Imagine a wild meadow. Do you see all the colours and the countless flowers, each of them unique?
UPDATE OF THE ARTICLE PUBLISHED ON AUGUST 24, 2015
Do you see the beauty? Do you hear the buzz of bugs and the trill of birds? More importantly, do you feel the freedom and desire to explore the loveliness up close? If you do, you already have a clue as to what hiking in Slovakia is all about.
It has been noted that in Slovakia is everything but the sea. But as soon as you start to explore the country’s nature, you won’t miss the ocean at all. Within a few hours you can exchange vast lowlands for mountains more than 2,000 metres high. A few hours more and you can trade walking in the sky with plummeting into deep gorges with picturesque brooks.
Hiking in Slovakia
If you become tired and hungry, traditional mountain chalets offer the chance to rest and recuperate. Just open a map and the adventure begins. Slovakia is not like a bunch of neatly arranged flowers; it is a wild meadow waiting to be explored.
“In Slovakia, there is nothing that can be handed to visitors on a silver platter as something that has to be seen,” said Ľubomír Mäkký, the co-founder of a hiking website and provider of an online hiking map. “Nevertheless, Slovakia has a lot to offer. In fact it has a bit of everything.”
Mäkký is a passionate hiker himself and appreciates the unique charms and diverse nature of the country. “It is for people looking for mountains that are not uniform,” he said. “One can wander a lot in Slovakia and that is fantastic. We can find everything we need depending on the region we pick... it is ideal for those who can take a map and go.”
The tradition of trail marking started in the country around 1874, and it now covers more than 10,000 kilometres of trails. This means that Slovakia is among the countries with the best network of marked hiking trails in the world. The unified method of marking means hikers can be confident about finding the right paths and will never miss a train or bus because the signs include information about the expected duration of a hike. Trail marking is especially detailed at crossroads, where direction arrows provide the most crucial information.
All that remains is to follow the three horizontal stripes, usually painted on trees or stones, and allow them to lead you to places worth exploring. You are absolutely free to choose exactly what you want; whether the most popular trails that are rated as wonderful by many visitors, like the High Tatras or Slovak Paradise (Slovenský raj), or countless untouched places.
“There is still a wilderness, especially outside the national parks,” said Mäkký, recommending places such as Bukovské vrchy (eastern Slovakia), Muránska planina (central Slovakia), Slovenský kras (eastern Slovakia) or Veporské vrchy (central Slovakia) to adventurous souls. “However, if something happens, civilisation is never far away.”
Some places overcrowded
Indeed sometimes civilisation can be all too close and Mäkký is not alone in considering the High Tatras (northern Slovakia), for example, to be overpopulated. Eric Visentin, an IT engineer from Poland, said: “The High Tatras are unparalleled in Europe, but the downside is their massive popularity with tourists, which makes it difficult to find peace in the mountains, except if we wake up extremely early.” Visentin is more happy than most to find company in the mountains. “Originally, I came as a tourist to Poland and Slovakia and I eventually met the love of my life, who I live with,” he said.
It is true that those expecting bare, deserted mountains may be surprised. It is not uncommon in the most popular destinations to meet other hikers every few metres. In Slovak Paradise (northern Slovakia) you can easily get stuck in a hiking jam, where queues can form to climb its famous 10-metre-long ladders through the gorges. Similarly, in the mountains surrounding the valley Vrátna dolina (northern Slovakia) you sometimes find yourself walking in crowds.
However, you do not always have to travel to the most popular destinations to share your immediate excitement with many others. Numerous events are organised regularly throughout Slovakia from mass ascents, including the popular national mass ascent of Kriváň peak (the High Tatras), to hiking races.
“Slovakia has a tradition of 100 kilometre long races and marches,” said Mäkký, adding that the most popular one, Trnavská stovka (Trnava’s Hundred) leading from Bratislava to Brezová pod Bradlom, can be as long as 170 kilometres for those who continue to Trenčín.
The most difficult race is the Nízkotatranská stíhačka (Low Tatras ultra-trail race), which is a qualifying race for the mountain ultra-marathon Ultra-trail du Mont-Blanc. The competitors have 24 hours to hike from Telgárt to Donovaly, a 103 kilometre trek along the main ridge of the Low Tatras (northern Slovakia), during which they climb more than 5,000 metres.
