advertisement

A Good Walk

Although the High Tatras attract many serious hikers, there are trails for walkers of all abilities, and some of the most beautiful walks require only an intermediate level of skill and exertion. One of the best of these follows the beautiful, red-marked "Magistrale" trail for part of its length from just above Hrebienok to the mountain lodge at Sliezsky Dom (www.sliezskydom.sk) and back down to the electric railroad station at Tatranská Polianka (for a total walking time of 5-6 hr.).

Start the hike in Starý Smokovec, from where you can follow the green- or blue-marked trails for about an hour uphill to Hrebienok, an elevation difference of about 300m (984 ft.). If you want to save energy, take the funicular from behind the Grand Hotel up to Hrebienok. From Hrebienok pick up the red-marked Magistrale trail and follow the signposts in the direction of Sliezsky Dom. (Be careful, the signs here are tricky; you should be walking with the mountains to your right and the valley to your left.) The walk begins in the forest, and as you move uphill, the large trees gradually thin out and the dwarf pines start. After another hour of gradual climbing, you break through the tree line along ridges just below some of the lower peaks. Here, the views, both up and down, are nothing short of spectacular. After another hour or so, you'll round a bend and see the boxy Sliezsky Dom lodge in the distance. Stop in at Sliezsky Dom for a light hot meal. From here, you can follow the road down to Tatranská Polianka, or if you have the time and energy, take the green-marked trail. The walk from Sliezsky Dom down to the electric railroad station will take another 2 hours.

No matter how long or short a hike you're planning, there are a few rules to follow: Remember to get an early start to avoid getting stranded in an afternoon rain- or snowstorm; always wear sturdy shoes to avoid ankle turns on the descent; and always pack extra water, sunscreen, sunglasses, a water-resistant jacket, and a good map.

Rafting on the Dunajec

Just to the east of the High Tatras, the peaks end abruptly and the rolling highlands of eastern Slovakia start. This is the border region with Poland, and communities on both sides share a common folk culture and heritage going back hundreds of years. A short segment of the border is formed by the Dunajec River, a surprisingly narrow waterway that zigzags through some breathtakingly rocky crags, with Poland on the left and Slovakia on the right.

Daily from April to October, several tour operators run guided group floats down the river, starting from just outside the small town of Cervený Klástor, about 60km (37 miles) from the High Tatras. These trips are great fun and make for a special day out, particularly for the kids. The floats follow the river about 12km (7 1/2 miles) to the town of Lesnica in the Pieniny National Park. The guides are dressed up in traditional Gorál (highland) folk costumes and can be quite entertaining (most speak only Slovak, but some can also manage a smattering of German and English). The entire trip takes about 90 minutes and costs about 14€ ($18) per person.

In Lesnica, you can get a drink or light meal at a little cottage restaurant before boarding a bus back to the rafting operator. If you have the time and energy, rent a bike and ride along a little path beside the river back to your car. It's easy to organize a trip from the High Tatras; simply inquire at your hotel or the tourist information office and they can book you on a coach tour. If you want to travel independently, one of the better organizers is Rafting Pieniny in Cervený Klástor (tel. 0907/477-412; www.rafting-pieniny.sk).

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.