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MOUNTAIN RESORT WITH A PICTURESQUE LAKE AND OLYMPIC AMBITIONS

Štrbské Pleso: High Tatra hub

HUNDREDS of years ago, when serfdom was abolished and land was passed to locals by the Hungarian royalty, Štrbské Pleso (Cleft Lake) and its surrounding forests were given to local Slovak peasants. They did not appreciate the gift.
The Štrba locals were incensed at being given what they said was worthless land. Calling the lake itself a "useless pond", they threatened to drain it and use the reclaimed meadow for pastures to salvage some value.
But the forests were not worthless at all, writes Ján Lacika, author of Tatras, a book about the mountain range. It's just that the 13th-century peasants did not realise the potential for tourism back then.


photo: Rachel Salaman

HUNDREDS of years ago, when serfdom was abolished and land was passed to locals by the Hungarian royalty, Štrbské Pleso (Cleft Lake) and its surrounding forests were given to local Slovak peasants. They did not appreciate the gift.

The Štrba locals were incensed at being given what they said was worthless land. Calling the lake itself a "useless pond", they threatened to drain it and use the reclaimed meadow for pastures to salvage some value.

But the forests were not worthless at all, writes Ján Lacika, author of Tatras, a book about the mountain range. It's just that the 13th-century peasants did not realise the potential for tourism back then.

"The local lord, Jozef Szentiványi, [in the late 19th century] quickly found out that the land so blindly rejected by the peasants was not in the least bit useless," Lacika writes. "[The peasants] knew nothing about its potential as a tourist resort, the lake represented for them a mere 'useless lake'."

Szentiványi harboured grand visions of creating a haven for the 'Tatra wanderers', mountain travellers who had begun exploring the mountain range in the 17th century. In 1872, he built a log hut to serve as a hunting lodge on the lake's eastern shore. The following summer, he transformed the hovel into a board and lodging compound, Štrbské Pleso's first hotel.

Development has since continued at an alarming rate. In the 130 years since the erection of the first tourist accommodations on the lake, the Hungarian's vision has taken shape in a collection of huge hotels, a few blocks of flats, several restaurants, and a large paved car park, all close to the lake or in the forests nearby.


IN THE winter, the frozen lake attracts cross-country skiers.
photo: Rachel Salaman

Štrbské Pleso, which at 1,355 metres above sea level is the highest town in the High Tatras, was by the mid-1960s developed to the point that it was awarded the 1970 world championships in cross-country skiing. Two massive ski jumps were built for the international winter sporting event, the largest of which juts above the tree line and is visible for miles around in all directions. Around 60,000 onlookers can view the jumping competitions from the metal spectator stands built aside the steep slope and at the bottom. The spectator stands are odd looking, with the criss-crossing structure left today rusting and derelict, giving the impression that it could at any moment fall from its precarious perch on the steep mountain cliff.

Despite these curious remnants, the 1970 competition, writes Lacika, paved the way for yet more development and dreams of eventually hosting the winter Olympics - ambitions that Lacika says are as fierce today as they ever were. "The people long to experience the same explosion of joy brought here by the decision to organise the 1970 World Championships. After that experience, the ambitions of the Tatra people grew to Olympic proportions. The local people have not given up the idea that one day the Olympic flame will burn below the Tatra peaks, and over Štrbské Pleso the five-ring Olympic banner will flutter."

But many Slovaks believe the locals should give up their Olympic dream. Environmentalists, for example, are appalled by the level of development in the town, noting that it lies within the borders of the Tatra National Park (TANAP).

"[In Štrbské Pleso] they have giraffe slides and big speakers with loud music," complained the Environment Ministry's Peter Straka. "This is a national park? If you want that stuff, put it in [the nearby towns of] Liptovský Mikuláš or Poprad, but don't put it in the heart of the mountains. In national parks a priority must be placed on nature conservation."

However it appears that little, if any, emphasis has been placed on conservation in the resort town. Although the lake at one point was surrounded by thick forests, "the main part of the forest was cut down for construction of tourist facilities," reports the Slovakia and the Slovaks Beliana encyclopaedia.

Several large hotel complexes have been built, including the triangular Patria Hotel on the eastern shore and the distinct Panoráma Hotel, which may be the ugliest example of communist-era architecture in the country. It appears to have been designed by an architect striving to alienate guests with inhuman and unnatural contours - an obnoxious site in the midst of such natural beauty.


photo: Rachel Salaman

Thankfully, the eyesore that is Štrbské Pleso is contained in a relatively small area. Beyond lies what visitors to TANAP come for: the mountains, the miles of trails, and the unmolested forests.

Lodging in Štrbské Pleso

Hotel Fis
Tel: 052/449-2221,
Fax: 052/449-2422,
Double room: Sk2,550 Breakfast: included. Centrally located hotel with swimming pool, vegetarian restaurant, and sauna (Sk120).

Hotel Panoráma
Tel: 052/449-2111,
Fax: 052/449-2810, recepcia@hotelpanorama.sk, Double room: Sk1,630, Breakfast: included.

Hotel Patria
Tel: 052/449-2591,
Fax: 052/449-2590,
Double room: Sk2,700/3,080, Breakfast: included. Pool and fitness centre included in the price. Luxury hotel with winter garden, swimming pool, sauna, solarium, massages, and conference hall.

Chata pri Popradskom plese
Tel/Fax: 052/ 449-2177,
Per person: Sk380-700, Breakfast: Sk130. Stunning chalet on the banks of Popradské Pleso alpine lake, about 1,500 metres above sea level.

Topic: Tourism


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