The High Tatras – our most spectacular mountains – were bathing in the warm August sunshine when we sat in a cable car taking us to Skalnaté pleso, a mountain lake at the altitude of 1751 metres. Skalnaté pleso (or Rocky Lake) was the starting point for our walking trip that day. We expected it to be a walk – not a leisurely one, mind you, but still a walk – and it really was on the way up to Veľká Svišťovka peak (2038 m), whereas the steep descent to Zelené pleso (1545 m) involved chains in some places. It took us much longer than the signposts said, but we managed to get down safe and sound.
Uncharacteristically for the High Tatras, the skies stayed clear all through the day and the air was clean with perfect visibility. To all the adventurous walkers or climbers, the Tatras unveiled their ragged mountainsides and deep valleys scattered with lakes, pools and an occasional chalet.
We climbed down to Chata pri Zelenom plese (or Green Lake Chalet) for a hearty meal and cold drinks. The chalet’s menu includes gems of Slovak cuisine such as goulash, bean or cabbage soup, halushki with bryndza cheese, traditional sausages, and the largest steam bun I’ve ever seen, filled with rich raspberry jam, covered in chocolate and melted butter. Well deserved after the long walk!
The next day, muscle-tense and affected by an after-climax lethargy, we took it slowly and went to explore the many tastes of Tatratea. If you haven’t heard of this Slovak drink yet, it’s a brand name for a tea-based liquor infused with herbs, spices and, in some varieties, fruit extracts or distillates. There have been 14 different kinds of Tatratea developed by now, and each one gives a unique sensory experience. You get them tasted all in a three-hour excursion around Tatra Distillery in Kežmarok.
Before we actually did get to the liquor tasting, we were ‘walked’ through the Tatratea’s history and served a wonderful selection of cold meats, pickled vegetables, traditional Slovak cheeses and poppyseed rolls. We loved the welcome drink of Frndžalica (untranslatable and impossible to transcribe into English) served in traditional clay mugs and set alight.
The tour of the factory involved sampling of ingredients at various stages of production, and was infused with the youthful enthusiasm of our guide Katarína. This young energy and a strong family feel pervaded the whole place. The historic building, which was once a textile factory, is now owned by a family business with the average age of employees of 26.
On our return to the reception room we were met with a nicely arranged set of 14 Tatrateas, and the guided tasting experience started. Katarína explained each Tatratea formula and gave the story behind its creation. Our understanding and merriment rose with each next shot – the magic concoctions proved their healing power, and by the end of the session we felt significantly better in body and soul.
We were leaving Tatra Distillery with a nifty little bottle of Tatratea and a small souvenir to remind us of the happy, creative people who have taken the tradition of fortified tea drinking in the High Tatras to a completely new level.
For more information on the company’s products, as well as excursions to Tatra Distillery, see their website, or watch for the launch of A Taste of Slovakia second book next year.