Ask Europeans east of the Alps about Slovakia and they will wax poetic about the Slovakia’s mountains. While the jagged granite peaks of the High Tatras are the best known, most of our mountains are gently rounded, covered in thick forests and made of limestone, which also explains why we have thousands of caves, as well as scenic gorges and canyons.
The Slovak mountains have, through the centuries, acted as insulating, protective barriers to modernization and centralization and so helped preserve colorful regional traditions and identities. Truly, without the mountains, Slovakia would be a very different country. Each mountain range has a national park by the same name.
Rising suddenly out of a plain, the saw-toothed, snow-capped High Tatras are an awe-inspiring sight. The only truly alpine mountains in Eastern Europe – soaring to heights of 8,711 feet (Gerlachovsky stit, the tallest) — the majestic High Tatras are also one of the world’s smallest range of high mountains, occupying only 100 square miles. While there is a comfortable cablecar to the second highest peak (Lomnicky Stit at 8,635 feet ), the area is a magnet for mountain-climbers, hikers and skiers. Beautiful conifer forests blanketing the lower slopes were partially destroyed by gale-force winds in a storm in November 2004, and a massive, internationally-funded restoration effort is now underway. But the imposing mountains – and all of the recreational facilities, hotels and spa resorts – remain untouched, as do the nearly 100 mirror-smooth glacial lakes in the area. Your visit here will help revive the area.
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South of the High Tatras are the less monumental but much more accessible Low Tatras, whose three highest peaks reach an elevation of 6,562 feet. This range is far more extensive (about 313 sq. miles and wilder, less-explored than the High Tatras. For those seeking an active vacation with no frills and the possibility of seeing Slovakia’s last remaining chamois, bears, wolves and lynx – the Low Tatras are ideal. The region also has five underground caves, including an ice cave (Demanovska).
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If your taste runs to idyllic landscapes, Mala Fatra are where you should go. Part of the mighty Carpathian range, Mala Fatra offer dizzying peaks, a stunning valley (Vratna Dolina) with forested mountains rising all around, evocative castle ruins, folk architecture, waterfalls, canyons and gorges, alpine flora, bird life, a wide range of hiking trails (marked in different color to indicate difficulty level) and affordable winter ski resorts.
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The foothills of Eastern Europe’s greatest mountain range, the Carpathians, begin within Bratislava’s city limits, making it possible to escape the urban environment in no time. Vineyards climb up the south-facing slopes of the Small Carpathians, which offer their own Wine Trail. You’ll find a good selection of fine wines and restaurants serving traditional Slovak and other European cuisine along this wine trail. (Note: the Carpathian mountains, which include the Tatras, arc through Eastern Europe, from Slovakia through the Ukraine and end in Romania.)
The Pieniny are not mountains but rather a unique rocky landscape on the Polish border along the Dunajec River and its gorge. Leisurely river rafting with guides dressed in traditional costumes and a 14th c. monastery are the main attractions.
Located at the eastern edge of the Low Tatras, within sight of the High Tatras’ craggy peaks, this thickly forested karst area has gorges, ravines, waterfalls, rivers and creeks, meadows, and caves. You’ll also find an exceptionally rich diversity of flora and fauna — 75 different species of plants per square yard – more than anywhere else in Europe. A system of trails, footbridges, ladders and chains make it easier to negotiate some of this challenging, very rewarding, terrain.
Administration of the Poloniny National Park
Ul. Mieru 193 06761 Stakčín
Administration of the Muránska planina National Park
Janka Krala 12, 050 01 Revuca