For today’s Destination of the Week, we decided to pick a city that currently has a hotel on the most updated Priority Club PointBreaks list (5,000 point discounted free night) list so we are heading to the little-known European city of Bratislava, an undiscovered gem of history and culture in the heart of the Continent that’s easily accessible to travelers who want to use their points and miles for a trip.
CROWN JEWELS, CASTLES AND CARPATHIAN WINES
Bratislava is the capital of Slovakia and has a population of just around a half-million souls. It’s only about 40 miles east of Vienna, and travelers can even take a high-speed boat down the Danube between the two cities for a day-trip there.
Though it went in a different direction after the break-up of Czechoslovakia in 1993 and lacks the club-party panache of Prague, the city is still a fun place to visit, and retains a more authentic, Old-World atmosphere than its flashier counterpart. Neither does it have the same stately boulevards and 19th-century style of Vienna, though it did serve as the Kingdom of Hungary’s capital for over 200 years in the 16-18th centuries, so it’s got plenty of grand buildings, palaces and sights to check out.
The most noticeable is Bratislava Castle, a massive structure perched on a hill over the Old Town, parts of which date back to the 1200’s, and which now houses the old crown jewels of the Kingdom of Hungary.
The heart of the Old Town is around its main square, where you’ll find the Town Hall, now a museum dedicated to the city’s history. Nearby are both the gorgeous 19th century Slovak National Theatre building where you can catch opera, ballet and theatrical performances, and Michael’s Gate, which was part of the city’s medieval fortifications. Also make time for quick visits to St. Martin’s Cathedral, which is where the rulers of Hungary were crowned, and the even older Franciscan Church with its ornate rococo interior.
The city was an important center of Jewish learning in the middle ages and beyond, so if you’re interested, you can check out information and a guide to Bratislava’s Jewish heritage here.
One of Bratislava’s other oft-visited sights is the Novy Most (New Bridge) that crosses the Danube and has a UFO-shaped restaurant (called, UFO) at the top of its tower where you can watch the traffic below and get good views of the city. For still more panoramas, visit the oddly futuristic Kamzik TV Tower’s observation deck and rotating restaurant.
The Novy Most Bridge and its UFO-shaped restaurant. (Photo courtesy of Bratislava Photos)
You can cover a lot of ground with guided tours, so check out Visit Bratislava’s tour company suggestions here.
Finally, if you’ve been noticing some unpronounceable Slovak wines out at restaurant’s lately, that’s because the country’s wine industry is on the rebound and producing some very interesting vintages, and you can spy grapevines on the slopes of the Little Carpathians range fringing the city. You can even visit several wineries within easy distance of the central city, and you can either take a guided tour with a company such as Bratislava Sightseeing, or do a self-drive along the Small Carpathian Wine Route between Bratislava and Trnava, visiting towns such as Pezinok and Modra. Just beware, these also happen to be popular excursions for visiting British “stag” parties, so you might have to contend with a few randy bachelors (who also tend to gravitate towards the city’s bars and pubs).
Right in the heart of Europe, Bratislava can make for a great destination in and of itself, or as an add-on to a trip to better-known neighbors like Vienna or Prague.
Destination of the Week pieces are not meant to be comprehensive guides to destinations since we don’t have the time or funds to visit all these places in person and report back to you. Nor are they endorsements of all the hotels we mention. They are simply roundups of top destinations that we have specifically pinpointed for the opportunity they present to use your miles and points to get to and stay there. As always, we welcome your comments to help enrich the content here, provide opinions and first-hand experiences of these destinations.
Visitors have two options when traveling to Bratislava. The first is to fly into the smallish Bratislava Airport which is primarily served by low-cost carrier RyanAir, as well as a couple others such as Danube Wings. Bratislava airport is located about 5 miles from the central city Bratislava.
From Bratislava, RyanAir flies direct to Beauvais, Bergamo, Birmingham, Bristol, Brussels-South Charleroi, Dublin, Liverpool, London-Luton, London-Stansted and Rome-Ciampino. So there are not too many airports which you could connect to another carrier except Dublin.
Another good option is to fly into Vienna, which is served by all three major alliances, through an alliance partner such as British Airways, Lufthansa or Air France. Austrian and Air Berlin both fly to Vienna as well. There are several shuttle services from Vienna’s airport to Bratislava, about 40 miles away, though you could also opt to take a 75-minute hydrofoil along the Danube river. Lod and Twin City Liner both have several daily rides from Vienna to Bratislava.
