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The smallest high mountains of the world, and yet so beautiful.
Where can you go if you find yourself in one of the most beautiful Tatra villages in Slovakia? Let’s take a look at some hiking trips starting in Starý Smokovec.
After enjoying flawless skiing in Tatranská Lomnica, we moved on to another well-known resort in the High Tatras – Starý Smokovec. I was captivated by this small village at the foot of the Tatras already long ago and I love its atmosphere and typical charming architecture. As we had some time left, we decided to make a short ski tour to Hrebienok, where we met hardly any people (if you know this locality, you can understand how rare this is). We packed our climbing skins, feasted our eyes on the frosty kingdom of Hrebienok and the picturesque valley below, took the skins off and zipped down comfortably.
There is nothing like the home culture
We were quite hungry after the long day so we went to a local shepherd’s hut restaurant. I love this type of restaurant and the Slovak culture, which is presented there. I had been expecting really a lot, but the restaurant managed to exceed my expectations. The interior was beautiful, Christmas-theme decorated at that time, including a Christmas tree, which created a unique atmosphere. Musicians were playing folk songs live, delicious food was served… What more can one desire? All of a sudden, the musicians asked me what I would like them to play. So a full “Ruthenian round” especially for me followed. 😊 The experience was emphasised by fatigue after active relaxation and huge hunger, of course (I love those post-hiking moments when I appreciate everything twice as much and perceive situations differently than usually).
A historic jewel in the centre of Starý Smokovec
After the amazing dinner, I stayed at another fabulous place – Grandhotel Starý Smokovec, one of the oldest hotels in the Tatras. With its typical beautiful architecture that hasn’t changed much since the beginning (which means since 1904!), it stands out a mile but fits in the alpine environment perfectly.
Next to it, there is the Church of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary, which was built in Alpine style and is considered one of the most beautiful buildings in the whole High Tatras. The church interior makes a noble impression too.
The hotel was built in Art-Nouveau style and was the first big hotel in the Tatras. It has a rich history and has been visited by various eminent personalities such as Saxon Prince Frederick Augustus, well-known Slovak actors like Michal Dočolomanský, Jozef Króner, Emília Vášaryová (several hotel rooms have been dedicated to actors) and a lot of others. Before WWI the hotel was one of the top 10 mountain hotels in the world, in 2017 it ranked 2nd in the “Best historic hotel in Europe with a story to tell” category.
Time to spoil ourselves
Noble elegance and class can be felt already when you enter the hotel. The entrance is decorated with a beautiful huge Christmas tree. The rooms are spacious and we even had a balcony overlooking a valley and Podtatranská kotlina (basin).
However, we didn’t stay long in our room. Desired wellness relaxation in a hot whirlpool and saunas was waiting for us. There are all kinds of saunas that I know, i.e. a steam sauna that I love most due to its cosy temperature and a fantastic eucalyptus and herbal aroma, then the typical Finnish sauna, an infra-red sauna and even outdoor Finnish saunas. One can walk along a water path of stones where cold and warm water is alternated. The whole wellness centre interior is very nice, contains elements of wood and a cosy relaxation zone with ceramic beds and relaxation music. There is also a big cooling pool with ice-cold water which I tried and “dashed” back to warm water, ha ha ha. We enjoyed the centre to the fullest and then made ourselves comfortable in the hotel bar, which made a noble impression too. Soon after we “passed out” once we fell into our beds. I think the wellness relaxation exhausted us even more than a 1-day hike.
Kingdom of ice
An abundant breakfast buffet was offered in the Lefévre restaurant in the morning. While eating at our table, we could watch Mt Slavkovský štít towering above Starý Smokovec through the window. After the breakfast, we packed our things and took the funicular from Smokovec to Hrebienok this time (best-deal tickets can be purchased through Gopass), which saved us some time of our hiking plans.
When in Hrebienok, we didn’t forget to take a look at the typical attraction – the Tatra Temple Ice, which is built there every year.
The masterpiece was created of ice by 22 sculptors from Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Germany. This year’s (2022/2023) temple is inspired by the sacral Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem and was built of an unbelievable number of 225 tonnes of ice. It is free of charge and even wheelchair-friendly.
