If you don’t come from Central or Eastern Europe, chances are you’ve never heard about the High Tatras. The High Tatras are the highest mountain range in Slovakia and one of nine national parks of the country. Every born-and-raised Slovak is super-proud of them. Read on to discover 16 things you’ll love about the High Tatras and why you should put them on your must-visit European destinations list.
1. High Tatras are impressive
Even though the High Tatras Mountain Range is one of the smallest mountain ranges in the world, it is impressive. The peaks stand high and steep from a wide shallow valley that surrounds them from the south. The tall peaks are close to each other and many of the valleys between them are adorned with crystal-clear glacial lakes and tarns, so called plesá (the accent on ‘a’ means the letter ‘a’ should be pronounced longer; singular form is ‘pleso’).
2. Excellent hiking trails
Around 80% of Slovakia are mountains and hills, so naturally, Slovaks are avid hikers. The whole country has an amazing system of well-marked hiking trails and you can buy detailed hiking maps of every region. I highly encourage you to buy such a map before hiking in the High Tatras. They have them in bookstores and always in the Tourist Information Offices. Don’t rely on your cell phone and GPS, because your battery will die and you won’t always have a reception.
3. Perfect for all age groups
The High Tatras offer many trails suitable for all age groups. You’ll see multi-generational families with babies and grandparents on easy walks, young families with strollers or babies in carriers as well as super-fit climbers. If you are not into walking and hiking, there are many other activities you can do such as boating, cycling, tubing, paragliding, zip-lining, cable car rides, restaurant hopping, nature photographing, fun attractions etc.
4. Perfect for all fitness levels
Hiking is the top activity to do in the High Tatras and you can enjoy this great form of exercise no matter what your fitness level. There are many possibilities for beginners, kids and older people who can do easy and short trails. Moderately fit hikers can challenge themselves with higher altitudes and longer trails. The super-hikers get up at 4 am to go to the Rysy Peak and the climbers crawl up the steep rock walls. Choice is yours.
5. Budget friendly
When compared to other better-known European mountain destinations, the High Tatras are still on the cheaper side. This is true for food, accommodation, transportation and services.
6. Excellent food and drinks
Slovak food is tasty. It’s based on a central continental fare of meat with potatoes, dairy and flour-based foods. It’s filling, you won’t feel hungry. The national meal is Bryndzové Halušky which are tiny, boiled potato-dough dumplings with fresh, soft sheep milk cheese sprinkled with tiny, pan-fried bits of bacon. You’ll either love it or hate it, nothing in between and it is due to the special taste of bryndza cheese (which, by the way, has a PGI label = Protected Geographical Indication).
Other meals to try in Slovakia are various kinds of cheese-based dishes, especially with parenica and oštiepok (both PGI labeled) . Meat lovers will enjoy various steaks and schnitzels with potatoes. Pirohy with bryndza (sheep milk cheese) are a typical meal as well.
Desserts you have to try are Parené Buchty = steamed dumpling filled with plum butter and sprinkled with poppy seeds, yum! Or Palacinky = crepes/pancakes with various fillings and toppings, mmmm. From pastries department go for Orechovník or Makovník = baked pastry roll filled with walnuts or poppy seeds. Osie hniezdo (literally wasp’s nest) is a bun made of rolled dough and filled with walnuts. Slovaks love walnuts and poppy seeds, beware, and after you try these delicious pastries, you’ll be hooked, too! Try them with coffee.
Now let’s briefly talk about beverages. Slovaks love all kinds of beverages. There is a deeply rooted coffee and tea culture, beer and wine obsession as well as slivovica (plum brandy) cult. Above all, Slovaks love their wide variety of mineral waters. Herbal teas are a staple and are way more popular than black and green teas. In fact, if you ask for tea, you’ll probably be offered a herbal tea.
From local soft drinks Vinea (grape juice soft drink, tastes like sweet sparkling wine without alcohol) is numero uno, followed by Kofola (cola-style caffeinated soft drink that tastes a bit like root beer or a cola with toothpaste; and FYI, draught Kofola tastes far better than the bottled one, it’s fresh, crisp and seems less sugary).
Alcoholic beverages have a new #1 – Tatratea. You must try it, no excuses. And after you do, I bet you’ll carry home a bottle or two. Slivovica plum brandy is an old-tough-guy drink. Tatratea is a new generation favourite. Women love it, men love it. It’s perfect straight, over ice or in cocktails.
7. Excellent cycling routes
Football (= soccer) and ice hockey are top two favourite sports in Slovakia. But since Peter Sagan (a cycling superstar) era, cycling has tremendously gained in popularity. Now cyclists are everywhere, and new bike trails are created and marked. The High Tatras have many scenic bike routes and bike rental kiosks are popping up like mushrooms after a warm summer rain.
