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Korytnica

  
   - darkometer rating:  2 -
  
An abandoned spa and sanatorium complex in the mountains of central Slovakia. The mineral water tapped here is still bottled and sold commercially, but the entire sanatorium part closed down years ago and is now a veritable little ghost town which makes for a superb playground for “urban explorers” and photographers.   
More background info: The mineral water and spa “industry” surrounding this part of the Slovakian mountains has a long history. In fact a proud history even: the award-winning Korytnica mineral water was at one time the only European product of its type to be marketed in the USA. Its alleged healing powers are predictably said to be more or less universal, alleviating all manner of ailments (as long as you believe in it, I'd presume)
  
Famous guests of the spa included the Austrian emperor Franz Josef and the Slovak nationalist hero Ludovít Štúr. 
  
The spa remained popular during the communist era and even for a while after the collapse of the Eastern Bloc. The complex was privatized in the 1990s … but then slowly declined until it was closed altogether. 
  
For many years now, the site has been slowly decaying. The present owner invested in a new bottling plant, but in little else. So the formerly grand buildings of the sanatorium are now in various states of ruin. It's precisely this, however, that makes the site an attraction for dark tourists and/or “urban explorers”.
  
  
What there is to see: From the car park by the new bottling plant (and shop) you have to go exploring on foot. There's no access for vehicles beyond this point (which is unnecessary anyway). By the barrier, there's still an information panel with a map to provide orientation, but it's labelled in Slovak only. 
   
If you head right first you pass a small chapel on the one side and on the other a fountain that looks like a geyser! Indeed, from a hosepipe they spray the precious commodity high into the air – for show … even though there is hardly ever anybody there to admire the spectacle. Bizarre. 
  
A bit further up the path is one of the water fountains where you can still sample the precious liquid, famed to be the coldest spring in the country. My guide warned me that it's an “acquired taste” but I had to try it. He was right ... I did not actually acquire the taste, though. The water does indeed taste pretty foul! It reminded me a bit of the Georgian Borjomi, another fabled ex-Eastern-Bloc mineral water and spa, except that here the somewhat salty water is at least indeed cold (as opposed to warm as pee at the original Borjomi spring! … see Georgia). 
  
The first building we entered to explore was a traditional-style wooden building. Inside various curious bits and pieces could be found, including an old jukebox, mostly stripped of its contents and labels, but still a very odd sight to behold amongst all the debris. The double windows were fantastically filled with cobwebs. 
  
The large building opposite was the former bottling plant and there's lots to explore inside here. The same goes for an ex-cultural centre of sorts. This too has suffered badly from looting and crumbling decay but you can still find, for instance, old vinyl LPs of the music they used to play here for the entertainment of the spa-ing guests, mostly kitschy pseudo-folk it seems, going by the labels.
  
As so often with sites like this, words can't really do it justice and images tell much more – so I refer the reader to the photo gallery below!
  
One curious find not directly related to the spa being a spa is the old monument on the southern edge of the complex. It was one of the many monuments erected in the 1960s to glorify the Slovak National Uprising (see Muzeum SNP). It has many elements of a typical socialist monument, including a tall metal-clad spire and  bronze relief figures of stern men shaking hands. Curiously, however, out the group of five figures, two are missing and only their “shadows” on the concrete remain visible. I have no idea what the story behind this is, who these two were and why they were singled out for such vandalism but not the others. There were three wreaths placed on stands in front of the monument, which suggests it has not completely fallen out of use …  
  
Korytnica today is a place for people with a taste for “urban exploration” and post-socialist decay in general – others will fail to see what the point of going there is. There is next to no commodification, and no specifically dark historical connection (except perhaps in the form of that crumbling old SNP monument). Yet I found it one of the most exciting additions to my two-day specially tailored guided tour of central Slovakia in October 2015 (see below). 
  
You have to wonder, though, for how much longer it will be (safely) possible to poke around these buildings … There were a couple that we already didn't quite dare enter, because the dereliction appeared to have progressed too far already. So if you go there do use your own judgement and take care. 
  
  
Location: in the Low Tatras mountains in central Slovakia, just 3-4 miles (ca. 5-6 km) north-east of the skiing centre of Donovaly, off the E77 trunk road between Banska Bystrica and Ružomberok.   
  
Google maps locator: [48.889, 19.285]
  
  
Access and costs: somewhat remote but not too difficult to get to (by car); free. 
  
Details: When I visited this place I was taken there as a part of a longer two-day guided tour of central Slovakia which had been specially organized for my by an alternative operator from Bratislava called “Authentic Slovakia” – see their sponsored page here
  
In fact I was something like a guinea pig, or rather: it was a first exploration for all of us to see if this was a worthwhile visitor destination. We all agreed that it definitely passed that test. So it may well be that tours to this place could become part of Authentic Slovakia's regular portfolio in the future. At the time of writing (November 2015) it isn't yet, but if you contact them they could probably make you an offer for taking you there or include it in a longer tailored itinerary. Just ask, they are quite flexible. 
  
