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.


Land of Jánošík

 photo: Ján Svrček

Imagine you're an 18th-century Hungarian sheriff in the Liptov region. Slovak outlaw Juraj Jánošík could be hiding anywhere.

To the north and east: the 342 km2 High Tatras, which peak at 2,655 metres. To the south: the 810 km2 Low Tatras (today Slovakia’s largest national park) rich in caves and dense with forests. To the west: the Veľká Fatra and other smaller mountain ranges.

Jánošík, who legend has it stole from the rich and gave to the poor, used these mountains to elude the law until he strayed into Liptovský Mikuláš in 1713. He was captured (allegedly on a tip from his girlfriend’s mother), tried, sentenced to death, and hanged by a hook through his ribs.

No longer the haven for bandits it once was, the Liptov region - a 2,100 km2 valley - has over the past 300 years become a playground for tourists. The mountains that used to hide Slovakia’s Robin Hood, as Jánošík is known, now host skiers, hikers, and sightseers; nearly every Liptov village and city contain some cultural, historical or recreational diversion; and friendly, visitor-savvy locals run a cheap, well-developed tourist industry.

Liptovský Mikuláš (population 34,000) is Liptov’s largest city and its geographical centre. Most of the city’s sites are on Námestie osloboditeľov (Liberation Square), where a monument commemorates the Soviet Army’s liberation of the city at the end of World War II. Jánošík was sentenced to death in a building on this square that today houses the Janko Kráľ Literature and History Museum, which exhibits the hook used in the film Jánošík, shot by two Slovak-Americans in 1921.

The museum also documents in stark honesty the tale of the city’s Jews, almost all of whom were deported to Nazi concentration camps during World War II. A monument remembers the name of each of the 856 deportees, and an old anti-Semitic leaflet tells a chilling tale of hatred. A few blocks away, a large synagogue (Hollého ulica 810/14, open during the summer) attests to the stature of the Jewish community, which in the early half of the 20th century controlled 90% of the area’s business and supported a nationally renowned high school.

Just west of the city lies Liptovská Mara, a huge reservoir created with the building of the 1,200m-long Liptovská Mara Dam in 1975. The massive artificial lake comes alive in the summer, when it offers camping, bike and boat rental, wind-surfing and canoeing instruction, and plenty of accommodation.

Eleven communities were destroyed when the dam was created (villagers - self-titled utopenci, or ‘drowners’ - still meet once a year), but the most valuable buildings were moved to a skanzen in Pribylina (25 kilometres east of Liptovský Mikuláš), where clothes villagers once wore, the tools they used, and the food they ate are laid out as if the owners had only recently left.

South of Liptovský Mikuláš a 24-km cave system snakes through the northern base of the Low Tatra mountains. Guides lead hour-long tours all year at the largest individual cave, Demänovská Jaskyňa Slobody. The caves’ stalactites and stalagmites, up to seven metres in length and growing one millimetre every 15 years, change from glass-smooth to broken-glass jagged to frog’s-back bumpy. The 1,200-metre and 800-step tour covers a height difference of 800 metres. A nearby ice cave (Demänovská ľadová jaskyňa) is slightly smaller and closed from November 1 to May 15.

Five minutes south of the caves the road ends at the resort village of Jasná, one of Slovakia’s most popular ski resorts and a convenient point of departure for summer hikes into the Low Tatras. Chairlifts run to just below Chopok peak (2,024 m), centre of the 80 kilometre-long main Low Tatra ridge. Some tourists ride the lift up and hike back to Jasná. For those who would like to go on foot, three demanding Low Tatra hikes are listed below.

Hike 1: Day hike starting in Jasná (which has a detailed map outside the Grand Hotel). Follow signs to Tri Vody and continue from there to Poľany peak (1,837 m). Head west past Dereš peak (2,004 m) to Chopok and back down to Jasná. This 7-hour hike begins in the forests, crosses many streams, and summits among rocky peaks.

Hike 2: Day hike starting at the tourist centre in Mýto pod Ďumbierom. Take the red path to Chata M.R. Štefánika, a three-hour trip. Continue to the Village of Čertovica. A two-hour side trip to Predná offers one of the best views in the Low Tatras. Look for signs one hour into the hike from Chata M.R. Štefánika. Čertovica is two hours from the start of the detour.

Hike 3: A 5-7 day hike covering the entire Low Tatra range with a midway bailout. Begin in the western Low Tatras at Donovaly mountain resort. After a 3-hour hike to the top of the ridge, follow the red path via Prašivá peak to Latiborská Hoľa. Pitch a tent or hike down to a chalet in the small village of Magurka. Press on to Chabenec peak in the morning, and finally to Chopok. Take a chair-lift down to Jasná or continue on to Ďumbier (2,043), the Low Tatra’s highest peak.

Begin the trip’s eastern leg at Čertovica, which has plenty of accommodation. Hike to Babiná, then Kolesárová, and finally to a chalet in Andrejcová. Set out the next morning for Kráľova Hoľa, then Predná Hoľa and on to Vernár, a village with frequent transportation links.

Just east of Liptovský Mikuláš, Bešeňová’s hot mineral baths (open year-round Mon-Fri 13:00-21:00, weekends 10:00-21:00) offer a soothing end to an afternoon of hiking, skiing, or sightseeing. Bathe in the rust-coloured waters and gaze at the Choč hills and Low Tatras for just 120 crowns.

Finally, 10 kilometres south of Liptovský Mikuláš is the wooden church at Svätý Kríž. Slovakia’s largest wooden church, it was constructed after Austro-Hungarian King Leopold I decreed in 1681 that Protestant churches could only be built outside settlements, facing away from roads, and without hard materials. Jozef Land, an illiterate carpenter, oversaw the construction of the church, which can hold over 6,000 people, in eight months without a single nail.

By Matthew J. Reynolds

These articles and related information were published in Spectacular Slovakia 2002.

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