Traditional scattered settlements © Libor Mladší

Gemer – gems in, above and under

The region where the Pannonian landscape meets the Carpathians, where the present times carry the memories of a long-standing history and where outstanding natural spectacles come hand in hand with socio-economic difficulties: all these contrasts make Gemer one of the most attractive and interesting regions of Slovakia, and one pilot area of the Centralparks project.

The Centralparks project aims to create a strategy for local sustainable tourism development based on natural and cultural heritage of the Carpathians and to implement the strategy in pilot regions. In the context of the current tourism development initiatives in the Gemer region, the Centralparks project will be of utmost importance in order to enhance the role of protected areas and to secure the sustainability principles in the process of local tourism development.

The territory of the Gemer region is almost identical with the territory of the former Gemer-Malohont County. The tourism region includes the administrative districts of Rimavská Sobota, Revúca and Rožňava. Gemer is surrounded by protected areas of rare natural treasures back to back with specific cultural and historical values creating opportunities for local sustainable tourism development. On the one hand, the Muránska planina National Park with its rich biodiversity, the Slovak Karst (Slovenský kras) National Park with its famous caves and the Cerová vrchovina Protected Landscape Area with its unique landscape features are represented in this area. On the other hand, various historical monuments, unique churches, rich in religious symbols and localities reminiscent of the times of mining, are scattered throughout the whole region.

Church Rákoš © OZ Gotická cesta

Church Rákoš © OZ Gotická cesta


This interlinkage of both natural and cultural attractions can create the cornerstone for tourism and can pave the path to the development of successful local sustainable tourism products and services. “Of course it is not enough to have bricks for constructing a house, it is also necessary to arrange the bricks in a way that the final “house” is an attractive and functioning system” says Jaroslav Hric, the Head of the Regional Tourism Organisation GEMER, and continues “There is a strong need of an integrated planning and regional tourism development as well as coordination of regional stakeholders.”

The systematic destination management approach set up by the destination management organization GEMER supported by the strategic framework of County Administrations, form long-term visions and recast them into tailor-made local action plans. Even though the socio-economic situation in Gemer is far from satisfying, there is hope on the horizon for better times, at least in the field of tourism development. Gemer waits to reveal its gems - whether on the surface with its magnificent natural beauty and cultural richness, under the surface with its rare cave formations or above in the clear sky with one of the least light-polluted skies within Europe.

Regional honey from Gemer © MAS Malohont

Let's introduce the natural treasures of the Gemer region:
Muránska planina National Park

Muránska planina National Park is located in the western part of the Slovenské Rudohorie Mountains. Four geomorphologic units meet here (Veporské vrchy, Spišsko-gemerský kras, Stolické vrchy, Horehronské Podolie) and thus create chromatic colouring of the area both karst and river relief.

The territory of the park contains numerous karstic springs, swallow holes and jets, more than 300 caves and 15 abysses. Its terrain is covered by sink holes, grikes, canyons, rock towers, and rock windows. There is a dwarf pinewood at the lowest altitude in Slovakia (it grows at 750 m above sea level). The predominating woods vary from oak to beech forests and alpine spruce fir forests. About 1,400 species of vascular plants are present here, many of them are endemic or sub-endemic taxa.

The most distinguished plant of the territory is Muran Daphne (Daphne arbuscula) - an endemic and cenozoic relict of Muránska planina, a species of Community interest. There is a natural occurrence of large carnivores - grey wolf, brown bear and Eurasian lynx. Not only big mammals make from the national park such a unique place. High diversity of invertebrates, mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fishes prove that this national park still dispose of functioning ecosystems worth to protect and to explore in a sensitive way. Muránska planina National Park offers a lot of opportunities for a high-quality visitor experience. The visitor numbers are still relatively low (30,000 per annum). The development potential is big, it is however of key importance how this potential is be used in a sustainable way.

Traditional breeding of the horse breed 'Norik of Muran' © Maroš Detko


Administration of the Muránska planina National Park manages the tourism activities in the national park by the Visitor Order. There are two information centres, shelter hut, educational trails and educational sites in place. The network of hiking, biking, cross-country skiing and horse-riding trails is dense and come with a wide range of difficulties.