Another important sight along the Slovak trails are mountain chalets, many of which are accessible only on foot. These chalets offer not only an intimate atmosphere but an extraordinary culinary experience. Local specialities taste even better in a cosy chalet made of stone and wood, alongside a crackling fire. It can be the dead of winter outside, but romantic within. “Mountain huts with their people are part of the culture,” said Visentin, “and the right way to hike.”
One word of warning: Mäkký cautions that chalet food is not great for vegetarians. Despite this, one of Mäkký’s tips is Buchta Chopok, a big steamed yeast dumpling with vanilla custard, whipped cream and chocolate, a speciality of the Kamenná chata (chalet) below the hill of Chopok in the Low Tatras. Meat lovers should not miss the Chata pod Chlebom (Chalet under the hill of Chleb) in the Malá Fatra (northern Slovakia), where, according to Mäkký, they can experience the best smoked meat products in the world.
Would you like a birds-eye view of Slovakia, but lack the time for a day-long trip? Or would you like to experience true Alpine atmosphere, but prefer not to spend hours walking up steep hills? A cable car from Tatranská Lomnica can take you to the Lomnický štít peak, where it feels high enough to reach the heavens. Or try the cable car from the Vrátna dolina valley to Snilovské sedlo, and after a 30-minute walk, you can enjoy delicious food and spectacular views at the chalet Chata pod Chlebom. The third highest hill of the Low Tatras (Chopok) is also easily accessible from the Demänovská dolina valley, as well as from the south from the Srdiečko ski resort. Panoramic views and a nice path on the ridge are definitely worth the 1.5-hour walk to visit the highest point of this mountain range, Ďumbier. Even Bratislava has its own cableway; it connects Železná studienka with Kamzík.
Slovakia offers a vast amount of natural beauty, with varied colours, aromas and shapes. In the dense web of hiking trails, one can find tiny gems and grand sights, punctuated by mysterious castle ruins, impressive observation towers, serene cemeteries, and innumerable amazing places. Just open your map and your mind and set off.
Aren’t sure what to choose from among the thousands of possibilities? Here are a couple of suggestions for unforgettable trips.
Walking in heaven
“The West Tatras are like a bigger version of the Low Tatras,” said Mäkký, who prefers this range to the renowned High Tatras. “There are not as many people and it is more interesting because hikers can actually go from somewhere specific to somewhere else.” In the High Tatras, it is quite difficult to find trips to the majestic peaks that do not demand a return along the same path.
Perfect examples of this can be found in the valley of Roháčska dolina (valley in northern Slovakia), where one can choose between various astonishing one-, two- or even three-day roundtrips.
Although the mountains may at first seem nearly inaccessible, you soon become part of nature as you begin to climb the steep path, and each step reveals another lovely place. One can admire the power of water at the Roháčsky vodopád cascade, then the mountain lakes Roháčske plesá, which impress you with stunning reflections of the surrounding mountains.
Once at the ridge, intrepid hikers are rewarded for their efforts with breathtaking views that change with every step. A via ferrata (a climbing path with fixed ladder-like rungs) over the Ostrý Roháč hill is quite demanding (however, no accessories are needed), but definitely worth a visit. And then, after climbing the grassy hill Volovec, the path descends back to Roháčska dolina. There you can rest up and enjoy some refreshments in the Ťatliakova chata mountain chalet before an hour-long walk down the valley.
Deep in paradise
Among the most attractive places in Slovakia is paradise – Slovak Paradise (Slovenský raj) – a national park renowned for its marvellous gorges made accessible via numerous ladders, cables, stemples, and bridges.
The tourist centre at Podlesok, along the Suchá Belá gorge, is an ideal starting point for an exploration of the area. Right from the beginning the walking path is part of the brook bed, which makes the trip even more adventurous when there is a lot of water. However, splashing through the icy shallows is not necessary thanks to well-designed facilities that lead hikers safely over the savage river and through droning waterfalls.
After emerging from the wild gorge, hikers are usually tempted to visit the heart of the Slovak Paradise, called Kláštorisko. A pleasant meadow, a restaurant, the freely accessible ruins of a former Carthusian monastery and a symbolic cemetery for those who breathed their last in Slovak Paradise make it an ideal place for a short break before exploring the charms of the Prielom Hornádu valley.
The wider valley of the bigger Hornád River is an ideal alternative for those who prefer easy walks but do not want to miss out on the adventure. This trail leads above the warbling river, along romantic rope bridges and into peaceful nooks, where you can forget time and lose yourself in the beauty. Before you realise it you are back in Podlesok, where you can plan another trip through paradise in one of the restaurants.
