A city of half a million people, the Slovakian capital Bratislava has a surprisingly small-town feel, with churches, bars and – yes – a castle squeezed into the spaghetti-like jumble of narrow streets.
Colourful folk traditions are kept alive in northern villages like Vychodna, which sits at the foot of the corrugated Tatra Mountains. Skiers glide down slopes in the lower reaches of the range and then soak up mountain views from the comfort of steamy hot tubs. Central towns like Levoca are still relatively untroubled by tourist crowds, despite fantastical fortifications and renaissance churches that would be overrun with coach parties had they been built anywhere else. Go sooner rather than later.