Updated: Apr 7, 2020
Slovakia is a country justifiably famed for its beautiful mountain scenery, stunning national parks, lakes and forests, and it's true that most visitors to this landlocked central European country come here mainly for outdoor pursuits such as hiking, cycling and climbing. As far as the towns and cities are concerned though, there is much less known about them. For many, the capital Bratislava can be a bit underwhelming despite a pretty old town, since it is heavily Sovietized, and bears the scars of the postwar era all to clearly. Second city Kosice, in the east of the country, similarly tends to be overlooked. Trenčín, with a population of 55,000, lies in the shadows of the White Carpathians, close to the Czech border, approximately 150km northeast of the capital. With a lively university-bolstered population, the town feels much larger than the number of inhabitants suggests though, and it has a lively nightlife scene - bars and restaurants line the main drag Mierové Nám.
In terms of tourist sights, the first port of call for most people is the Castle, which dominates the town, sitting on a high bluff above the centre and dominating from every angle. Recently renovated, it looks fantastic, especially at night, when it is lit up by spotlights. It's a bit of a hike to the top, but the cobbled streets up there and the view at the top make it worthwhile. Wide, sweeping views of the Vah river plain and nearby White Carpathian hills emerge. The fortifications and castle make for a great hour or two's wondering. The rest of the town is discovered on foot in about half a day - it is a compact city. For some more excellent views of the main square (Mierové Nam) and especially of the former Synagogue building, head to the City Tower (Mestaska Brana), above the old town's only remaining gate. Good views of the bright yellow 17th century baroque Piarist Church can also be had from here. In the middle of the long main square (which is really a street), there is an interesting monument which is actually a Plague Column, built after the outbreak in 1712. It may soon have another one adjoining it..
But a weekend here is justified because of the surroundings - there are several excursions here making it worthwhile. Firstly, Beckov Castle, about 20km to the south, for those that just can't get enough history, is well worth a visit. Even more spectacularly-located than Trenčín Castle, Beckov comes as a bit of a surprise, seemingly appearing from nowhere on the main road south, and commanding nothing but a fairly insignificant village. Reconstructed in the 1700s, it's another wonderful place to plod around and get a feel for local history - the castle was built in the 14th century by the Hungarians to defend their borders. If you're still in the mood for it, check out nearby Cachatice Castle, which is a 30 minute hike uphill from the village of Visnove. Again though, the views from the top are fantastic and well worth the effort. More of a ruin than the previous two castles, it is famous for having had a particularly blood-thirsty Countess living there called Alzbeta Bathory, who is reputed to have bathed in the blood of virgins to keep her skin young...
For those who fancy a bit of pampering, Trencin has a nearby spa town called Trencianske Teplice, which is 14km northeast of the town, and is pefect for a day of quiet relaxation. Book yourself into one of the many spas or baths here and partake of the highly sulphuric waters (Slovaks swear by it) or simply stroll amongst the pleasant fin-de-siecle buildings, through the pine forests or surrounding hills. It's all extremely gentle and relaxing. The opulent 1888 Turkish-style bathhouse (hammam, Kupelna), opposite the Pax Sanatorium is particularly nice.
Driving down the motorway between Trenčín and Považská Bystrica you will see an interesting rock formation. Vršatské bral is located in the northeastern part of the White Carpathian Mountains. The highest peak and the second highest point of the White Carpathians is Chmeľová (925m). Vršatský Castle, mainly in ruins, is another historic sight worth seeing in the region. Its origins date back to the middle of the 13th century, when they built a watchtower at the highest point to protect the north-western border of Hungary.