The High Tatras are undoubtedly the pearl of Slovak tourism. When the wind blasts away the intrusive clouds and fog, one cannot help but be stunned by the sight of majestic peaks dotted with snow. Furthermore northern Slovakia’s beautiful natural wonders also offer great sport and cultural opportunities almost all the year. It is a paradise for the sport-obsessed and the lazy alike, offering countless escapes from the daily grind.
The people who live and work in the High Tatras are very well aware of the touristic attraction. However it seems that some of them still have problems meeting the full demands of the international traveller, and when they fall short, it is the visitor who tends to suffer most.
First, however, the good things. Although Tatra chamoix might be the only species uniquely indigenous to the High Tatras, it is the amazing diversity of other natural phenomena, and such a concentration of leisure pursuits in such a relatively small place, that makes the area so special. It doesn’t matter if you want to go skiing in Snow Park near the Štrbské Pleso, admire the view from Lomnický Štít or relax in the thermal swimming pools of AquaCity in Poprad, you can be in place within an hour.
It also doesn’t matter what time of the year you visit. Tourist season lasts for 12 months. A place best visited with skis in winter is good for hiking in summer; a launch-pad for ski-jumping in snow can be used as a bungee jumping spot when the sun is out. The charm of the place could compel anyone to stay here forever.
“I wanted a holiday and Poprad seemed to be a good idea,” said Lester Peters, a 52-year-old database manager from England. “I’d been here for the week, had a bike and I was just walking and cycling around the area and thinking this is just gorgeous, this is lovely.” Eventually Peters decided to stay in Poprad and has lived here for four years.
Hiking is something of a national sport, and it seems that the numerous valleys, glacial lakes and peaks are so ideal for the purpose that they have been created specifically to be reached by foot. There are numerous spectacular views waiting to be experienced, yet the trips are relatively safe even for seniors. Some of the most beautiful scenic areas, such as Hrebienok, are even accessible via cable railroads.
“We have plenty of foreign tourists who are retired in age,” said Eduard Lipták, a mountain rescue service worker, who also suggested that foreign tourists should stop off in the information centre, particularly if they have never visited the mountains before. There is a host of information available about hiking, weather, etc. (More skilled hikers, keen to conquer the highest peaks, can also source experienced mountain guides on the internet.)
It is no surprise that the most popular winter activity in the High Tatras is skiing, and there are several skiing areas with plenty of lifts, such as Štrbské Pleso , Starý Smokovec or Tatranská Lomnica . Their quality may not yet be as high as the best skiing centres in Austria or Switzerland, but the skiing here can be still great fun. (See information on skiing resorts on page 196). To improve their competitiveness domestic entrepreneurs also now offer various more unusual attractions, such as skijoring or bobsleigh.
Golf lovers can enjoy the 27-hole Black Stork complex , where they can send a ball flying towards the peaks of High Tatras. The wonderful view enchanted even David Poulton, a 41-year-old golf teacher from South Africa, who has been a PGA professional for 22 years but came to work in Slovakia.
“I had other possibilities to work elsewhere and the reason I stayed here was not financial,” Poulton said. “I like nature and this golf course was apportioned specifically to be natural.”
After days of sport and walking, some visitors will no doubt seek a place to recharge their batteries, and there are few places better equipped for the purpose than AquaCity in Poprad.
AquaCity is an extremely high standard international attraction, with thermal baths and swimming pools, slides and even aqua bars. It also offers a process called “cryotherapy”, which involves a three-minute immersion in a special “cryo-chamber”, chilled to -120°C. The temperature encourages the body to release many natural, health-giving organisms.
Unfortunately every coin has two sides, and the tourism boom in the High Tatras is not all for the good. Some citizens complain that the hotels and attractions springing like mushrooms after the rain destroy the authentic atmosphere. But here comes the biggest paradox of the Tatras: although there are complaints about the amount of hotels and attractions, almost every visitor also tells you that the potential of tourism is still under-exploited, with many complaining in particular about the unpreparedness of the staff.
Thanks to money from private investors, as well as the European Union, the area now boasts several beautiful restaurants. But in a short recent trip, I saw, for instance, a cook being forced to bring meals to tables because the waiter had left the building to buy a newspaper. Staff aren’t necessarily rude, but many don’t seem to have grasped the business necessities of tourism; unsatisfied customers will not return.
“We got lost twice in Poprad,” said Miroslav and Karin Rajkusoví, Czech tourists who visited the Tatras but found tourism maps to be overly simplified and therefore useless.
The future of the whole region depends on the government, developers and the people who work there and their ability to sell the great potential of the place. Many reactions of domestic and foreign tourists suggest that this ability needs to be improved. Empty restaurants, poor tourist signs and a general lack of professionalism can undermine the good impression - especially galling when visitors are also inadvertently paying what locals call the “alpine supplement”. Prices are notably higher in the region - for instance, a double room in the High Tatras is approximately one-third more expensive than a similar room in Košice. Slovaks, and in particular those in the High Tatras, still have much to learn from their neighbours.
But despite all the shortcomings, the High Tatras will always remain a truly magical place, offering many wonderful experiences. You may get lost there but you will never be bored.
