Hear the call of the wild? Must be in Čergov forest

Almost everybody who knows Slovakia is familiar with the Tatras, High and Low, but less well-known, at least to foreigners and those living in the western part of the country, is Čergov. While Slovakia has many mountainous areas and forests, there are few places where it is possible to find 600 square kilometers of more or less unbroken, hills covered with a forest populated priarily with native fir and beech trees.
Lying a few kilometers to the north of Prešov and easily accessible by train and bus from the Torysa valley to the west or the valley linking Prešov and Bardejov to the east, Čergov abounds in opportunities for hikes, appreciation of nature, and viewing traditional Šariš village architecture. The main ridge of the hills runs from the Kyjov village up to Mincol and then via mostly gentle ups and downs to Sedlo Čergov and down to Osikov.


Looking back towards Prešov from Sedlo Ždiare, Čergov.
Robin Rigg

Almost everybody who knows Slovakia is familiar with the Tatras, High and Low, but less well-known, at least to foreigners and those living in the western part of the country, is Čergov. While Slovakia has many mountainous areas and forests, there are few places where it is possible to find 600 square kilometers of more or less unbroken, hills covered with a forest populated priarily with native fir and beech trees.

Lying a few kilometers to the north of Prešov and easily accessible by train and bus from the Torysa valley to the west or the valley linking Prešov and Bardejov to the east, Čergov abounds in opportunities for hikes, appreciation of nature, and viewing traditional Šariš village architecture. The main ridge of the hills runs from the Kyjov village up to Mincol and then via mostly gentle ups and downs to Sedlo Čergov and down to Osikov.

A day in the hills will give you a chance to see Slovakia's native wildlife. If you are patient and quiet, you may see foxes, red or roe deer as well as wild boar. Better still is to spend a night in the forest when, from the comfort of your sleeping bag, you may hear all four of Slovakia's owls (including the rare Ural Owl) from one place.

The added attraction of Čergov is that it is still home to a pack of wolves. Most people have an irrational fear of wolves. The fact is that there is very little to be afraid of. There is not a single confirmed case of a healthy wolf - rabid animals are a different matter - making an unprovoked attack on a person in North America, and reports are highly exaggerated in Europe.

Wolves are extremely wary of people. I have been going to Čergov since December (see story below) in the hope of seeing them but so far have found only footprints, scats and dead boar. Slovakia has between two and four hundred wolves - it's not possible to be more precise as they are so elusive - and there are only five left in Čergov because of hunting, so don't worry, you won't see them. Nevertheless, it's very exciting to walk in the forest and know that they are there, somewhere.

Čergov is covered by map number 104 of the Turisticka Mapa series and it's useful to have a copy of this before you set out. If you're travelling to Čergov from Prešov, there is a good train at 7:40 to Sabinov. You can then catch a bus from Sabinov to Majdan, a small village, which takes you right into the center of the forest.

Morning and evening are the best times for seeing the country-side. To get a better shot at spotting some animals, it's good to go as early as possible. Čergov also has a few lynx and it seems that a lone bear has appeared very recently.

Apart from some small sections, Čergov is to date not protected by legislation and so tree logging continues. In places, the forest is painfully scarred by foresters who have made clear cuts. However, there are still many beautiful parts to visit and a sunny afternoon spent lying in the midst of one of the ridge meadows, gazing out over the tree-tops towards the distant snowy Tatras, will do wonders for your state of mind. If you haven't experienced Slovakia's wilderness and wildlife then Čergov is a fantastic place to start.

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