There are gems under the High Tatras you may have not heard about

It was a clear and surprisingly warm weekend in mid-November with perfectly blue skies. My family and I had booked self-catering accommodation in a small village under the High Tatras – Slovak most visited mountains. It doesn’t happen very often that the Tatras unveil their majestic peaks for longer than a few minutes, because the weather up there is so changeable. But this particular weekend was different. The Tatra mountains bathed in the sun all the time, and so did we.

Unsurprisingly, the High Tatras attracted quite a few visitors, who flocked to major tourist resorts like Štrbské Pleso, Tatranská Lomnica, Stará Lesná or Starý Smokovec. Fortunately, we had opted to stay in a less-known place that was quieter but still not far away from the Tatras’ main attractions. In fact, the village of Nová Lesná lies on the Tatra Railway (TEŽ), and it is just a few minute ride from Starý Smokovec – a railway junction connecting all the Tatras’ resorts.

nova lesna
The village under the High Tatras with the most beautiful view of the mountains. Source: http://www.tatrypodhorie.sk

We fell in love with the village immediately. Nová Lesná claims to have the most beautiful view of the High Tatras, and I can confirm that indeed it was breathtaking. From the moment we woke up in the morning, we could see Gerlachovský, Slavkovský and Lomnický Peak from the window of our apartment. They stood against the blue sky like our guardians. Surely the sunny weather added to the picture, but it would still be fascinating to watch the peaks emerge from clouds or blankets of fog on a humid day.

The village counts 1660 residents and it is small compared to other Tatras’ resorts, but the people are friendly and very helpful. Some of them provide accommodation for visitors in chalets, small family-run hotels or private houses. There is a beautiful park in the village centre with wooden sculptures of mountain guides and rescue men. The benches have been carved out of wood to ressemble climbing hooks.

wooden sculptures of guides and rescuers
The park in the village of Nová Lesná is dedicated to the mountain guides and rescue men who were born and lived here.

With 82 guides and rescuers coming from the village, Nová Lesná is said to be ‘the cradle of strong and brave men’. The most famous of them was Ján Still, the local teacher who was reportedly the first man to climb Gerlachovský Peak (Gerlachovský štít) in 1834. With its 2654 metres, it is the highest peak in the Tatras, as well as the most elevated place in Slovakia.

Ján Počúvaj – another mountain guide from Nová Lesná – climbed Gerlachovský Peak astonishing 626 times. His bust has been erected in the part of the village designed in feng shui style.

After a day of walking and discovering the hidden gems of the Tatras’ foothills, we had a large family dinner in the local restaurant: a chicken broth and a garlic soup to choose from, a selection of mains ranging from breaded pork to fried or braised chicken steaks to spaghetti to grilled cheese. Some of us managed a dessert of pancakes layered with nutella, jam and fresh fruit.

My husband also discovered a wine shop in the main street, where he spent a happy hour with the owner celebrating his birthday and feasting on homemade pork specialities.

Back in the house, we sat in the warmth of our spacious apartment, chatting about the day and the plans for the next one. Our hosts had brought us chestnuts from their parents’ garden in the Gemer region, so we cooked those, too.

chestnuts ready for cooking
We let the raw chestnuts sit in a bowl of lukewarm water for an hour, then rinsed them under running water.
chestnuts ready for roasting
Using a serrated paring knife, we scored a cross on the round side of each chestnut and lay them on a baking sheet lined with baking parchment.
peeled chestnuts
They went into the oven preheated to 200 degrees Celsia, and came out after 15 minutes of roasting. We wrapped up the cooked chestnuts in a dishcloth, then squeezed them to better loosen and peel their skins.

As I write this, I still feel the sweet, buttery taste of the nuts and their earthy aroma. What a treat it was, and what happy memories come into mind! I want to go back for more next year…

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