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Saturday, 01 July 2017

Slovakia: Mountains, Lakes & Caves

Written by Prachi Kagzi
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In my pursuit of unexplored destinations, I chanced upon the Tatra Mountains in Slovakia. The Tatra Mountains form a natural border between Slovakia and Poland. They are the highest mountain range in the Carpathians and second in Europe, only outdone by the Alps.
Though fairly unheard of, these majestic mountains have a dramatic black rugged topography to excite any hiker or photographer.

I started my journey from Krakow, Poland with a pleasant 2.5 hour drive cutting across the border into Slovakia. The place I chose to stay was Štrbské Pleso; its large glacial lake is a favorite ski, tourist, and health resort. Because its a stop on the Tatra trolley and rack railway, its a starting point for a host of popular hikes including to Kriváň and Rysy.

As soon as I had entered the Tatra region, I starting passing through many small mountain villages. I decided to make a quick stop in the quaint village of Zdiar. They have an intact folk museum where I could get a depiction of mountain village life and even try on some folk wedding dresses! The museum owner Patrick came out to greet us and talked about the simple village life of sheep herders. Locals here had been engaged in agriculture, pasturage and charcoal production before tourism hit them.

We drove higher and soon the crisp mountain air hit our faces. We passed many other villages, which are famous ski resorts of the area.

Finally, we reached The Grand Kempenski Hotel in Strbeske Pleso, our abode for the next three days. The hotel is perched right on the mountain lake amongst lush green pine trees. The baroque style building almost transported me to the Grand Budapest hotel and I felt I was in the fantasy Republic of Zubrowka! (a fictional Central European state in the movie by the same name.)

The hotel emanates opulence and old warm charm. It offered spectacular views of the highest peaks of the Tatras. I went for an hour of idle boating on the lake to kickstart my holiday. After a nightcap at their bar by the lake, replete with lounge chairs, fur blankets and old style heaters, I headed upstairs to my penthouse room and managed to tuck in early to ensure a fresh start for my hike the next day.

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Unlike most places I have hiked before, the Tatra mountains are an organized hiking holiday. The hiking routes are very well marked, have a lot of foot traffic and are even listed on google maps! I didn't buy the traditional hikers map as I found the route well marked on trees and rocks along with the luxury of the google map lady booming directions into my earpiece. Surprisingly, cellular signals are brilliant in the mountains. Slovakia has made the mountains reception-friendly for the benefit of hikers, and in the event of an accident, rescue is just a call away. The Mountain Rescue Service provides nationwide search and rescue operations in difficult terrain in close cooperation with the Air Rescue Service.

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Last modified on Friday, 30 June 2017

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