Austrian Airlines, which flies Vienna to New York-JFK, is the only airline that offers non-stop service to the United States. Austrian Airlines is a member of the Star Alliance. When it comes to earning, here is United’s chart on what fare classes earn how many miles and class bonuses. Awards redemptions on Austrian start at 30,000 miles for coach each way, or 50,000 miles for business class each way with saver-level availability.
Another option is to use British Airways Avios. Since their awards are distance-based, it would require 7,500 Avios to fly from London to Vienna (as opposed to over $200 for those flights each way) in coach. This could be a feasible option to fly your preferred carrier to London and then connect using British Airways if you can’t build in a connection that works.
Though just a mid-size city, Bratislava is home to several hotels where you can earn or burn those hotels points you’ve been diligently hoarding.
Radisson Blu Carlton Hotel, Bratislava: The historic building that houses this hotel dates back to 1850, but has since been reconstructed and now features 170 guestrooms and suites with high ceilings, chandeliers and marble finishes. There is complimentary high-speed internet access throughout the property. The hotel has a fitness facility and 24-hour room service, and is home to the Savoy restaurant, which has Slovakian and international influences, and the library-inspired Mirror Bar. Rates in August start at 119 EUR ($145) per night or 38,000 Gold Points since this is a Category 4 hotel.
Carlson also has the Park Inn Danube, Bratislava, which is a Category 2 hotel and redemptions begin at 15,000 Gold Points per night.
DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Bratislava: Located near the business, cultural, and historical districts, this boutique hotel features 120 guest rooms. The rooms have modern amenities such as 32-inch plasma TV’s, wireless internet access and Doubletree’s Sweet Dreams bed. The hotel’s restaurants includes Restaurant Toscany which features Italian-style cuisine with an open kitchen and Slovakian wines, and Opus serving local Bratislava cuisine. The hotel boasts an indoor swimming pool, steam, and sauna, and fitness facilities. This is a Hilton HHonors Category 4 hotel, requiring 30,000 points for a free night. Rooms are starting at 119 EUR ($145) in August.
Holiday Inn Bratislava: Located in Bratislava’s business district, this hotel has 166 guestrooms. The hotel also offers complimentary high-speed internet and complimentary on-site parking for all guests. The hotel has a fitness center, indoor swimming pool, business center, and outdoor tennis court. Brasseria offers a wide variety of food and has a buffet breakfast and also serves lunch and dinner. Rooms in August start at 79 EUR ($95) or only 5,000 Priorty Club points since this is on the Priority Club PointBreaks list for August-October 15th. As a reminder, if you need Priority Club points quickly, you can transfer at a 1:1 ratio from Chase Ultimate Rewards. Transfers usually take 1-2 business days.
The Holiday Inn Bratislava can be redeemed for only 5,000 Priority Club points while it is a PointBreaks property until October 15, 2012.
There is also the Crowne Plaza Bratislava which can be redeemed for 25,000 Priority Club points per night.
Sheraton Bratislava Hotel: Located on the banks of the Danube River, this property has 186 guestrooms and 23 suites, all with Sheraton’s Sweet Sleeper Bed and bathrooms with separate rain showers and bathtubs. SPG Platinum members along with guests staying on the club floor have access to the club lounge which offers complimentary breakfast, snacks, hors d’oeuvres, and a variety of alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages. There is a Sine Spa with several treatment rooms, a Finnish sauna, steam room and a heated swimming pool. Guests have complimentary access to the Sheraton Fitness facilities. The main restaurant, Brasserie Anjou, serves all day long, and specializes in French cuisine. This is an SPG Category 3 property, so free nights go for 7,000 Starpoints or 2,800 Starpoints + $45 and rates start at 99 EUR ($120) in August.
Kempinski Hotel River Park Bratislava: This stately 231-room, five-star hotel is located on the banks of the Danube. Guestrooms are designed with a contemporary, streamlined look with flatscreen TV’s and complimentary wireless internet access, and the bathrooms have separate bathtubs and showers. The hotel provides complimentary transportation to downtown Bratislava by either Rolls Royce or BMW. The hotel also houses the Zion Spa and fitness center, which is located on the 11th floor overlooking Bratislava and has an indoor lap pool and whirlpool, sauna, steam room, and ice fountain. Among the hotel’s bars and restaurants is the River Bank Restaurant, serving organic and seasonal foods. Rooms start at 139 EUR ($170) in August.