Bratislava wasn’t one of the destinations on my travel radar. In fact, I knew almost nothing about the Slovakian capital except that Slovakia was once part of Czechoslovakia. I even googled “How to pronounce Bratislava” to make sure I knew how to properly say its name: Bra-tis-lá-va. But as often happens when planning to visit an unfamiliar place, it becomes interesting, even intriguing. And suddenly it seems as if you’ve always known such a place existed.
It was late afternoon when the Crystal Mozart arrived at the Bratislava dock, pulling up close to the banks of the Danube. The was the first port where we could walk into town without needing a shuttle. Herb and I had signed up for a culinary walking tour that included a wine tasting and a visit to a local bakery. We met our guide at a brick boardwalk lined with benches and trees along the riverfront.
As soon as we crossed the street beyond the boardwalk, we had entered Old Town. Our guide stopped briefly at several significant national buildings – each painted in a different pastel color – until we reached the center of the city called Main Square. It’s a compact area, with a central fountain and several side streets fanning out from the square like spokes on a bicycle. I was surprised by the ornateness of the architecture and the whimsy of the statues that adorned the square. The styles seemed at odds with each other, but yet they somehow worked together.
Our next stop was the “culinary” portion of the tour, a local bakery called Konditorei Kormuth. As soon as we walked in the door it was clear that this was not what comes to mind when imagining a bakery. Every inch of every wall was bedecked with paintings and frescoes that looked like they stepped out of the Renaissance. Centuries-old antiques graced dining spaces as comfortably as a welcoming kitchen table. Porcelain dishes and crystal glassware sat on brightly lit shelves behind glass doors in dark wood cabinets.
We walked to one of the rooms in the back of the bakery where a table with mint lemonade, honey cake and Bratislava rolls called rožok were waiting. All served on fine chine, of course! And as incredible as the ambiance was, the best thing about Konditorei Kormuth was the food itself. In a trip rich with wonderful local cakes and pastries unique to the region, the Bratislava honey-walnut cake has to be the most delicious we tasted. Konditorei Kormuth claims to bake with original old recipes from the Austro-Hungarian Empire and does not use any artificial dyes, flavorings or preservatives. I have a feeling that the recipes are a well-guarded secret.
Museum of Viticulture
Back outside, we returned to the main square and the second part of our culinary tour – wine tasting. Along the way we passed Michael’s Gate and Tower, the only preserved gate of the medieval city. The green-copper spire and bulbous-shaped tower can be seen from various spots in Old Town, but this was our first up-close view of the gate.
The Museum of Viticulture is housed in a building called Apponyi Palace. Displays showcase the history of winemaking in Bratislava and offer information on current wines. The tasting room evokes the feeling of a wine cellar and is arranged with rows of chairs in a classroom-like setting. A wine expert led the tasting and offered several local selections to try.
The Blue Church
After the tour, Herb and I set out to find Bratislava’s infamous Blue Church, officially known as the Church of St. Elizabeth. I had seen photos of the church and was eager to discover how blue it really was. We wound our way south and east of Old Town, through residential streets that could have been almost anywhere. The grandeur of the old architecture gave way to more modest homes and parks, giving us a perspective of Bratislava we wouldn’t otherwise have known.
We turned a corner and suddenly there it was, in all its blue-ness, a charming clock tower that looked more like a fairytale castle than a place of worship. I couldn’t help but smile as we got closer. Whose idea was it to paint the entire structure blue? And such a pretty shade that looks as if it belongs with the sky. With its brick-a-brac white trim – some of which is outlined in blue and white dots – it almost seems to be inspired by a birthday cake.
Back to the Danube
We walked back to the Mozart along the waterfront. The boardwalk was quiet at the end of the day, its benches stretching down the path in an endless row of emptiness. For a few brief hours, I felt incredibly immersed in this little city, happy that I got to know a little bit about a place that I had never thought of before. I left Bratislava with a feeling of gratitude for opening my eyes to another spot on the globe. Now not only do I know how to pronounce its name, but I also know that Bratislavia, Slovakia, may have the best cake I will ever have the pleasure of tasting.