park, so technically camping is not prohibited, but its not really done and rangers do frown upon it. Camping is made harder by fact that much is forest - not too many open spaces and when there are they're not given over to any camp grounds. So it's not the best way to travel. However, the Štefánikova magistrála is a great hike that runs right through these hills (2-4 days depending on your fitness level) and there is mountain houses (chaty kind of like accommodation in cabins, rustic but good and right in the middle of nowhere) to stay at for cheap prices - maybe under 20 Euros per person and certainly not much more.

    2. Thank you for the helpful information.

  2. Luke, thank you for useful info! Is there an asphalt road going from Kamzik to Pezinska Baba? (Photoes on Google Maps show that asfalts stretches for at least halfway).
    Another question: although technically Male Karpaty is not a National Park but it has a Protected Area status - does this make any difference in terms of wild camping? Can I get away setting up a small tent at dusk in the evening and leaving early in the morning - somewhere in between Raca and Borinka?


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