Long gone are the days of strapping an ungainly tennis racquet to each foot to go walking on snow-covered ground. Snowshoes are now a crampon-style device that make navigating through snow easy.
Most of the region is covered in snow in winter, which means almost every mountain path is suitable for a snowshoe hike. But one of the best areas for this is the Slovak Paradise National Park.
Sadly, in 2004 a hurricane uprooted thousands of trees, cutting a swathe through 3 million sq km of forest in northern Slovakia and leaving many hills looking like a logging site. But the area is still aptly named, with some fantastic trails. One of the prettiest is to the summit of Velka Knola, from where there are views across the entire main ridge of the High Tatras and the Low Tatras.
Hiking in the Tatras
Some of the best hiking in Europe can be found in the High Tatras, with 600km of marked trails to explore amid the stunning scenery of jagged peaks and mountain lakes. (The higher trails are closed November to April).
The main range of the High Tatras stretches only 24km, but with many of the peaks higher than 2600m – the highest is Gerlachovsk´y štit at 2655m – it’s one of the smallest high mountain ranges in the world.
To rest along the way, there are mountain huts (chatas), where for less than €20 you can stay the night (bedding is provided) and have a hearty meal cooked for you. Or for something special, up to four people can stay in an apartment at the top of Lomnick´y štit (2634m) for €430. See vt.sk.
Anyone who has had the misfortune of learning to ski at a big resort will understand the pain of repeatedly falling over while five-year-old kids zoom past at high speeds.
Fortunately, Slovakia has numerous ski fields where you can learn to ski or snowboard in an uncrowded, friendly atmosphere. Plus, lift passes and ski hire are much cheaper than the Alps.
Many resorts have only four or five lifts, which means experienced skiers will conquer all the runs quickly. But the flipside is a lack of the too-cool-for-school types that make the Alps so intimidating. The main resorts are Strebske Pleso, Star´y Smokovec and Tatranská Lomnica.
As a base for exploring the Tatras the pretty, historic town of Levocˇa is hard to beat. The town square is a well preserved example of magnificent 14-15th century Renaissance architecture. The St Jakob church, town hall and Spis Museum are all worth checking out.
Most intriguing is the Cage of Shame, a small metal enclosure from medieval times that was used as punishment for any woman seen out after dark on her own. The unfortunate lady would be locked up for 24 hours and the townsfolk would take delight in hurling rubbish at her.
Levoca’s town square has several fantastic, cheap bars and restaurants: mains cost €4-€5 and beers less than €1. Try Saris, the region’s brew, while garlic soup is a local speciality.
The restaurant in the Hotel Arkad and the Restaurant U 3 Apoštolov serve good meals, while Teatro is an atmospheric café and bar.
» Daniel Landon travelled with Explore (0844 499 0901). Private group trips start from £599 with Tailormade Explore (0844 875 1890). An eight-day walking tour in the High Tatras mountains starts at £979.