By Jitka Parobeková
www.lanovky.sk (SK only) – information on cableways
N Vrátna dolina – Chleb (Malá Fatra)
Possible short trips: Chleb (25 min), Veľký Kriváň (40 min), Chata pod Chlebom (25 min)
N Tatranská Lomnica – Lomnický štít (Vysoké Tatry / High Tatras)
N Chopok (Nízke Tatry / Low Tatras)
Possible trips: Chopok (5 min), Ďumbier (1:35 hrs)
N Starý Smokovec – Hrebienok (Vysoké Tatry / High Tatras)
Several activities and trips suitable for families
Families with children
N Valleys Prosiecka and Kvačianska dolina (Chočské vrchy)
An all-day trip leads up the valley Prosiecka dolina with a brook and a few ladders leading to the Svorad plateau. Following the Kvačianska dolina valley, the Oblazy water mills are worth at least a short visit. Take a break in Kvačany in the small Brontvai brewery and return to Prosiecka dolina.
C Banská Štiavnica (Štiavnické vrchy)
The old mining town with numerous lakes is an ideal destination for shorter walks. From Počúvadlo lake a hiking trail leads to the Sitno hill with panoramic views from an outlook tower.
C Muránsky hrad (Muránska planina)
A half-day roundtrip hike starts in Muránska Huta. A yellow-marked trail leads past a cave, Vešeléniho jaskyňa, to the Muráň Castle ruin. Then follow the meadow to Veľká lúka, where special Noriker horses are bred, and descend back to Muránska Huta.
C Špania Dolina (Starohorské vrchy)
An old picturesque mining village set in the mountains offers short walks into the immediate surroundings.
Tourists looking for tranquillity
E Slovenský kras / Slovak Karst
Steep rocks, deep valleys and a large plateau.
E Poloniny (Bukovské vrchy)
Freedom, wilderness and a primaeval beech forest.
Authentic wilderness on the paths of this relatively small mountain range.
C Klenovský Vepor (Veporské vrchy)
Roundtrip from Skorušina. Upon reaching the Železná brána crossroads, a marked trail will lead tourists to Klenovský Vepor hill then back to Skorušina.
Tourists in search of the most beautiful scenery
B Devínska Kobyla (Malé Karpaty / Small Carpathians)
A short walk from Devínska Nová Ves to Devín offers spectacular views over Austria.
N Kriváň (Vysoké Tatry / High Tatras)
Even though the ascent is quite demanding, each year thousands of tourists head to Kriváň.
N Tomášovský výhľad (Slovenský raj / Slovak Paradise)
An easily accessible rocky plateau at the edge of Slovak Paradise offers splendid views of the High Tatras.
N Súľovské skaly (Súľovské vrchy)
Not steep, not demanding, but exceptionally scenic.
N Veľký Choč (Chočské vrchy)
Steep ascents with unparalleled views of the Western and Low Tatras through Veľká and Malá Fatra to Skorušinské vrchy and Oravská Magura.
E Sninský kameň (Vihorlatské vrchy)
The hill, Sninský kameň, can be reached via an hour-and-a-half walk, and offers nice views of the volcanic lake Morské oko.
E Skalisko (Volovské vrchy)
Above the Betliar manor house is Skalisko hill. Refreshments or overnight accommodation are available at the chalet Chata Volovec.
N Gerlachovský štít (Vysoké Tatry / High Tatras)
Those who are ambitious can climb the highest mountain (a mountain guide is mandatory).
N Piecky (Slovenský raj / Slovak Paradise)
The gorges of Slovak Paradise are more demanding mentally than physically. Numerous ladders allow hikers to climb over waterfalls.
N Ridge hike in Nízke Tatry / Low Tatras
One of the most popular 100-km long ridge hikes in Slovakia, starting at the Kráľova hoľa hill and ending in the village of Donovaly.
N Roháče (Západné Tatry / Western Tatras)
A ridge hike through Roháče is ideal for experienced hikers. It leads from Zverovka to Brestová hill and then along the red-marked ridge trail up to the Volovec hill. From Volovec hikers follow the path to Rákoň hill and back to Zverovka.
N Ridge hike in Veľká Fatra
Spend hours walking in picturesque meadows from the village of Vyšná Revúca to Ploská hill, the Chata pod Borišovom chalet, Borišov hill, Ostredok hill, Krížna hill and back to Vyšná Revúca.
N Veľký Rozsutec (Malá Fatra)
All-day round trip from Terchová through gorges, Diery, with several ladders enabling tourists to walk above rushing streams.