One of the best parts of travelling around Europe is the fact that there are so many countries in such close proximity to one another. It is so easy to just duck over the border to another country for a few hours or a few days, without travelling far.
Our visit to the Slovakian High Tatras was one of those experiences.
We spent a white Christmas one year in Zakopane, in Poland’s south, surrounded by the backdrop of the Polish tatras. It was one of those travel experiences that stays with you forever, especially being from a country like Australia ourselves, where huge mountains and snow are not what the country is known for.
During our time in Zakopane, we decided to take a day trip via bus tour one day to Slovakia. It was only a couple of days after Christmas, so a winter wonderland everywhere you turned in both Poland and Slovakia.
HIGH TATRAS MOUNTAINS IN SLOVAKIA
The National Park High Tatras, or Vysoke Tatry is in the north of Slovakia, sitting across the Poland-Slovakia border.
The Slovakian High Tatras mountains are in 3 main parts – The Western, Central (High) and Belianske Tatras.
The High Tatras are known for their majestic and often snow capped peaks, pure glacial mountain lakes, waterfalls and wildlife, not to mention the clear air, said to be great for respiratory conditions.
Gerlachovsky Stit is the highest of the High Tatras, sitting at a mammoth 2.655 metres. You can learn more here.
On our tour to the the Slovakian High Tatras, our first stop was to Belianska Cave.
Belianska Cave is located within the Tatra National Park, with the cave in the side of one of the Tatra Mountains.
The problem was, I was suffering a shocking knee and ankle injury – not entirely sure what was going on, but swelling and perhaps fluid retention. I put it down to the excessive walking through Paris and Germany in the lead up to our Poland stay.
So the extremely steep hill to the cave entrance was a killer, but I made it.
Then there were the more than 800 stairs within the cave. Oh boy! But thankfully there were plenty of chances to stop and enjoy the scenery and surprisingly the upward stairs weren’t the problem. It was the downward motion that caused me pain.
The cave tour itself was quite impressive and large. The total tour length through the cave is around a 1.36km circuit, taking a little more than an hour to do the walk through.
You can learn more about Belianska Cave on the website.
Our next stop was to visit the most breathtaking frozen lake at the base of the High Tatras. This is one of the highlights of the Vysoke Tatry region and well worth a visit.
While I have no doubt it would be a lovely sight to see during the warmer seasons, there was something very cool about Štrbské pleso while frozen.
We had great fun strolling around the lake, along with many other visitors to the area. The lake is frozen for approximately 155 days per year.
What makes the experience even better is the backdrop of the Slovakian High Tatras surrounding the lake. Beautiful snowcapped peaks and impressive in size.
It was actually hard to imagine it was a lake under there and while normally quite tentative about such things, the fact that it was said to be around 4.5 metres thick on average made it a safe option for a walk or a ski as many people were doing.
We spent around an hour enjoying the lake and reading the information on the sign about the wildlife that lives beneath the ice. Crazy to think there was a functional habitat beneath all that for a small range of fish and other water dwellers.
High Tatras Views
Our final stop on our bus tour was to a lookout point with great views of the High Tatras.
In some areas the trees had been cut down, which we assumed was to enhance the mountain views. Or just part of a logging system maybe. That part wasn’t too pretty, but the rest of the views were amazing.
The lookout area was not so much a lookout, but a cliff-like clearing that many people stopped to admire the views. it was situated in a small township with ski resorts, accommodation and shops.
We also had the opportunity to stop for some food and a quick spot of souvenir shopping. We could not get over how crazy cheap everything was. Slovakia was not on the euro at that time.
I’m not sure if this has since changed, however our meals were the equivalent of maybe $1.50 Australian – even better than the exchange rate with the Polish Zloty. Could have had some seriously fine dining for next to nothing, but instead we went for some simple takeaway, schnitzel and chips, burgers and Coke, but if memory serves me right, there was that very typical side of coleslaw.
If you are planning to take a quick trip over the border to visit the Slovakian High Tatras, you could easily do this through your own private transport or a bus tour like we did.
Some of the tours also take in Morskie Oko over the Polish border, which is often closed during the winter months due to transport access after snowfall.
If you are travelling with kids, you may want to reconsider the visit to Belianska Cave. With over 800 stairs and about a 1km walk up a steep hill just to reach the entrance, it is actually not a great option for anyone without a high fitness level either. Trust me, I was almost tempted to stay on the bus due to my sore knee.
Young kids will likely struggle with all the stairs and walking, but older kids are full of energy and will love the cave visit.
One day we hope to explore more of Slovakia than the small taste we got around Vysoke Tatry. Definitely a destination up there for affordable European travel.