September 2008 Slovakia by Marie Carberry

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Bordered by Germany, Austria, Ukraine, Hungary and the Czech Republic, Slovakia is now one of Europe’s newest states after its bid for autonomy from Czechoslovakia was successfully and peacefully achieved in 1993.

Not as glamorous, perhaps, as the Czech Republic, Slovakia is, nevertheless, emerging slowly from its cocoon and waving a banner that says ‘Look at Me!’

We flew to Kosice, the second largest city in Slovakia.  Driving through the suburbs on our way to Poprad we observed the overhang from communism.  Ugly and crumbling concrete tower blocks are everywhere.  Small shops with darkened interiors seemed to be selling little at all and the cars that really gave Communism a bad name, the Trabant, chugged along the roads.

Our load was lightened considerably, however, when we arrived at our hotel, in Poprad.  Using geo thermal water, the AquaCity hotel complex boasts thirteen pools (one Olympic sized) and is virtually self powered.  Alongside the pools there is a cryotherapy centre, water slides and endless spa and sauna facilities. This hotel is a paradise for families whilst also providing welcome relaxation after a day in the High and Low Tatras.

Slovakia is not for the faint hearted, especially when travelling through the Tatra Mountain range.  Located near Slovakia’s northern border with Poland the Tatras are a 24km long mountain chain at 2655m above sea level, providing a Mecca for hikers during the summer months and skiers in winter.

 

 

Nizny

Our first stop was Lomnica, at 850m.  From here you can take a pleasant cable car ride to the halfway peak of Skalnate Pleso where there are restaurant facilities and a chance to walk around the lake.

If I had taken the opportunity to walk the lake, I would have been able to watch in awe as a small cable car inched its way further upwards against a sheer mountain face, through the clouds to the peak of Lomincky Stit, at 2634m.  Unfortunately, I did not take the time and found myself in that same cable car, unaware of the journey ahead.  Fifteen of us piled in and fifteen minutes later we were stunned not only the beauty of the landscape but also by the fact that we were dangling at over 2000 metres with a cable car operator who appeared to be asleep.  However, my fears were forgotten when we emerged to the stark but incredibly beautiful snowy peaks of the High Tatras.  Lomnicky Peak also hosts small weddings and so with a glass of schnapps in one hand (after all it was nearly 9am!) and a slice of cake in the other, I dabbled with the thought of renewing my wedding vows but then remembered that to do so I would have to repeat the cable car journey.

 

Back at Skalnate Pleso, they have devised an even harder way to come down than by cable car.

Scooters and Go Carts are available to shoot down the mountain at top speeds – handy if you are being chased by one of the 700 bears that are said to roam these parts!

Luckily, we were wearing helmets and pads, as there were a couple of accidents on hare pin bends, but we did all manage to make it to the bottom in one piece

From Lomnica we drove to Pieniny and from there, to calm our ragged nerves, we took a long and leisurely boat ride down the Dunajec River through the Pieniny National Park.

Just lie back, let your fingers trail the water and enjoy the majestic mountain scenery as the boat drivers, dressed in traditional Slovakian dress, skilfully weave their wooden rafts through calm waters and some unexpected rapids.

The following day, and it was time for more action.   Again it was a short drive, this time to Jasna and a chairlift to Otupne-Lukova.  From there we took a mountain ‘walk’ to Chopok Peak.  Less than a walk and more like a climb, this should not be undertaken light-heartedly.  At nearly 2000m Chopok Peak is a good one hour’s solid climb, with, at times, sheer drops off the side.  Hiking boots are required and those with vertigo – think again. The climb eventually takes you to the top and the small chalet of Kamenna Chata where, it is said, they serve the best tea in the world. If you like hot Ribena, perhaps they do, but no matter, the coffee is superb.

The descent is far scarier when, like me, you don’t have the proper footwear, the weather suddenly changes and thunder can be heard in the distance.  Two hours later and, just before an almighty downpour, I reached Otupne-Lukova again where I gladly availed of the offer of another Schnapps – or two.

 

 

That evening, at AquaCity, I slowly eased my aching limbs into one of their thermal pools.

There are different levels of admittance within the water complex, but as a visitor to the Hotel, you have access to all areas and the salt steam room, ice cave and a drink in the pool bar were just what were required.

Slovakia is an emerging tourist market and, as a consequence, there are areas that can and will be improved on.  Food is, on the whole, mediocre with a widespread dependency on dumplings and pork.  Car hire is available but driving standards can be erratic with wholesale overtaking on blind bends etc.  We had an incident where our taxi driver appeared the worse for wear and, in the end, we had to relieve him of his keys and drive ourselves to the airport.

Slovakia is not for the fainthearted but don’t let this put you off.  The beauty of the Tatras will make you forget about the food and the Slovakians are ever friendly and eager to see their visitors having a good time. It is also cheap.  A three course meal with wine is around u10 a head.  And, if you find driving a challenge AquaCity can arrange transfers to and from the airport.

 

Stary Smokovec, a village at the foot of the High Tatras Mountains, where you can take the funicular up the lower slopes and enjoy an easy woodland hike to Rainer’s cottage, enjoy a welcome drink rainerovka and stop by the museum of backpacking

Try out summer tubing on the slopes of Hrebienok then return downill on an adult scooter (just like the kids’ leg-powered ones, only bigger!)

Enjoy a few runs on the Tatra Bob, a knuckle whitening ride down the foothills of the High Tatras on board a sledge on rails.

Enjoy a traditional Slovak lunch in Brncal’s chalet in Tatras National Park

 

Tatras National Park, Slovakia’s first national park featuring dozens of species of plants of animals. Tatranska Strba 75, Tatranska Lomnica 059 41, Slovakia +52 4484 217

The market town of Kezmarok, with its  16th century wooden church.

Take the cable car to Lomnicky Peak (Lomnický štít) for stunning views of the plateau between the High and Low Tatras. To get to Skalnate Pleso you need to get another lift, which costs 390 Crowns return. The High Tatras cable car from Skalnate pleso to Lomnicky Stit costs 550 Slovak Crowns return.

Demanovska Cave of Freedom with its numerous stalagmites and stalagtites

 

GETTING THERE

There are daily flights from Dublin to Koisce with Skyeurope.com

STAYING THERE

A three night stay at AquaCity resort cost from u165 per person based on two people sharing a room in AquaCity’s 3* Seasons hotel, including airport transfers, free access to the waterpark and spa and breakfast and dinner in AquaCity’s High Tatra restaurant.  A week’s stay costs from u36

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