If you have your own means of transport, you could of course also make your own way here and explore independently. (I'd still advise to rather go with a guide, since you get more details and background stories that way – useful especially if you don't speak Slovak.)
  
To get there take the main E77 trunk road/mountain pass that traverses the Low Tatras between Banska Bystrica to the south and Ružomberok to the north. The approach road to the spa branches off ca. 3 miles (4.5 km) east of the ski resort town of Donovaly and is clearly enough signposted. 
  
The abandoned spa itself is freely accessible at all times (but wouldn't make much sense in the dark), but you have to pay for using the visitor car park, ca. 1 EUR per hour. 
  
Even though the spa as such is abandoned and derelict, you can still actually stay right at Korytnica; there's a guest house by the car park called Vila Martin that offers accommodation for very low rates (ca. 15-30 EUR per person, varying seasonally). 
  
  
Time required: depends on how exhaustively you want to go “urban exploring” in the various buildings. We poked about for ca. two hours, but could easily have spent longer (but we had to push on to the Hlinka mausloeum, where we had arranged an out-of-season opening that we had to be on time for).
  
  
Combinations with other dark destinations: The main road through the mountains, the 59/E77, leads south to Banska Bystrica, about 20 miles (30km) away, where the Muzeum SNP is one of central Slovakia's key dark-tourism attractions. 
  
In the other direction, Ružomberok with its Hlinka mausoleum is even closer, just 15 miles (23 km) to the north.
  
For yet more combinations further afield see under Slovakia in general. 
  
  
Combinations with non-dark destinations: Korytnica is located within the Low Tatras National Park, the largest in Slovakia. In winter, the nearby resort town of Donovaly serves as a popular base for skiing holidays. In summer, it's rather hiking that is the main tourist activity here. And the scenery is certainly picturesque enough. 
  
The next urban attraction of note is Banska Bystrica to the south, with its small but pretty Old Town (cf. Muzeum SNP).
  
  
 
  • Korytnica 01 - abandoned spaKorytnica 01 - abandoned spa
  • Korytnica 02 - spa and geyserKorytnica 02 - spa and geyser
  • Korytnica 03 - chapelKorytnica 03 - chapel
  • Korytnica 04 - wooden houseKorytnica 04 - wooden house
  • Korytnica 05 - cobweb windowKorytnica 05 - cobweb window
  • Korytnica 06 - jukeboxKorytnica 06 - jukebox
  • Korytnica 07 - autumnalKorytnica 07 - autumnal
  • Korytnica 08 - former bottling plantKorytnica 08 - former bottling plant
  • Korytnica 09 - inside the former bottling plantKorytnica 09 - inside the former bottling plant
  • Korytnica 10 - derelictKorytnica 10 - derelict
  • Korytnica 11 - pipesKorytnica 11 - pipes
  • Korytnica 12 - peeling paintKorytnica 12 - peeling paint
  • Korytnica 13 - shoeKorytnica 13 - shoe
  • Korytnica 14 - looking outKorytnica 14 - looking out
  • Korytnica 15 - staircaseKorytnica 15 - staircase
  • Korytnica 16 - shattered windowsKorytnica 16 - shattered windows
  • Korytnica 17 - keep clean, it says on the doorKorytnica 17 - keep clean, it says on the door
  • Korytnica 18 - empty shelvesKorytnica 18 - empty shelves
  • Korytnica 19 - abandonedKorytnica 19 - abandoned
  • Korytnica 20 - but the spa water is still flowing freelyKorytnica 20 - but the spa water is still flowing freely
  • Korytnica 21 - decommissioned fountainsKorytnica 21 - decommissioned fountains
  • Korytnica 22 - rusty roofKorytnica 22 - rusty roof
  • Korytnica 23 - multiple shattered glassKorytnica 23 - multiple shattered glass
  • Korytnica 24 - reflectively shattered glassKorytnica 24 - reflectively shattered glass
  • Korytnica 25 - former cultural centreKorytnica 25 - former cultural centre
  • Korytnica 26 - no more entertainment insideKorytnica 26 - no more entertainment inside
  • Korytnica 27 - hoseKorytnica 27 - hose
  • Korytnica 28 - derelictionKorytnica 28 - dereliction
  • Korytnica 29 - House Olga with plaqueKorytnica 29 - House Olga with plaque
  • Korytnica 30 - yet more abandoned buildingsKorytnica 30 - yet more abandoned buildings
  • Korytnica 31 - with cafeKorytnica 31 - with cafe
  • Korytnica 32 - no more espresso hereKorytnica 32 - no more espresso here
  • Korytnica 33 - leading nowhereKorytnica 33 - leading nowhere
  • Korytnica 34 - old monumentKorytnica 34 - old monument
  • Korytnica 35 - shadows from the pastKorytnica 35 - shadows from the past
  • Korytnica 36 - you have to wonder who the disappeared ones wereKorytnica 36 - you have to wonder who the disappeared ones were
  • Korytnica 37 - spa curtain and autumn leafsKorytnica 37 - spa curtain and autumn leafs
  
  
  
  
 
 

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