The region of Spiš – in German Zips, in Hungarian Szepesség – was one of the most peculiar regions of ancient Hungary, with many languages and traditions, inhabited by Saxons or Zipsers, Hungarians, Slovaks, two kinds of Rusyns – Lemkos and Boykos – Jews, Poles, Gorals, Gypsies and the scattered representatives of many other peoples. Some parts of it simultaneously belonged to Hungary and Poland, while the complex administrative relations of others gave a hard time even to Tranquillius, the author of the Pangea blog, who wrote twice about them, and who will also come with us. Its Renaissance towns lay in the embrace of a stunning nature, surrounded by the Slovak Paradise, the Spiš, Beskid and Vihorlat Mountains, the gorges of the Hornád and Dunajec rivers. However, its biggest treasure are the multitude of Gothic triptychs and murals preserved in the town and village churches. On their unique richness was established the Gothic Route through Slovakia, which we will follow during our five-day tour.
We start from Budapest by bus on 26 August, Friday, and come back on 30 August, Tuesday. Going up through Košice and descending through the Branisko Pass, in five days we go around the Spiš Mountains. We visit the most beautiful Gothic triptychs and frescoes, and tour the richest Renaissance merchant’s towns. We hike in the Hornád Canyon and boat on timber-raft on the Dunajec river. We go up with a century-old tram to the Tatras, and on foot to the Spiš Castle. We dinner in traditional Slovak restaurants and roast meat on campfire.
Participation fee for the five days: 370 euro/person (accommodation with breakfast and dinner, autobus, guide). Registration until 26 July at email@example.com.
Friday, 26 August. Budapest – Košice – Branisko Pass – Žehra – Spišská Kapitula – Spišské Podhradie
At 8 a.m. we start by bus from Budapest. In Košice we’ll have an unconventional sightseeing: inner courtyards and passages, the memories of forgotten and suppressed stories. Lunch at the same place. We stop at the Branisko Pass, from where the panorama of Spiš opens up for the first time. In Žehra we admire the frescoes of the 13th-century village church, and then the Gothic triptychs of Spišská Kapitula, the religious center of the region (both World Heritage sites). Our accommodation is directly below Spiš Castle (World Heritage site). In the late afternoon we will climb up here to watch sunset.
Saturday, 27 August. Spišské Podhradie – Vítkovce – Hornád Gorge – Levoča – Dravce – Spišský Štvrtok – Spišská Sobota
In the morning we hike – on an easy terrain, about two hours there and back – to one of the most beautiful sites of the Slovak Paradise, the Tamásfalva Lookout (Tomášovský výhľad), emerging above the Hornád Gorge, with a breathtaking view on the canyon, the two mountains separated by them, and the High Tatras beyond the Spiš Mountains. We recover from the fatigues of the tour with sightseeing and lunch in Levoča (World Heritage site). On the way there, we stop at the Gothic church of Vítkovce, to see the 14th-century fresco cycle of St. Ladislas. In the afternoon we also stop at the Gothic churches and triptychs of Dravce and Spišský Štvrtok. Our accommodation on this and the next two nights will be on the charming Renaissance main square of Spišská Sobota, where we also look around, and in the main church we visit the second most beautiful Gothic triptych of Spiš.
Sunday, 28 August. Tatranská Lomnica – Poprad – Veľká Lomnica – Kežmarok – Hrabušice
Most luckily, this is the only Sunday of the month, when the Poprad – Tatra tram runs with century-old wagons. We book tickets well in advance (a group can have a separate wagon), and drive up to Tatranská Lomnica, the former popular holiday resort of the aristocracy and high bourgeoisie of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy. We will come back to Poprad just in time to see the unique frescoes of the Romanesque St. Egidius church, open only for the midday Mass. After lunch, we go to Veľká Lomnica, where we see another fresco cycle of St. Ladislas, and a recently discovered Last Judgement fresco, and from there to the Renaissance town of Kežmarok. We look around in the town, visit the Thököly castle, the Gothic Holy Cross church, and the Lutheran wooden church (World Heritage site). And in order not to be left without a beautiful triptych on this day either, on the way back we will stop at the medieval church of Hrabušice.
Monday, 29 August. Podolín – Stará Ľubovňa – Red Monastery – Dunajec Gorge – Niedzica Castle
We go up to the Polish border, and even beyond. Along the way we stop in Podolín, at the house of the great Art Nouveau author Gyula Krúdy, and we climb up to the abandoned Jewish cemetery, from where we have a magnificent panorama on the city and the northern Carpathians. In Stará Ľubovňa we go up to the castle, and visit the open air museum of wooden architecture next to it. On the Polish border, at the Red Monastery we will sail on timber-raft through the gorge of the border river Dunajec, and we will go over to the neighbor, the castle of Niedzica towering on the shores of Lake Czorsztyński.
Tuesday, 30 August. Bardejov – Prešov – Budapest
Continuing the route of the previous day, we reach Bardejov, which is not a part of Spiš, but as it is the most important Gothic town of the area, we would have no complete picture of the region without visiting it. We look around on the main square, and visit the wonderful triptych ensemble of the St. Egidius church. We go to see the two synagogues, which were saved from destruction by the diligence of an enthusiastic local engineer, Uncle Cyril, “the only Lutheran Jew”, as he calls himself. We visit the museum of Rusyn icons, the most beautiful collection of this charming rustic version of icon painting. After lunch, we start back to Budapest.