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.

The High Tatras

 photo: Chris Togneri

Because thy are neither as big nor high as the Alps, the High Tatras remain somewhat unknown to Western travellers. But those who have visited are not fooled. The High Tatras are every bit as spectacular as any mountain range in the world.

They rise up from nowhere, shooting into the sky in an explosion of granite. The surrounding Liptov and Spiš plains are flatlands characterised by peaceful streams and chequered fields of wheat and rape seed. But then the Tatras rear up dramatically, peaking at more than 2,000 metres above the villages below. It is a remarkable scene.

Because they are so abrupt, visitors should bear a few things in mind. First, the weather is volatile and often deadly. Conditions change rapidly and it is not uncommon for snow to fall on the peaks while locals burn up in the soaring summer heat just a few kilometres away.

Also, there are few easy hikes. Trails dart straight up cliffs, often only rend-ered passable by the chains and foot bridges park workers have installed to aid hikers. Arduous climbs and steep descents are the norm.

Another warning: make sure you have a reservation. During the peak summer and winter months, hotel vacancies are often impossible to find. Visitors can stay in any of the mountain resorts lining the base of the range - Štrbské Pleso, Starý Smokovec, Tatranská Lomnica, Ždiar. For a more authentic mountain atmosphere, however, climb up to a high-altitude cottage. Camping is not permitted in the park, but these cottages provide hikers with simple bunk beds or space on the floor to unroll a sleeping bag.

So call ahead, always check the weather reports, and expect a good workout. Then keep an eye out for one of the 200 chamois or 50 bears living in these mountains. But even if you are not lucky enough to catch a glimpse, rest assured that a trip to the High Tatras will be a sensational and memorable experience.

- Chris Togneri

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

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