I don’t think you know our spectacular mountains, unless you’ve been to Slovakia, or have done a thorough research on the country’s top tourist attractions. With more than 29 peaks over 2500 m high, the High Tatra mountains rightly deserve their name, and much more than just a casual visit. It’s an area of outstanding natural beauty dotted with dozens of glacial lakes cut into the alpine valleys, as well as a home to the Tatra National Park – a nature reserve with a unique flora and fauna.
The High Tatras or Vysoké Tatry are well-documented on the internet, where you’ll find a host of great pictures from professional photographers. Those I want to share with you were taken on my trip to a small town sitting at the foot of Slavkovsky Peak (Slavkovský štít).
Starý Smokovec is one of a few little towns in the High Tatras region that preserve their specific architecture and an inimitable charm. It’s the main hub of a modern, reliable tram network (TEŽ), which connects all the important tourist attractions with the main railway station in Poprad – Tatry. It’s a good idea though to check timetables well in advance, as the trams run on an hourly basis most of the day.
There’s so much to see and do up there
I’d been to the Tatra mountains many times before and knew what to expect at this time of year, so I wore a warm, wind-proof coat and a pair of winter boots with a good grip. This was fine for a walk around the town and the viewpoints above it, but it wouldn’t classify as sufficient gear for climbing the peaks. The weather up there can change from one hour to another, and though they’re stunning, our mountains can be dangerous as well. If you’re not familiar with them, always talk to locals or someone who knows the terrain well before you set on the journey.
The sky was overcast and the peaks shrouded in mist when I arrived on Saturday afternoon. A brisk walk helped me keep warm despite the cold winds blowing from the mountains. I was determined to make the most of my weekend in Starý Smokovec.
The town is usually full of tourists, skiers or holiday-makers, but it looked quite empty when we strolled around it later that day. It might have been the lack of snow this winter, or just a slack period before the coming Easter.
I thought someone was practising a new stunt on top of the ski school hut – until I came closer …
Everywhere I looked my eyes met a joyful harmony of colours, shapes and patterns, which helped dispel the grey moods of the day.
Although we woke up to another windy morning, the skies looked brighter the next day and the sun made a full appearance by lunchtime. Could I have wished for more? I’d planned to go up to the Hrebienok ski resort, the terminal of the High Tatras funicular and the starting point of several hiking trails. But it wasn’t for skiing or hiking, or even sledging, as you might expect. I wanted to see the Tatra Ice Dome or Tatranský ľadový dóm – the project that had captured my imagination for three winters until I finally decided to go and see it in reality last weekend. This winter, the interior was built in a baroque style:
Music at Hrebienok
It’s not often that the High Tatras bathe in sunshine, so my choice on that Sunday afternoon was quite simple. I gave up the 7-minute excitement of the funicular ride in favour of a good walk up the hillside. The footpath was well-signposted and it took me about 40 minutes to get to the Hrebienok station. I only met a few walkers making their way down, otherwise I could enjoy the crisp mountain air and the tranquility of the countryside on my own. There was going to be a concert up in the Tatra Ice Dome, which was strong enough a pull to make me walk almost without stopping. And I was thoroughly rewarded when I got to my destination:
Feeling uplifted after the concert and still refreshed by the walk, I strolled around the Hrebienok station for a while. It was another 20-minute walk to the Reinerova Hut or Reinerova chata, the sign-post said. I’d heard they made wonderful tea at the hut, and although the vision of a nice, leisurely cup was tempting, there wasn’t enough time to do that.
Off I went and down the road that serves as a sledge track on snowy winter days. The views were fabulous, but I missed the densely wooded area that used to be here before the devastating fire in 2005 burned down most of the vegetation. Sadly, the High Tatra mountains haven’t yet recovered after the worst disaster on record.
Back to Starý Smokovec to fill my travel bottle with fresh mineral water from a mountain spring, and catch a tram down to the Poprad – Tatry railway station.
Short but totally worth it. Whenever I feel low in a confined space of our residential flat, I just have to look at this picture, and then wonderful memories come back of my weekend in the High Tatras (or Vysoké Tatry):