Experiencing the slopes of Slovakia

Sunset over the Tatra mountains, Slovakia
Sunset over the Tatra mountains, Slovakia
Herman and Candelaria Zapp and their children

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When you’re a ski beginner and keen not to have many onlookers as you master the fundamentals, there’s a case for avoiding the crowds in busy, trendy haunts such as Whistler, Val d’Isere or Chamonix.

Well at least, that’s how it seemed to this new kid on the block – so when somebody suggested the calm and the tranquillity of the Tatra mountains in Slovakia for my first faltering steps on the slopes, it sounded like a great idea.

From the miles of ski slopes, with something to suit all levels of expertise, to the fairytale mountain peaks glistening in the blue sky, Slovakia feels like Europe’s best-kept skiing secret.

As the families now booking ski holidays in eastern Europe will tell you, another big attraction is fantastic value for money. A filling main meal in a mountain cafe (say goulash with dumplings, onions and tomatoes) will cost about four euros, with a one-euro beer to wash it down.

Come to think of it, you could probably live quite comfortably in Slovakia this winter for the cost of a single restaurant meal in Switzerland.

So off I flew to Krakow, skirting around the historic Polish city that will be swamped by English football fans when the European Championships arrive next summer, and took a leisurely two-hour drive south, mainly by motorway, to reach the ski resorts.

Greeted with mulled wine and lots of cheery smiles at the plush Grand Hotel Kempinski in Strbské Pleso, in the heart of the mountains, I looked forward to happily spending the next few days enjoying the comforts it had to offer.

The slopes are just a short walk away from the hotel and in no time I mastered one of the more basic moves, the ‘snow plough’. Essentially it’s a technique to prevent you from crashing, so at least I knew I would be able to stop, if not actually go very far.

Our small group of newcomers was shown the basics away from the nursery slope, so the sight of toddlers expertly manoeuvring around poles didn’t worry us in the slightest.

Eric, the instructor, was enthusiastic and beyond patient as we tried to launch ourselves down an incline no bigger than a molehill, but soon took us to the nursery slopes to compete with those all-too-competent schoolkids.

The first morning’s lessons seemed to fly by, with my confidence growing and temperature slowly rising as I got into the swing of things.

But I was glad that a lunch of warming goulash was just a cable car ride away. From the top of the mountain, the sight of the villages down below was simply staggering.

Those with more of a natural flair for skiing than me can take a six-seater chairlift to the higher runs. There are a total of seven kilometres of downhill runs here, with a good supply of snow right through the season until April.

Adventurous types go cross-country skiing or night skiing, with snowboarders also tearing up the powder. There’s plenty for children to do as there’s a fun park, snow tubes and snow scooters – all great fun.

After two days of relaxed skiing, we went on a trip to Lomnicky Stit in Tatranska Lomnica, a train journey from Strbské Pleso.

It has Slovakia’s longest piste, at 7.5 kilometres, and at 2,635 metres is truly a sight to behold.

The village at the bottom of the mountain has a fantastic café, popular with locals, which serves traditional Slovakian food at bargain prices.

ESSENTIALS

Lauren Turner travelled to the Tatra mountains with Mountain Paradise, which offers seven nights’ B&B at the Grand Hotel Kempinski from £1,099, including return flights from Gatwick, Bristol, Liverpool, Edinburgh, Belfast and Dublin, direct into Krakow.

Package includes transfers, accommodation in a double suite, a six-day ski pass and six-day ski/snowboard equipment rental.

For more information call Mountain Paradise reservations on 0161 408 8988 or visit mountainparadise.co.uk