Home of Europe’s Oldest Annual Marathon
Slovakia is an underrated travel destination; most people I meet have never heard of it, and could not point it out on a map, so it was surprising to learn that Košice hosted Europe’s first annual marathon.
Of course, Greece is the home of the marathon, but as far as yearly marathons go, the Košice Peace Marathon – held in Eastern Slovakia every October – is the oldest in Europe and the second oldest in the world behind the Boston Marathon. That’s quite a claim to fame for the small country that I live in!
Whether you are running the marathon or not, Košice is a great place to visit. It is Slovakia’s second largest city and under 5 hours’ drive from Bratislava. If you don’t want to drive, you can use Slovakia’s cheap and efficient national rail network instead. The journey from the capital to the East is pretty, especially this time of year when autumn dresses the trees in orange and gold finery. The city looks quite industrial when you first arrive, mainly due to the vast US Steel plant on the outskirts of town, but Košice will reveal her charms once you reach the Old Town.
The cobbled high street is the main artery of the Old Town and is a great place to start exploring the city. There are some lovely churches, fountains, and towers to admire, as well as a range of cafes for when your feet start to hurt. I saw some lovely parks, and the shops looked nice too, although they close on Saturday afternoons and all day Sunday.
Peace Marathon and ‘White Night’
The Peace Marathon weekend, always the first Sunday of October is a great time to visit Košice. The city fills with people participating in the family-run, relay, full or half marathon, and inline skate races, creating an energetic family atmosphere. As if that isn’t enough, Košice simultaneously runs Biela Noc ‘White Night’, a cultural event when the city is decorated with lights, sculptures, and sound/light displays. As night fell on Saturday, lasers beamed across the sky and the musical fountain danced in a dazzling multi-coloured kaleidoscope. Visitors strolled the streets enjoying projections displayed on beautiful buildings and soaked up the atmosphere.
The following morning, people lined the streets to cheer on the marathon runners. Košice was my first half-marathon and I did not know what to expect, but I was thrilled to feel all the support from the spectators who kept me going!
Try Once, Love Forever
I was sad to leave Košice before I really had time to see everything the city has to offer, but there is no doubt in my mind that I’ll be back. The slogan of the Peace Marathon is ‘TRY ONCE, LOVE FOREVER’, but that is equally apt for the city of Košice too.
If you are travelling in or near Slovakia, then be sure to come to Košice once, and I am sure you will love it forever.
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