Slovakia: Devin Castle on Bratislava’s Doorstep
Devin Castle was built on one of the finest pieces of real estate in Europe – atop a cliff 212 metres above the Danube, at the confluence of the Danube and the Moravia rivers. My friend and I took a boat from Bratislava to the ruins of Devin Castle in May, on one of the windiest mornings of our trip, with only light cardigans and cotton scarves for protection, and it was still an amazing, if slightly chilly, experience.
The castle is a worthy day-trip to add to any itinerary that incorporates Bratislava. The old town of Bratislava is postcard-perfect, with spires, russet rooftops and cobbled streets. Brass crowns set into the pavement trace the old coronation route past ice-cream parlours and pavement cafes, and if you choose to step beyond the old town, you will find a vibrant modern city. And just a short trip from the famed old town is the rural beauty of Devin.
Devin Castle is a ten minute drive from the centre of Bratislava, or it can be reached by taking bus 28 or 29, departing from underneath the city’s iconic Novy Most every half hour. If you fancy a slower and more scenic route, however, sightseeing boats run from Bratislava city centre to Devin twice daily from April to September.
My friend and I spent the ninety-minute trip upriver in the open seating area to enjoy the specatular views of Bratislava Castle and the Novy Most, and although we nearly froze in the stiff winds, some hot drinks and croissants from the refreshment stand below deck sustained us. In spite of my numb fingers, if there is a better travel experience than sitting on a boat in a strong wind, with a pot of good tea and a friend, I haven’t found it.
In high season (early May to early September) there is a two-hour stopover at the castle, which we didn’t find nearly enough – largely because we had tea in the village of Devin as soon as we disembarked. In the low season (April and September) the stopover is just one hour, which could be quite tight unless you plan your visit well and save lunch until your return to the city. A return ticket costs €8 and a single ticket €6, so it may be worth the extra €2 to keep your options open.
From the boat, the winding path leading to the Castle passes a large heart-shaped sculpture of wound rusted metal, and a moving memorial to the people who died trying to leave Communist-controlled countries. Combined with the pleasant views of the riverside, it is worth taking your time to enjoy the stroll and visit the memorial.
The castle ruins themselves are striking, with numerous passageways, small flights of stairs to climb and patches of grass and wildflowers to wander through. Informative signs are written in both Slovakian and English. Inhabited since at least the ninth century AD, and possibly earlier, the castle has been a residence, a look-out post and a military border fortress at various times in its long history. It was destroyed by Napolean’s forces in 1809 and was owned by the counts of Plaffy until it was purchased by the state in 1935 for a symbolic sum.
The watchtower, a tiny structure perched on an outcrop of rock, is now known as the Maden’s Tower and has also been dubbed ‘The Nun’. It has given rise to countless legends, usually involving an imprisoned woman and a desperate leap into the river below, and it is undoubtedly a striking and romantic sight. But it is the view, taking in the Danube, the Moravia, the countryside of Austria and Slovakia, and the grey smudges of cities in the distance, that is the true highlight.
The day we visited, below the castle was a small collection of market stalls selling souvenirs and handmade jewellery. There was also a choice of places to eat, and we had a nice lunch of chicken and venison at an outdoor table in the shadow of the ruins. The bus brought us back to the city centre within twenty minutes, leaving us with the rest of the afternoon free. Without the boat trip, we could have ‘done’ Devin in a morning, but reaching the castle by water is an experience that I would recommend to anyone with a fondness for travelling by boat – and anyone with a high tolerance for windy weather.