Muránska planina National Park was awarded by the European Charter for Sustainable Tourism (EUROPARC Federation) in 2011 for its new management approach to the tourism development involving local stakeholders. Based on this experience the ambition is still there to make Muránska planina National Park a place where the breathtaking natural beauty can be both protected and sensitively used in favour of the local sustainable development. This approach is also pursued by the Centralparks project, within which, among other activities, a thematic transnational task force is working on the strategy for local sustainable tourism development based on natural and cultural heritage of the Carpathians.

Muránska planina, view from Nemcová © Maroš Detko

Slovak Karst National Park and Biosphere Reserve

The Slovak Karst (Slovenský kras) National Park and Biosphere Reserve is located in the southern part of Slovakia, and bordering Hungary it is the sibling of the Hungarian Aggtelek National Park. It is the largest karstic area in Central Europe (440 square kilometres) with the highest concentration of underground formations. There are 1,100 caves and abysses, which are inscribed in the UNESCO List of World Cultural and Natural Heritage Sites in the area. Slovakia and Hungary share their largest and most famous dripstone cave - the 25-kilometre-long Baradla-Domica Cave complex, designated also as a unique transboundary subterranean Ramsar Site (wetland of international importance).

Treasures of the Slovak Karst National Park are however not all underground. The specific geomorphology creates conditions for presence of various fauna and flora species. Especially flora represents the most impressive part of the nature of the Slovak Karst National Park. Factors like diversity of the karst relief, climate inversion in abysses and diversity of ecotopes result in conditions suitable for the occurrence of several endemic species. Vegetation diversity is given by the specific calcite weathering and respective chemical processes.

From a touristic point of view there are many attractive places in the national park. The underground world of caves provides a lot of possibilities for exploration. Among them the most beautiful are Domica, Gombasecká cave, Jasovská and Krásnohorská caves. Hiking and cycling trails are well maintained and lead to and through the marvellous parts of the national park, such as the karst gorge of Zádiel Valley, Háj Waterfalls and Silická ľadnica ice cave (the lowest elevation ice cave in Europe).

Silická ice cave © Ján Kilík


Similarly to other national parks in Slovakia, the management of tourism is regulated by the visitor order. The Administration of the Slovak Karst National Park describes on its webpage the situation of tourism in the national park in respect to the existing development, addresses challenges and proposes tourism activities that can support tourism development within the area. The strategy developed in the Centralparks project will empower the Slovak Karst National Park to establish a successful sustainable tourism development.

Zádielska gorge © Ján Kilík

Cerová vrchovina Protected Landscape Area

The uniqueness of Cerová vrchovina Protected Landscape Area (PLA) is due to its landscape of extinguished volcanoes. From a geological point of view, the area is built by Neogene sandstones and vulcanites. The relief of the Cerová vrchovina upland has an inverted character. This means, that during an erosion process low areas of the landscape become filled with lava or sediment that hardens into material more resistant to erosion than the surrounding surface. Differential erosion then removes the surrounding material, leaving behind the younger resistant material: therefore, there may be a ridge where previously there was a valley or vice versa. Sharp relief segmentation is a characteristic feature of the area. The mountain range of Cerová vrchovina is valuable for its non-living, inorganic natural assets. One may say is a kind of a big, open-air geological museum.

Hajnáčka castle hill and surrounding © A-PLA Cerová vrchovina


Cerová vrchovina PLA also hosts valuable and interesting “living” nature. Forests cover more than 60% of its area and thermophilous species prevail in its wood-species composition. Turkey oak (Quercus cerris) is one of the predominating tree species here and interestingly, it is where the name of the area originates from. The mountain range Cerová vrchovina is known for its highly varied plant species - as many as 1,250 were identified here. The rocky steppes and forest steppes are highly appreciated by botanists, among others.

The cross-border Geological Park Novohrad-Nógrád under UNESCO Global Geoparks plays an important role in the area. This is one of the first transnational geoparks in the world, and has the role to protect and promote the geological, landscape, natural, ecological, archaeological, historical and cultural values of the area. Geo-tourism presents one main possibility how to support regional development. Centralparks aims to provide tools to streghten geotourism as a credible sustainable tourism industry, which can offer new development and employment opportunities for local communities. 

At first glance the Cerová vrchovina Protected Landscape Area might not seem exceptional, however, looking more closely, the unique atmosphere of this area captures everybody who is searching for harmony and a specific natural charm. This picturesque nature worth visiting is sometimes also called the Slovak Toscana.

Steblová skala © A-PLA Cerová vrchovina 

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