Have you ever wondered what it would be like to have a whole castle just for yourself? I think most people have, and we are no exception. What took us by surprise, was that we did not expect that it could actually happen to us! And believe it or not, I’m not talking “just” one castle but two, well, almost two.
This adventure was during the winter, more precisely in December 2015. We were on one of our Europe road trips and had spent most of our time at the German Christmas markets. We had also booked a few days’ stay in Slovakia for skiing. Unfortunately, (or not), there was not enough snow and we had to find something else to do.
The first and most obvious option was to go for a trek. The views were beautiful, but in order to really enjoy them, we encountered two problems. Firstly, daytime in December is too short for long walks and more importantly, we were not prepared for a higher mountain trek without proper gear. We stayed in the foothills, where there were still some beautiful views Unfortunately, the footpath was crowded with other skiers who must have had the same idea!
I always associate this part of Europe with medieval castles, so this was our plan B. After a quick Google search we found that there were quite a few castles relatively close to us.
The first was a castle called “Stara Lubovna” (the one I count as ‘almost ours’). We arrived early at about 9am with the idea of taking in the wonderful ‘open-air museum’ of the folk architecture just under the walls of the castle. When we arrived there were no visitors and the museum was closed. We thought the same applied to the castle but we were proven wrong.
Believe it or not, we had the whole castle to explore with no one there. No staff, no visitors, no one at all. Later on, one or two small groups joined us, but you could hardly notice them. Can you spot a single person in the next picture?
It felt surreal to be there almost by ourselves. (From time to time we did a little hide and seek there too!) It was the total opposite to what we had just experienced at the German Christmas markets. Don’t get me wrong, the German Markets are amazing, but the contrast between the hustle and bustle of the market and the quiet solitude of this castle was astonishing. As we later found out, this fortress was the “starter” for the “main meal”.
We had one more day to spend in Slovakia and for that we chose one of the biggest castles in this part of Europe – Spis Castle. When we arrived, the weather was gorgeous for this time of the year and yet again, there were no people to be seen at all!
We could not wait any longer. We went straight to the gates to get inside. Well, there were no people, no cars and it was eerily quiet… By this point, we really should have realised. It was closed, and they were very serious what “closed” meant.
Secret: We did get in eventually, and I cannot share the exact details how – it will have to remain our secret (nothing illegal, no trespassing or anything like that!). What I can say is if you are discreet, patient and read this post carefully – it may just give you a clue or two, Holmes!
When we entered through the main gate, we realised that this was no ‘museum’. There were no amenities for tourists or perfectly prepared footpaths, it was rough, cold and… empty. It was as if it had been untouched for centuries—a real castle. The sun creeping in through the gates lightened the atmosphere a little, as you can see in the picture below.
This castle, this fortress, was massive. To truly appreciate its grandeur, you couldn’t rely on Google Images; you had to be there, and when you were, the atmosphere was overwhelming. The high position of the castle together with the gorgeous weather meant that you could see all the way to the Tatra mountains, which you should be able to spot below.
Just as we were leaving the castle, a group of noisy tourists were approaching the gate – they were not as lucky as we were, and did not manage to find their way in like we had. In a way, we felt privileged when we passed them on our way—we knew something they didn’t know! We smiled inside, knowing that exploration and discovery were still worth something.
We also discovered that there was a footpath that meandered around the castle, with wonderful views looking upwards. It was an entirely different perspective, and you could really tell the size of our fortress from below! You do have to be careful, though, because if you choose to take this route, you have to navigate your way past plenty of brambles and thorny bushes. Not a problem for intrepid explorers like us!
On our way back to the car, as if in reflection of our medieval fantasy, we even found a dragon!
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