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Away from civilization in the remote Greater Fatras

Slovakia is remarkable, not least for the number of slang expressions that defy accurate translation. "Veľký frajer", for example, means something like, "Mr. Show-off," or "Mr. Know-it-all" or even "Mr. Smartypants." Anyway, this is the name I was given by my Slovak friends after I got us lost for the second time on a trip that I was leading, without the encumbrance of a map, in the Veľká Fatra mountains.
The Veľká Fatra are among the wildest mountain ranges in Slovakia. Lying roughly between Banská Bystrica, Martin and Ružomberok, the chain supports a mixture of deciduous forests and grassy uplands, the highest peaks reaching almost 1,600 meters and most passes over 1,000 meters. With almost 60 kilometers of rugged trail separating the Horny Harmanec gateway in the South and the Ružomberok exit to the north, the Veľká Fatra are not for show-offs without accurate maps.


An autumn hike through the Greater Fatras leads through wild forest to quiet views.

Slovakia is remarkable, not least for the number of slang expressions that defy accurate translation. "Veľký frajer", for example, means something like, "Mr. Show-off," or "Mr. Know-it-all" or even "Mr. Smartypants." Anyway, this is the name I was given by my Slovak friends after I got us lost for the second time on a trip that I was leading, without the encumbrance of a map, in the Veľká Fatra mountains.

Slovakia's Bermuda Triangle

The Veľká Fatra are among the wildest mountain ranges in Slovakia. Lying roughly between Banská Bystrica, Martin and Ružomberok, the chain supports a mixture of deciduous forests and grassy uplands, the highest peaks reaching almost 1,600 meters and most passes over 1,000 meters. With almost 60 kilometers of rugged trail separating the Horny Harmanec gateway in the South and the Ružomberok exit to the north, the Veľká Fatra are not for show-offs without accurate maps.

But the mountains are ideal for well-prepared, responsible hikers in search of a challenging trip through rough country. According to the signposts, the route can be completed in about 24 hours, which makes for three normal days or two brutal ones. Trails wind through deep forest and tall grass, up impossibly steep, flinty ascents and down charming corridors of scrub pine. You will see wild animals, although often what seem to be mountain goats turn out to be grubby-looking sheep in the care of a surly collie.

Three mountain chalets offer accommodation on the way: Chata SCP near Malá Smrekovica in the north, Chata Pod Borišovom in the center and Horský Hotel Králona Studňa in the south. The last of these is an unusually fine edifice, offering 80 beds at a maximum of 300 Sk per night, every meal included. As camping is forbidden in the Veľká Fatra, these three chalets make a long hike both possible and comfortable.

Our particular party completed the route as a mountain run in about eight hours, during which time we saw exactly three human beings - two cyclists, who regarded us with some suspicion, and one forlorn Croatian hiker blundering about in the woods with evening approaching. He also had come without a map, and in his plight exemplified one of the best aspects of travel in the mountain range - the ability of strangers to rely on each other in need.

As a foreigner, one might pass several years in Slovakia quite happily without ever attempting a mountain hike, which is rather a pity. For rarely do we find ourselves in places where we would actively intrude on the solitude of strangers to ensure that they are both safe and well. But the Veľká Fatra, a remote and wild expanse, are such a place - contact with other people is both infrequent and entirely free of the cold insularity that colors urban exchanges. And that, in itself, is as refreshing as several days in the mountains.


S&S Travel Tips

Podbanské

Information Center- Nám. sv. Egídia 2950, Poprad, tel: 092-63636, 092-65522.

Getting there

Buses leave twice daily from most larger cities in Slovakia, usually around 6 a.m. and again in the middle of the day.
The easiest way by car is to take the main road through Žilina, Martin and Ružomberok to Liptovský Mikuláš. From Mikuláš, continue to Liptovský Hrádok and then take the highway north to Podbanské (this is the only road through the High Tatras, and you will see lots of signs for Štrbské Pleso). Podbanské lies 28 kilometers from Mikulás and about 18 kilometers short of Štrbské Pleso.

Lodging

The best bet in Podbanské is probably Hotel Permon, even though it is a bit more expensive than the alternatives. Big and modern, it still manages to blend in nicely with the surrounding hills. Plus, it has an enormous swimming pool where you can paddle around and stare at Kriván through the massive windows. Double, 400 Sk, no difference for foreigners. Tel: 0969-490102


Veľká Fatra

Information center - Nám. Š. Moyzesa 26, Banská Bystrica, Tel.: 088 - 797603.

Getting there

Bus and train connections to Ružomberok, to the north of the Veľká Fatra, lie on the main Bratislava to Košice corridor. Departures every two hours.
By car, the Vel'ká Fatra can be gained best from the south. Take the road leading out of Banská Bystrica towards Turčianske Teplice, and find a parking spot at the Harmanecká Pass, which lies about halfway between the two towns. Better still, call ahead to the lodging listed below, and have them come and pick you up at the pass for free.

Lodging

The Horský Hotel Kráľovná Študňa, about 15 kilometers into the mountains, is by far the best option. Rustic without being quaint, it can house eighty visitors but rarely has more than twenty. The owner is a genial bear with an enormous beer belly and a great fund of dirty jokes. Single: 150 Sk a night, or 300 Sk including all food. Tel: 088 - 725984

Topic: Tourism and travel in Slovakia


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