As a dedicated traveller who has explored both hemispheres in search of winter weather, I always look for new and different experiences with each trip. Sometimes I opt for a winter city trip, other times I embark on a classic winter getaway, like a trip to the European mountains. To offer inspiration for those wandering where to go this winter, allow me to introduce you to Slovakia’s hidden gem, the High Tatras Mountains.
Located in the heart of Europe, Slovakia is a country which is full of culture, heritage and natural beauty. From its illustrious history of European nobility, the post-communism lifestyles of its people to hidden natural caves that are spread over their natural parks, Slovakia is a country that is worth discovering.
One of the famous winter areas for both locals and European travellers is the High Tatras Mountains. Regarded as one of the smallest mountain ranges in the world, they also have some of the highest and the only alpine mountain ranges in Slovakia. Imagine pristine snowfields, ultramarine mountain lakes, thundering waterfalls, undulating pine forests and shimmering alpine meadows.
These exact scenes will unravel before your eyes over this 260-kilometre area. With 25 peaks surpassing 2500 metres above sea level, the High Tatras Mountains are the perfect place for winter activities or simply photo snapping and relaxing.
There are few areas to explore in the High Tatras Mountains, here are the highlights.
Štrbské Pleso : From Winter Sports to Weddings
The picturesque Štrbské Pleso, a mountain lake of glacial origin, is literally the top tourist destination in the High Tatras, Slovakia. It has the best and most popular ski areas with various height levels to the most sophisticated ski-cum-spa resort in the Grand Hotel Kempinski High Tatras, a hotel which is also renowned for its iconic architecture.
Štrbské Pleso, which is located behind the hotel, is frozen over for half of the year and makes a great venue for short cross-country, freestyle skiing obstacles, short walks and even as a backdrop for pre-wedding photo shoots.
For avid skiers, Štrbské Pleso offers 9km of easy to moderately difficult ski runs on the southern slopes of Predné Solisko, which are popular especially with families and advanced skiers.
This area attracts many skiers with its excellent skiing conditions, great tracks for slalom, downhill and no 11 routes for high quality cross-country skiing. Talking of high speed, high adrenalin sports, you can also do skijoring (when you are towed on skis behind a horse) and dog sledding in this area.
Another winter sport which is available here – and one which is done at a more leisurely pace – is snowshoeing.
With racket-like footwear to walk over the snow, snowshoes distribute your body weight throughout the racket’s surface so that you can explore high snowfields without sinking in too deep – a unique and fun option for those who want to experience a different kind of hiking experience.
If sport is not your thing, then you can explore this enchanting area from the comfort of an open top horse carriage. I have to say it is quite an amusing way to go sightseeing.
Tatranska Lomnica: From Great Architecture to The Top of The World
As an important tourist village which was founded in 1892, Tatranska Lomnica keeps a few of the High Tatras Mountains’ best secrets.
To my surprise, this little village is filled with various types of architecture, from late gothic styles up to the modern Stalinist style. An easy walk around this village will bring you to some great buildings, such as the late gothic Evangelic church, which was built in 1902, and the mesmerizing summer house of Tudor Szecheny, which was built in 1913.
But the attractions of this little village don’t only stem from the beautiful architecture. The observation tower, which is situated on top of Lomnicky stit (peak), also provides a fascinating view.
It takes around 30 minutes in a cable car to reach the summit (2,634 metres up, this is the second highest peak in the High Tatras after Gerlachovsky stit) and the panoramic views are just spectacular once you are up there. The solar observatory at this peak, which was built in 1962, still actively runs research today.
Visitors can enjoy the open deck on the top of the observatory building and even venture to the other side of the summit following the provided trails.
Another charming aspect of this village is the Sherpa culture. Though the Sherpa culture started in Nepal, Slovakia has its own Sherpas that work as mountain porters. Regarded as the last existing Sherpas in Europe, tourists can find out more by visiting Sherpa caffe & nosicske mini museum in this village.
If you are lucky, you will not only get a glimpse into the life of a Sherpa but you may also meet one of the remaining Sherpas in the form of Steve Backor. He can tell you more stories about Sherpa life over a warming cappuccino.
If all of the high altitude activity makes you hungry, you should visit Koliba Kamzik. Set in rustic Slavic ambiance with strong wooden elements, this restaurant offers authentic Slovakian dishes such as smoked roast pork knuckle, traditional homemade sausages, venison medallions and deer goulash.
Just like its ambiance, the food here also reflects the local flavours perfectly. With its generous and delicious portions, washed down with traditional Slovakian honey Mead, good times are guaranteed!
As an independent winter traveller, I rarely use guides. Nevertheless, it can be useful (and fun) to have one. Erik Sevcik and his company Adventoura provide some of the best guidance in the Tatra region. With his deep knowledge of the area, Erik can custom his tours to you. Eric and his amiable Adventoura guides speak fluent English and will show you the most hidden spots and the best slopes for skiing.