In the previous post I covered Zakopane, and the Polish side of the High Tatra mountains. In this post I will cover the Slovakian side, using Stary Smokovec as an ideal base.
The mountains on the Slovak side are if anything more impressive. There are long deep valleys, beautiful lakes, steep rock faces and spiky pinnacles. They are perfect for walking, with mountain railways and lifts, excellent constructed paths and clear signposting. You can get to spectacular locations more easily than you might expect.
What makes Stary Smokovec such an ideal base is the fact that it is a key hub on the Tatra Electric Railway. This makes it really convenient to get to the starting points of many different walks. There is also a funicular railway to take you up into the mountains. And it is one of the stops on the bus route from Zakopane to Poprad, making it easy to reach from either direction.
Poprad would also make a good base. If you stay here it will take you a little longer getting to the starting point of some of the walks, because you will first need to get the train up to Stary Smokovec. But it does give you the option of visiting other Slovak National Parks outside the High Tatras. See the Sunflower guide Landscapes of the Tatra Mountains for information about other great walking areas.
How to Get to Stary Smokovec
One way to get to Stary Smokovec would be to fly to Bratislava, and then get a train to Poprad.
To check for flights from a convenient airport near you try Skyscanner.
For the train to Poprad or Stary Smokovec you can check timetables, prices, and buy tickets online at Rail Europe.
The second, more interesting, way (which we used) is to first get to Zakopane in Poland (see the previous post on Zakopane). Spend a night or two (or longer) in Zakopane, and then get a bus over to Poprad which stops at Stary Smokovec en route.
This is straightforward in summer. The bus company Strama run five buses each day (here is a link to the 2017 timetable – the 2018 timetable should be available soon). The journey crosses a very scenic pass, and is most enjoyable. It takes approximately 1.5 hours to Stary Smokovec, or just under 2 hours to Poprad.
If you wish to travel outside this period, you will first need to get a shuttle bus from Zakopane up to the border at Lysa Polana. You then simply walk across the border and catch a Slovak bus down to Poprad on the other side (these stop at Stary Smokovec). The buses are regular – you should rarely have to wait more than an hour.
Where to Stay in Stary Smokovec
We stayed in the wonderfully named Grand Hotel Stary Smokovec.
This was indeed very grand, in a faded kind of way, with huge chandeliers and elegant rooms with window seats and great views. I have read mixed reviews on the hotel – some people think it is old-fashioned and in need of modernisation – but we absolutely loved it.
Besides having loads of character and charm, it was just a short (but steep) stroll down to the station of the electric railway to get to walks.
One thing that was a disappointment to us was the evening meals, though breakfast was OK. We stayed half board, and although the restaurant room was lovely and the service fantastic (and strangely the winelist was extensive with some very expensive offerings), the food itself was very basic. Which was a pity given the grandeur of the setting.
But then to be honest we didn’t really find any of the food we tried in Slovakia to our liking. We tend to prefer lighter ‘Mediterranean’ style dining. Other people have described the food as tasty and wholesome, so I suppose it depends on your personal taste and expectations.
Walking in the Slovakian High Tatras
You will be spoilt for choice when it comes to walking. For lots of suggestions with detailed routes and information on how to get to and from the starting and finishing points, we recommend the Sunflower guide Landscapes of the Tatra Mountains. Don’t be put off if some of the walks sound daunting – they nearly all have shorter options.
Another book worth considering is the Cicerone Walking in the High Tatras Mountains. And if you can get hold of a copy we found the Rother Walking Guide to the High Tatra really useful. It seems to be currently unavailable, but try searching for a second-hand copy on Amazon.
Getting to the Walks
The Tatra Electric Railway makes it really easy to get around the area. The main stops are Poprad, Stary Smokovec, Strbske Pleso and Tatranska Lomnica, though there are many others – see this Slovakrail page for more information.
Many accommodations in the area (including the Grand Hotel Stary Smokovec) will provide you with a Tatry Card for a small fee (3-4 euros for up to 4 days, which can then be renewed). This allows you to use all the trains in the area free of charge as often as you wish, as well as giving other discounts, and is incredibly good value. If you are entitled to one of these make sure you ask at the reception of your accommodation. Follow the link above to see which accommodations are included, and for more information.
The notes and photos below are just to give you an idea of the type of country you will encounter. For detailed directions and maps please see one or more of the books suggested above.
Several walking routes start at Strbske Pleso, where there is a beautiful lake. From here you can walk to a higher lake at Popradske Pleso and the nearby atmospheric Symbolic Cemetery.
You can also take the chairlift up to Chata pod Soliskom, from where you can admire the mountain scenery before descending through the Furkotska dolina valley back to Strbske Pleso.
From Tatranska Lomnica you can take the cableway to Skalnate Pleso. From the top of the cableway it is possible to walk to Hrebienok (1.5-2.0 hours) and then take the funicular railway down the Stary Smokovec. Or you can walk down if you prefer – either way this makes for a great day out.
From Tatranska Lomnica you can also use cableways to reach a spectacular viewpoint at Lomnicka Veza (a short walk from the top of a chairlift). This is definitely worth doing to see the dramatic rocky peaks in this beautiful area. You feel on top of the world up here.
Another good walk involves taking the funicular from Stary Smokovec to Hrebienok and then following the route west to the hotel at Sliezsky dom. You can then either return by the same route, or walk down the long but traffic-free road to Tatranska Polianka where you can catch a train back to Stary Smokovec.
These are just a few suggestions – there are many, many more to choose from.
Whichever you choose, we are sure you will love appreciate the mountain transport, impressive constructed paths and fantastic mountain scenery in this beautiful area.
Please remember that this site is based purely on our own experiences, therefore kindly note the Disclaimer.
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