Along the main Tatra tourist trail…
After checking the temple, we put our climbing skins on and set out for the main tourist trail (red marking) in the direction of Sliezsky dom. The conditions were perfect. It was almost -20°C at night and it stayed frosty also during the day. But the sun was shining, the sky was clear and there was temperature inversion below us in Podtatranská kotlina (basic). Simply flawless! There was just enough snow, it was well-frozen so we weren’t sinking into the snow and a gentle layer of powder snow was on the surface, so it felt really great.
We passed the signpost at the Crossroads below Mt Slavkovský štít, where one can follow along the blue-marked trail to the top of Mt Slavkovský štít (outside of the winter closure period). But the trail running to the so-called Slavkovská outlook spot is open also in winter.
Skis had to be taken off
We continued along the red-marked trail through slightly but comfortably inclined terrain. But the conditions for our climbing skins were getting worse. There were lots of bumps, rocks poked out here and there. We were really suffering on our skis so we decided to take them off and walk up.
Once we got out of the forest to the mountain pine zone, there was a stunning view of the massif of Mt Slavkovský štít and the snow conditions got better so we put our skis on again and could enjoy a nice tour. Our skins were gliding without any problems.
Based on the slope and terrain inclination, it seemed that Mt Gerlachovský štít and the Sliezsky dom mountain hotel at its foot could appear any minute.
The appearances were not deceptive and Sliezsky dom was within reach. I enjoyed the view because I had never been that close to see the highest Slovak peak. I realised that I visit the Tatras mostly in winter. They are beautiful also in summer, of course, and the idyll is magical then, but I personally like them more in winter. 😊
Once we found ourselves in a shade and the wind started to blow, the temperature decreased considerably so we hurried into the hotel to warm up and have a cup of tea. Then we skied down along an asphalt road (which serves as a cycle route) from Sliezsky dom to Tatranská Polianka.
As we had parked our car in Smokovec, we waited for a tram which runs through these villages of the Tatras regularly and travelled back to Starý Smokovec, where we finished our weekend. The ascent to Sliezsky dom from Hrebienok along the main Tatra tourist trail takes about 2.5 – 3 hours and the surmounted altitude difference is about 450 metres.
Mountain chalets and a peak within your grasp
When in Smokovec (or Hrebienok), one can set out for Veľká Studená dolina or Malá Studená dolina (valleys), where Zbojnícka chalet and Téry’s chalet are happy to welcome tourists.
Zbojnícka chalet is located in Veľká Studená dolina at the altitude of 1,960 metres at the end of a blue-marked tourist trail. Téry’s chalet can be found at the altitude of 2,015 metres at the end of a green-marked tourist trail that runs through Malá Studená dolina. Both trails are similar as for the length, i.e. they are about 8 or 6 km long (depending on where you start) and surmount an altitude difference of more than 700 – 1,000 metres (this also depends on the starting point), but the ascent is moderate and comfortable, a steeper section begins only in the area of the “Hang”, which is not long, though, and the chalet is just a stone’s throw away from there.
On the way to Téry’s chalet, one passes the so-called Giant waterfall (Obrovský vodopád) and can stop by Zamkovský’s chalet. Combining Téry’s and Zbojnícka chalet in one hike might be very interesting if you pass Priečne sedlo (saddle), which links Malá Studená dolina and Veľká Studená dolina.
There is even a via ferrata in the saddle in the direction from Téry’s chalet to Zbojnícka chalet now (the only via ferrata in the High Tatras).
Close to Hrebienok, there is Bilík’s chalet and also Rainer’s hut – the oldest chalet in the Tatras. This is a stone’s throw away from the well-known Waterfalls of Studený potok (brook), which flows from already mentioned Veľká Studená dolina.
Outside the winter trail closure, a blue-marked tourist trail runs from Starý Smokovec to Mt Slavkovský štít (or one can take a funicular to Hrebienok, join the main Tatra tourist trail and then the blue-marked trail at the so-called Crossroads below Slavkovský štít). It is an all-day hiking trip as the ascent takes about 4 – 5 hours and the altitude difference is almost 1,400 metres.
Starý Smokovec, one of significant starting points, offers a variety of hiking trip options for experienced as well as less advanced tourists, families with children, older tourists etc. This oldest village in the Tatras with unique architecture is also very attractive itself so don’t forget to add it to your plans on your way to mountain chalets in valleys, 6 accessible peaks of the High Tatras or when just roving in the area of Hrebienok and enjoying the alpine atmosphere.
This article has been created in cooperation with MTHIKER.sk.