Driving from Poprad: 17 km / 21 mins; Train from Poprad: 30 mins
Tel: +421 (0)52 446-8119
Grand Hotel Praha
Tel: +421 (0)52 446-7941
Tatranská Lomnica 8
Penzión Hello (€ 15)
Mob: +421 (0)904 395-558
Tatranská Lomnica 19
Hotel Slovan Tatranská Lomnica*** (€ 50)
Tel: +421 (0)52 784-7777
Tatranská Lomnica 46
Lomnický štít apartment
Accommodation on Lomnický peak; Only one apartment available
Price for 4 persons: € 450 (cableway, welcome drink and dinner are included)
Reštaurácia stará mama
Next to the train station Tatranská Lomnica
Tel: +421 (0)52 446-7713
Open: daily 9:00-24:00
Gallery and museum
Tel: +421 (0)2 5273-1349
Gallery - contemporary folk art production and design-oriented crafts; Tatranská Lomnica, 36; Open: Mon-Fri 10:00-18:00, Sat 9:00- 13:00; Ticket price: no entrance fee
Múzeum Tatranského národného parku
(Museum of the Tatra National Park); In Tatranská Lomnica turn to the road to Veľká Lomnica and the museum is close to the crossroads on left
Tel: +421 (0)52 478-0365
Open: Jun-Aug: Mon-Fri 8:00–17:00, Sat-Sun 8:00–15:00; Sep-May: Mon-Fri 8:00–16:30, Sat-Sun 8:00–12:00; Ticket price: € 1.50
Next to the Hotel Odborár in Tatranská Lomnica.
Tel: +421 (0)52 478-0311
Open: Jun-Aug daily 9:00-17:00, Off season: daily 9:00-15:00; Ticket price:
Mob: +421 (0)903 112-200
1. Tatranská Lomnica- Skalnaté Pleso, Tatranská Lomnica 7, VysokéTatry;
Open: Mar-Jun, Sep daily 8:30-17:00; Jul-Aug daily 8:30-18:45, Oct, Feb daily 8:30-16:00, Nov-Jan daily 8:30-15:15; Ticket price: € 15
2. Skalnaté Pleso-Lomnický štít
Open: Mar-Jun, Sep daily 8:50-16:40; Jul, Aug daily 8:50-18:40, Oct, Feb 8:50-15:40, Nov-Jan daily 8:50-15:20; Price: € 24
Tatranská Lomnica – skiing
Total length of ski-slopes: 8.5 km, 1 lift, 5 cableways
Mountainboard and Stanley Rider carts
Štart – Tatranská Lomnica
Mob: +421 (0)902 932-657
Total length: 3000 m
Start from middlestation Štart (cableway Tatranská Lomnica-Skalnaté Pleso); the track is currently closed.
Driving from Poprad:
14 km / 17 mins
Public transport from Poprad: www.cp.sk, Train: 24 mins, Bus: 24 mins
Tel: +421 (0)52 442-3440
Grandhotel**** (€ 140)
Tel: +421 (0)52 478-0000
Starý Smokovec 38
Penzión Šport (€ 30)
Tel: +421 (0)52 442-3153
Starý Smokovec 29
Ski in Starý Smokovec
Resorts Hrebienok and Jakubova lúka
Total length of ski-slopes: 4,325 m, 4 lifts, 1 cableway
Sleigh track: 2.6 km
Starý Smokovec - Hrebienok; www.lanovky.sk
Mob: +421 (0)903 112-200
Starý Smokovec; Open daily also during summer season; Price: € 4
Bike park Hrebienok-Starý Smokovec; www.vt.sk
Mob: +421 (0)902 932- 657
Total length: 2,350 m
The track is available also for scooter, mountainboard and stanley rider.
Driving form Poprad: 30 km / 28 mins, Public transport from Poprad: Train: 30 mins, Bus: 57 mins
Tel: +421 (0)52 449-2455
Hotel Crocus **** (€ 86)
Tel: +421 (0)52 711-7111
Štrbské Pleso 78
Bungee jumping – Štrbské Pleso (70-metre jump from springboard K120, with beautiful views)
Mob: +421 (0)903 904-224
Open: Jun 4-Oct 16 Sat-Sun 10:00-16:00; Outside season for groups 10+ only
- booking necessary
Člnkovanie (Boating on Štrbské pleso)
Mob: +421 (0)903 409-189
Glacial lake Štrbské pleso - 15 mins from bus stop or 10 mins from train station; Open: from Jun 15, 10:00-18:00, daily (weather-dependent); Price: start at € 13
Park Snow Štrbské Pleso (Skiing)
The resort offers 9 ski slopes and there are more than 23.21 km of regularly groomed ski runs. Cross-country skiers have 16 km of cross-country tracks.
Mob: +421 (0)903 112-200 (infocentre)
Ticket price: € 21 (one-day skipass)
Štrbské Pleso – Solisko
Ticket price: € 10 (return ticket)
Population: 4,227; Driving from Poprad: 8 km / 11 mins; Train from Poprad: 11 mins
Hotel International (€ 146)
Tel: +421 (0)52 466-1111
Tatranská 754, Veľká Lomnica
Bachleda privát (€ 18)
Mob: +421 (0)907 495-979
Športová 17, Veľká Lomnica
Mob: +421 (0)907 939-342
Stará lesná 103, Open: daily 18:00-24:00
Restaurant is located 5 km from Veľká Lomnica in village Stará Lesná.
Jazdecký oddiel (Horse riding)
tel: +421 (0)52 456-2183
Veľká Lomnica; Open/Price: by arrangement
Golf rezort Black Stork
Tel: +421 (0)52 466-1806
Tatranská 754, Veľká Lomnica, This golfing centre in Veľká Lomnica, which features a 27-hole course, has its very own railway halt (it is a request stop which must be signalled on the train)
Tel: +421 (0)52 785-1111
Športová 1, Poprad; Open: Daily: 8:00-22:00; Ticket price: starts at € 15