These articles were published in the Spectacular Slovakia travel guide, published annually by The Slovak Spectator since 1996. The latest editions can be obtained from our online shop.

Tatras Too High? Hike the Fatras

The High Tatras are stunningly beautiful, but they're also extremely challenging and packed with outdoor enthusiasts. For hikers looking for an easier, calmer experience, the Veľká Fatra and Malá Fatra ranges may be the way forward. These beautiful ranges, heavily forested and marked by jagged limestone peaks, are not nearly as steep or popular as the Tatras.

Veľká Fatra

Some of the best hiking trails around the Veľká Fatra start in the idyllic village of Blatnica. This is one of those wonderful old Slovak villages with wooden cottage and a handsome mountain spring that runs right through the centre. Accommodations run from several pensions at the edge of the village to a campground about 1 kilometre to the south. The pensions stock copies of the Veľká Fatra hiking map, which you'll need.

From here, you can head into one of two valleys that make dramatic walks into the Fatras: Gaderská Dolina and Blatnická Dolina. Both are gentle hikes, lasting around six or seven hours, that include wonderful mountain views as well as many impressive rock formations. The Blatnická Dolina hike takes you past a 13th century castle. Both hikes terminate at the foot of the Krížna Peak (1547 metres), where you'll find a fine chata (cottage with rooms for rent). One worthwhile option would be to hike from Blatnica through one of the valleys, stay the night at the chata, and return via the other.

Another option is to use the grimly industrial - yet heavily historical - town of Martin (see regional section) as a base. From here, head to the tiny village of Necpaly, just southeast of Martin, and hike up Necpalská Dolina to Borisov peak (1510 metres). Here, you'll find another chata, this one offering only the most basic of accommodations.

Malá Fatra

The Malá Vatra mountain range is cut in two by the Váh River and the highway that runs between Žilina and Martin. The first thing to do is stop in Žilina for a Malá Fatra hiking map. Many hikers and campers use Žilina §as a base for their ventures into the Malá Fatra's trails.

For the western half of the Fatras, camping enthusiasts might consider using the village of Porubka, 10 kilometres south of Žilina, as a base. Just on the outskirts of the village there's a dramatic camping ground called Slnečné Skaly, plunked down amid a cluster of jagged pinnacles. From here, you can walk a few kilometres north, along a green trail, to the ruined castle Lietavský Hrad; or take the same green trail a few kilometres south to the spa village Rajecké Teplice, which has an outdoor public pool in addition to the Aphrodite, perhaps Slovakia's most tourist-friendly spa.

Rock-climbing enthusiasts will want to consider walking about 15 kilometres west of Slnečné Skaly to Súľovské Skaly, which boasts some truly odd-shaped rock formations. Also in this area you'll find another castle ruin, this one called Súľovský Hrad.

The eastern half of the Malá Fatra range - also known as the Kriváňska Fatra - boasts what many consider Slovakia's most beautiful valley, the Vrátna Dolina. It lies at the centre of the Malá Fatra National Park. The place to start is the village of Vrátna, where you'll find a nice, hostel-style chata, and more importantly, a chair lift. This takes you to a high plateau between two great peaks - the Veľký Kriváň (1709 metres) and the Chleb (1647 metres). From here, you can follow the hordes of tourists about a half hour up either peak, where the views are magnificent. Or, using a trail map, you can choose any number of more secluded hikes.

- Tom Philpott

These articles and related information were published in Spectacular Slovakia 2003.

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