On our way from Poland to Poland, (I can hear you say what?!) we stopped at Oravsky Hrad. You see we were headed from Zakopane in Poland to Wisla in Poland. The quickest way was to dip into Slovakia for part of the journey then back into Poland. Don’t you just love Europe?
Oravsky Hrad is situated on a high rock above Orava river
The northern end of Slovakia seemed very rural with a few nondescript towns, tractors on the roads and farmers in the fields. It was so green and reminded us of home as we drove through. Oravsky Hrad or Orava Castle as it is known in English is located in Oravsky Podzamok, a small village containing a few shops and restaurants, no reason to stop here except for one of the best castles in Europe. It sits atop a strange looking rock (or spur) that oversees the town and everything surrounding it with a 360-degree view. The spur darts straight up to 112 meters high dominating the surrounding landscape for all to see and to see all that’s around it. It is the perfect combination for any castle location, high enough to see any attacks coming and intimidating enough to make those stupid enough to think twice!
Oravsky Hrad was built after the Mongol invasion of Hungry in 1241. By 1370 Orava Castle had become the centre of Arva country a part of the Kingdom of Hungaria. Orava Castle like so many castles in Europe we have visited has a pretty common theme through its history. That being construction, destruction, fire, war and territorial disputes that have dragged the castle into conflict over the years. Oravsky Hrad was nearly burnt down in 1800 and fell into semi-ruin until after WW2 when reconstruction started on turning it into the masterpiece of a castle we see today.
Orava is a beautiful small town in northern Slovakia
As we parked the car in the allotted Oravsky Hrad car park you could see it towering above. This immediately got the kids excited! There was a short walk to the tiny little ticket office that also housed a souvenir shop that I just knew Bec would be visiting later. We booked our tour but the person at the booth told us it was not in English. Luckily it was also in Polish so one of our friends would be able to translate it for us. From the booth, you have to walk up a steep paved road that slowly winds through the trees to get the entry gate of the Orava Castle. It looms before you with its heavy wooden door. Once you walk through it, you are greeted with a small entry with high walls on either side. I remember thinking if I got to this bit in an invading army I would have just turned around and gone home.
Anyone who thought from there on that they had a chance was mad! And that was before you got to the really tricky tiny tunnel. This tunnel was an absolute masterpiece. It was small but it was completely deceiving. It went on to twist for the entire time until you came out into a large courtyard that would have left you completely exposed to the defending army. There were also small doorways within the tunnel that would have been used by the army to surprise anyone who had managed to get that far. As our guide would later tell us it was an absolute stroke of genius for the defence of Orava Castle.
The High Tatras is an ideal place to build a castle
After you exit the tunnel you are in a large and very open courtyard. The castle just seems to rise up on different levels higher and higher until it seems to join the sky. Standing at the bottom and looking up will not inspire anyone who has height issue’s I can tell you right now. It put Bec into a state of fear immediately but as she says most of the time the terror is well worth the effort. We took some time to take pictures and have a look around the courtyard before a toilet stop. We posed on the first set of steps before heading up to meet our tour guide in another smaller courtyard. A Dracula movie was once filmed at Orava Castle.
Our guide introduced herself and told us that we would be going all the way to the top. There were a few other things like no food and drinks and no smoking on the tour. After everyone had agreed…that is when the climb upwards started. We were taken from a little courtyard to steps for what felt like forever. We just kept going higher and higher. Our tour went from small sets of stairs with narrow corridors to open staircases on the side of the building. Around every corner was another spectacular view of the surrounding landscape.
I feel sorry for anyone who tried to invade this castle at Orava
We posed on so many little landings for photo’s that by the end of it, we couldn’t decide which one was our favourite! Oravsky Hrad showed you what a beautiful castle can look like and still be a formidable fortification. There was just no way you felt that any invading army got to see any of its beauty past that first courtyard. It was truly amazing to see what hidden treasures it held. As you got higher the rooms opened out and you got to see where people would have lived.
A Dracula movie was once filmed at Orava Castle
The tour was brilliant. The kids loved climbing all of the steps and seeing how many different sorts they actually had within the walls. From spiral staircases to what seemed like vertical ones, they were kept amused. The rooms were lovingly put together and the way they were set out was magnificent. The one the girls would not attempt to go in was the one with the Dracula dummy standing in the doorway. There was a movie called Nosferatu made at Oravsky Hrad in 1922 and so they made some of the doorways in a section of the castle a bit spooky for the visitors. Some even refer to the castle as Nosferatu castle. While us adults thought it was funny our eldest was far from impressed with the spooky side of it! They both refused to stand in the doorways for a photo!
Once we hit the top we spent some time sitting for a rest while the girls recovered from the climb. They had their rest and then went to every window to have a look out of it. At this stage, Bec was not really going near any of the windows but was keeping an eye on the girls while I roamed around getting photos. The worst thing is that just after visiting here we had our camera stolen with all the brilliant pictures of Oravsky Hrad on it. It is something that I will forever be upset about. So our memories and a couple of our phones are the only ones we do have.
- From the car park to the first set of steps in the courtyard a pram will be very easy to use. From then on if you have a baby carrier it would be the best to use as some of the staircases are steep and they can get narrow. Ask the friendly staff if you can leave your pram somewhere safe.
- Toilet facilities are right down the bottom in the courtyard so a quick visit before your tour is a good idea.
- Food and drinks are not allowed in the castle.
- Take your time up the steps. Not only for the views but they can get very steep and some are very narrow. We found that we were not pushed to be quick so take your time!
- We would like to thank Slovakia.travel portal for use of some of the images that appear in this article
For a hotel in Slovakia check Hotels.com