Join the Tatra pack: Skiers can expect low costs and high excitement in Slovakia

Jamming the revolving doors of Slovakia's newest five-star hotel is not the best way to make an impression as you attempt to stride towards reception, but at least it ensures the staff remember you. And if, like me, you're foolish enough to try to get through a set of revolving doors with a pair of skis over your shoulder what else can you expect?

I was making a clumsy arrival at the beautifully refurbished Habsburg Empire-era Hotel Grand Kempinski in Slovakia's High Tatra mountains, fresh from three days skiing in Jasná, the country's biggest ski resort 60km away in the Low Tatras.

In this case, "biggest" does not mean huge; Jasná boasts just 35km of marked pistes. The resort is neatly divided into two distinct ski areas on the north- and south-facing slopes of the 2,024m Chopok Peak. The northern slopes have an excellent range of pistes for beginners through to intermediates; the sunny south side, meanwhile, is steeper and appeals to more experienced skiers.

There's 1,000m of vertical, so unless you're a Winter Olympian your quads are guaranteed to be burning by the time you've skied top to bottom, and there are also five impressive freeride zones. All consist of wide, open "Alpine" areas which plummet down to tree runs that will challenge anyone with a pair of wide skis and a go-for-it attitude. Indeed, so good is the freeriding here that Jasná is a venue for the Freeride World Tour in March.

It's all remarkably good value, too. I ate most meals at the Pizza Von Roll mountain restaurant, which has been built around the top mechanism of a disused ski lift. Here excellent pizza and fine Slovakian beer cost just less than €10. What's more, the restaurant's décor (porthole-style windows, wood burner and contemporary furnishings) and friendly service knocked spots off the pricey, surly mealtime experience that is often a characteristic of mountain eateries in the Alps.

Slovakia is becoming an increasingly popular choice with British skiers, thanks to service such as this, as well as passable skiing for all abilities. There's also easy access for visitors: the two-hour flight from the UK to Poprad and between 30 and 60 minutes transfer time make it just as convenient as the Alps.

In Jasná I enjoyed four-star ski-in/ski-out accommodation at the Hotel Družba, which is built in traditional Alpine style on the lower slopes of the blue Biela Put piste. I also tried the more contemporary Hotel Grand beside the resort's new eight-person gondola, which accesses great beginner terrain.

From the summit of Mount Chopok I enjoyed superb views north to the spiky summits of the High Tatras before I left for the 60-minute drive to those same mountains and my snarl-up at the Grand Kempinski.

For a century, winter sports have been an integral part of life in the southern foothills of the High Tatras, with world championship skiing events held here as early as the 1930s. The base area is overlooked by an imposing ski jump from which I watched young men with hearts and spines of steel practising the closest thing there is to non-powered flight.

More challenging skiing can be found at the High Tatras' main resort, Tatranská Lomnica. This is tucked beneath the impressively pointy bulk of 2,634m Lomnicky Peak, Slovakia's second-highest mountain, first climbed in 1793 by an adventurous Englishman called Robert Townson.

You get to Tatranská Lomnica by a curious electric mountain railway which runs from Strbské Pleso – the small resort that is an eclectic mix of ornate fin de siècle hotels, brutalist Communist-era holiday accommodation and minimalist 21st-century development.

I headed for Tatranská Lomnica with Terezka Rothová of Mountain Paradise, a UK-based company which specialises in Slovakian mountain holidays.

At first sight the skiing at Tatranská Lomnica seems to be restricted to little more than wide, cruisy blue runs above the main gondola, but as you get higher a decent sized powder-filled bowl appears; this is definitely not beginner terrain.

On the other hand, Terezka said this is a resort that novices will enjoy: "There are rarely any lift queues, the slopes are wide and gentle and we have good instructors who rarely have more than six students so our guests tend to improve pretty quickly when they ski here. They're also good with their 'manchester-making' machines here." (Slovakia used to purchase its corduroy cloth from east Lancashire, to the extent that the cloth became known as "manchester". Now instead of producing "corduroy", as in the Alps, here piste bashers groom the snow into parallel lines of "manchester".)

By the end of a sunny day exploring Tatranská Lomnica, "groomed" was not how I was feeling. Happily, I returned to the Kempinski in Strbské Pleso (with my skis safely held at a revolving door-friendly angle) knowing that the biggest dilemma I would be presented with would be the choice of deep hot bath, sauna or steam room.

The skiing at Strbské Pleso itself is limited in comparison to Jasná, with just a few kilometres of generally easy pistes which are ideal for learning on. However, more experienced skiers can still enjoy a day here because it allows you to immerse yourself in Slovakia's Alpine culture and heritage. You can join the locals on one of the area's cross-country ski trails, go snowshoeing through woodland or simply enjoy an après-ski massage for as little as €10 when you've had enough of the limited number of pistes. Or you can take the ski lift to the summit of Lomnicky Peak from Tatranská Lomnica – for a view of the entire length of the High Tatras (Europe's smallest mountain range) and panoramas of southern Poland and the Low Tatras. (Unfortunately you won't be skiing from the top of craggy Lomnicky Peak unless you earn your living as a professional freerider.)

Another popular option, particularly with families, is a day out at Aquacity in nearby Poprad. Built on the site of natural hot springs the centre has a variety of swimming pools as well as spa facilities, and is easily accessed by the electric mountain railway which runs down to the city in about half-an-hour. And Poprad's traffic-free centre, with its good selection of bars and restaurants, is worth wandering around after you've soaked in the springs.

If you don't require endless cruisy blue and red runs on which to clock up the miles and want to experience a relatively unknown ski culture without breaking the bank, Slovakia is worth checking out – and even hard core skiers will get plenty out of a week in Jasná. Just take care with those revolving doors.

Travel essentials: Slovakia

Getting there

* Mountain Paradise (0161 408 8988; ) offers a week at the Grand Hotel Kempinski for £995 per person, including flights, transfers and a six-day ski pass for Strbské Pleso. A week at Hotel Druzba in Jasná costs from £375, including flights, transfers and six-day ski pass.

* Poprad is served by Danubewings ( ) from Luton.

More Information

* Strbské Pleso tourist information: 00 421 52 449 2455

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

Suggested Topics
peopleFrankie Boyle responds to referendum result in characteristically offensive style
Lewis Hamilton will start the Singapore Grand Prix from pole, with Nico Rosberg second and Daniel Ricciardo third
F1... for floodlit Singapore Grand Prix
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvHe is only remaining member of original cast
Arts and Entertainment
tvHighs and lows of the cast's careers since 2004
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Fans hold up a scarf at West Ham vs Liverpool
footballAfter Arsenal's clear victory, focus turns to West Ham vs Liverpool
New Articles
i100... she's just started school
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
New Articles
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
Arts and Entertainment
musicBiographer Hunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original manuscripts
New Articles
i100... despite rising prices
Holly's review of Peterborough's Pizza Express quickly went viral on social media
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    IT Administrator - Graduate

    £18000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: ***EXCELLENT OPPORTUNITY FO...

    USA/Florida Travel Consultants £30-50k OTE Essex

    Basic of £18,000 + commission, realistic OTE of £30-£50k : Ocean Holidays: Le...

    Marketing Executive / Member Services Exec

    £20 - 26k + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Marketing Executive / Member Services Ex...

    Sales Account Manager

    £15,000 - £25,000: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has arisen for ...

    Day In a Page

    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam