Where’s that? I hear you ask – the High Tatra is the new door being unlocked as eastern Europe’s hitherto unknown secrets begin to move centre stage for skiers, snowboarders and winter sports enthusiasts.
The High Tatras, with their 11 peaks over 2500 m are located in the Carpathian Mountains of Slovakia which form part of the country’s northern border with Poland in central Europe. Slovakia with a population of over five million people and a land area of 49,000 sq,kms is landlocked and also shares borders with the Czech Republic, Austria, Ukraine and Hungary.
Slovakia itself became an independent country in 1993 as a result of the velvet divorce from the Czech republic and is now a member state of the European Union and NATO. Its capital and largest city is Bratislava.
With over 200 million euros of investment a network of 40 ski lifts has been developed and the first five star hotel in the High Tatra mountains will open this year, so heralding Slovakia as a destination for winter sports enthusiasts. Slovakia is now proving to be a country nipping at the heels of more established eastern European ski regions and an alternative venue to the crowded slopes of the Alps. Its fairytale resorts in spellbinding settings won’t remain secret for much longer.
The spectacular peaks of the Tatra Mountains cater for all levels of skier and snowboarder, with reliable snow from as early as November. The high Tatras are ideal for beginners and intermediates, while the low Tatras, which have recently linked ski lifts from Chopok North and Chopok South, offer fabulous freestyle and off piste skiing and snowboarding for those with more experience. The three main skiing areas are Strbske Pleso, Stary Smokovec and Tatranska Lomnica where the investment has developed a network of over 40 lifts.
But skiing and snowboarding are not the Tatras’ only attractions: winter sports fans can try sledging, night skiing, ice skating, snow tubing and snow scooters. Visitors can also take in the Demanova ice caves or plunge into the hot springs found all along the valley. And wildlife enthusiasts may even catch a glimpse of the bears, lynx and wolves still found in the region.
All levels of experience are catered for, and skiing and snowboarding tuition with English speaking instructors can be arranged. Accommodation comprises a range of villas, chalets, luxury apartments and hotels, with the first five star hotel in the High Tatras, the Kempinski, opening in October 2008, ready for the winter season.
Budget ski packages start from just £325, including return flights from the UK, return transfers and seven nights’ accommodation with breakfast and ski pass. Luxury four star packages start from £499. Flights are now available from Luton and Manchester direct to Poprad and Kosice from where you can take a bus to the three main ski resorts.
So why am I writing about winter sports in May – well this kind of offer is extreme good vale and it won’t hang around forever – get organised for next winter!