Just six kilometres north of the historical town of Bardejov – one of the Slovak UNESCO sights – lies a spa resort of Bardejovské kúpele. Set amid rolling hills and lush woodlands, it is a place of exceptional beauty, peace and calm. No wonder that some historical documents list it as ‘the spa of tranquility’.
Located in the north-east of Slovakia, far away from large urban and industrial areas, Bardejovské kúpele boasts the best quality of air in Slovakia. There are 10 natural mineral springs, each with a very favourable chemical composition and remarkable therapeutic effects.
Bardejovské kúpele used to be a favourite place of relaxation for Polish and Hungarian aristocracy. In the 19th century, the reputation of the healing waters attracted prominent visitors such as Holy Roman Emperor Joseph II, Napoleon’s wife Marie Louise, or Alexander I of Russia. Elizabeth – Empress of Austria, known as Sissi – found a brief respite in Bardejovské kúpele from the strains of Habsburg rigid court life. The spa house she stayed in was later named after her, as well as the mineral spring she drank from. Sissi’s apartment has been turned into a museum and her statue erected in front of the house.
Sissi spent a lot of time walking in the local woods. A nature trail bearing her name has 7 stops and takes about 45 minutes to complete at a leisurely pace.
It was not only for the rich history and the spa’s reputed soothing atmosphere that I wanted to see Bardejovské kúpele. I had heard about a small family business there, which made delicious wafers according to an old recipe from the 19th century.
No Slovak spa is without their wafers. Large, round, thin biscuits with the spa’s emblem embossed on top are what all guests buy as souvenirs. Filled with either dry or creamy fillings, they are a delicious reminder of your stay. Unlike many other spa towns in Slovakia, Bardejovské kúpele’s wafers are baked right on location, so you can taste them fresh every day.
The Zamborsky family started their business in 1995 with a selection of 4 different flavours, which has risen to over 30, including gluten-free and diabetic options. In the main spa season from May until October, the family provides a job to 12-15 local people. Half of them are permanent staff members who work all through the year.
When the Bardejov region was badly hit by Covid-19, the spa resort was closed, so all the businesses operating there had to shut down as well. Sadly, the virus took the life of Zamborsky family’s father, who owned the bakery. Although still reeling from the loss, his daughter Eva has taken over the reins and together with her young family is keeping the baking tradition alive.
After two years of lockdowns and social isolation, patients and guests are slowly returning to the spa houses, and charming walkways of Bardejovské kúpele are filling with visitors seeking the peace of body and mind. Again, there is this enticing smell of freshly baked wafers that will unmistakably guide you to a shop window, where ZAPA BJ sell their delectable wafers.
On the terrace of a small, cosy café, Eva told me over a cup of coffee about her plans to redesign the company’s website. She wants to set up an e-shop and make the site available in more languages. Hopefully, these improvements will soon give a chance to anyone looking for a special treat to get the taste of Zamborsky’s family honest, homestyle wafers.