Budget skiing, booze and food? Sign me up!
People I asked about Slovakia before I went there could only come up with: “Isn’t that half of what used to be Czechoslovakia?”
And I had to admit, they had a point. Try as I might to find any major features, the most famous Slovaks seemed to be Andy Warhol’s parents – not even Andy himself.
The only other fact I could remember was that Slovakia was the setting for Eli Roth’s 2005 film Hostel, a grisly, high body-count horror about backpackers on a doomed holiday. But times, it seems, are changing, and Slovakia is fast emerging as the new kid on the former Soviet bloc when it comes to attracting cost-conscious British skiers.
And it’s not hard to see why. Set in a breathtaking national park on the border with Poland, the views from the Tatra Mountains are jawdroppingly pretty and the slopes refreshingly free of crowds. Best of all for those on a budget, skiing in Slovakia is cheap and food and drink is rock bottom. I stayed in Strbske Pleso and my base was the five -s t a r Grand Hotel Kempinski, an imposing building where respiratory patients used to be sent to breathe mountain air. The views across a frozen lake to the mountains must have been therapeutic, too.
The Strbske Pleso pistes are a short walk away and are perfect for beginners. After an exhilarating few hours it was time for a break, so I headed back to the summit to Cafe Solisko, one of two canteen-style cafes at the 1,840m peak where most dishes cost little more than £2. The next morning I felt ready for a challenge at Tatranska Lomnica, the country’s longest ski run at about 4.6 miles. I boarded an electric train with Matt Jevons, whose company Mountain Paradise specialises in skiing trips to Slovakia.
We’d hoped to take the cable car to enjoy the views from the 2,635m Lomnicky Peak but the weather closed in and we decided against it. Matt instead persuaded me to try Slovakia’s biggest ski resort, Jasna, 60 miles away in the Low Tatras. Like the High Tatras, its two ski areas appeal to experienced skiers looking for an adrenaline rush with 22 miles of marked pistes.
Later in the holiday we made the 30-minute drive from Strbske Pleso for a meal at the bustling Razy restaurant in the centre of Poprad. We tucked into giant pizzas for only £4. A pint of Czech beer was about 80p – a dangerously cheap price for those hoping for a long day of skiing when they wake the next day.
While it was lots of fun going out, the very best retreat after a day spent hurtling down the slopes was the luxurious spa back at my hotel. With a chandelier and impressive floor-to-ceiling windows, it has amazing views of the frozen lake and beautiful mountains. There was no better way to unwind than with a massage and herbal tea before heading off to dinner.
After only a few days there, I’d fallen in love with Slovakia’s beautiful scenery, great skiing and fabulous food and drink – at budget prices. It surely won’t be long before it’s well known as a top ski resort as well as the birthplace of Andy Warhol’s parents and the backdrop of a horror movie.