8. Great variety of attractions within the national park
As mentioned above, hiking is not the only thing to do in the High Tatras. The national park boasts many interesting attractions that will appeal to both young and old. Just to mention some of them, Tricklandia, Kvantarium, Poliankovo, tubing, zip-lining, reaching peaks via cable cars (no hiking required), waterparks, cycling, boating, caves, museums, shopping, Nordic walking, beer tasting, beer spa and even a casino.
9. Great variety of attractions and day-trip opportunities nearby the national park
And when you have enough of hiking and your legs need a rest, you can go and explore many interesting places outside of the High Tatra National Park. Some great day-trip destinations are Belianska and Vazecka Caves, Zdiar and Bachledova Valley, Stara Lubovna Castle, towns of Kezmarok and Levoca, Spis Castle, Orava Castle, Besenova Thermal Spa and Waterpark, Open Air Museum in Pribylina, Poprad and Spisska Sobota …
10. Easy access
Not only is the High Tatra National Park easily accessible for foreign visitors (direct trains from Prague, Bratislava and Kosice), it is easy to travel within the park itself. Its electric train system (TEZ) is very reliable and always on time. During peak hours, the trains can get really crowded due to the increasing number of summer visitors in the recent years, but the Slovak Railways have informed they are waiting for a new set of ordered trains to supply the demand.
But transportation access is not the most important access we are talking about here. What I mean by easy access is the access to the mountains themselves. As the High Tatras are quite small in dimensions, you can get deep into the valleys and higher up to some peaks and glacial lakes with a short hike. The most difficult hikes will take a day back and forth. In two hours of steady walking you can get into a nice altitude and enjoy the perfect views. Examples of short, moderate hikes that will get you into the alpine nature are Strbske Pleso – Skok Waterfall, Strbske Pleso – Popradske Pleso, Stary Smokovec – Zamkovskeho Chalet, Tatranska Polianka – Sliezsky Dom and Hrebienok – Sklanate Pleso via Tatranska Magistrala trail.
11. Lomnicky Peak
The Lomnicky Peak is the second highest peak of Slovakia and it’s just a few meters shorter than the tallest mountain called the Gerlachovsky Peak. The tallest peak is hidden deep in the mountains and cannot be seen from the valley, neither it is easily accessible, but the Lomnicky Peak is. The ‘Lomničák’, as Slovaks lovingly call the pointy peak, is perfectly visible and comfortably accessible by three different cable car rides. I highly recommend you go up there for the perfect mountain experience and an exhilarating, 360-degree view of a sea of steep, pointy peaks, all of which will be below you.
12. Year-round destination
A great thing about mountains is the fact that you can visit them all year. The High Tatras are a beloved destination for winter sports. Cross-country skiing and down-hill skiing are top winter activities, but you can still access many moderate and maintained hiking trails. Cable cars operate all year long and will take you to the Lomnicky Peak as well.
Did you know you can test your skiing skills on the longest ski run (6 km/ 3.7 mil) in Central Europe? Right from the Lomnicke Sedlo (2196 m above sea) down to Tatranska Lomnica. An hour of uninterrupted downhill skiing anybody?
13. Under the radar and undiscovered
So far, Slovakia has managed to go under the radar of major tourism. If you have been to Paris, Rome or Venice in mid July, you know what I mean. The massive crowds of slow-moving, always-in-the-way groups of people are becoming quite annoying for the locals. Overtourism is a reality for many destinations. We don’t have this problem in Slovakia. Yet.
Slovakia is a bear country. The High Tatra mountains, naturally, have a higher number of them. From early spring to late autumn you have a chance to meet them. Some naïve tourists are thrilled by this fact, but I wouldn’t wish for such an encounter.
Besides brown bears, there are many other wild animals that live in the High Tatras. Smaller than bears but equally dangerous are wild boars, especially moms with baby piglets. They are shy and will avoid you, if they can. (The same is true for bears.) You would have to surprise them to meet them which can be a life-and-death situation. Down the size chart is wolf, lynx, deer and Tatra chamois. Then fox, wild cat, eagles, squirrels, snakes and lizards, and insects. The most dangerous snake of Slovakia is a viper which is quite rare to spot.
The TAtra NAtional Park (= TANAP, the official name of the High Tatras) is an open botanical garden with an amazing range of plants. If you open your eyes and pay a closer attention to plants along the trails, you’ll discover the botanical beauty of the region.
Did you know there are almost 5000 different kinds and varieties of plants in the High Tatras? Many of them are endemic which means they can be found only here and nowhere else in the world.
16. Best European Destination of 2019 by Lonely Planet
The rest of Europe is discovering this Slovak gem. In May 2019, the prestigious travel publisher Lonely Planet has named the High Tatra Mountains as #1 destination in Europe for the year 2019. The High Tatras placed ahead of Madrid, arctic coast of Iceland, Balkan Hercegovina, Italian city of Bari, the Shetlands, French city of Lyon, Lichtenstein, Vevey and Istria Peninsula. The proof is here, no more words needed.
-> Read more: 13 RULES OF THE HIGH TATRAS
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