Last month I went on a hiking vacation. Planning started out by wanting to visit a friend in Hungary, but because of Covid, it did not seem wise to visit Budapest and go to museums or other indoor activities (although all of us are vaccinated). So I browsed a map and found out that not too far away from Budapest, there is a hiking region right in the centre of Slovakia; an area that is called Liptov. (Hungary itself is rather flat.)
Said and done, we took the train to Budapest,1 picked up our friend, rented a car and drove for about three and a half hours to Slovakia, to arrive in a small village close to the town of Ružomberok, where we had rented a house for the three of us. As is customary for a roadtrip with more than two people, going shopping is an absolute mess, so naturally we proceeded to buy random groceries for the evening and next morning. This was complicated by the fact that none of us had any clue about the Slovakian language. Fortunately, we did not starve.
Equipped with a hiking guide book for the Low Tatra mountains, we picked an easy hike (about four hours walking time, 400 m of altitude) to the quaint village of Vlkolínec, a UNESCO World Heritage site. The village is famous for its traditional architecture of the wooden houses. As soon as we arrived we started eating all the sheep cheese – apparently a staple in Liptov’s cuisine – that they were willing to sell us. It was definitely worth a visit, but take into account that it is also a popular tourist destination, since it can be easily reached by car.
On our way back, we came along a few small houses with beautiful gardens. We asked one resident if they are fine with having a picture taken, which they responded to by opening the door and letting us walk in the garden. They even offered us water since it was a hot and sunny day.
We spent the rest of the day swimming at the Liptovská Mara reservoir and observing a hilarious fender bender involving a busy intersection, three cars, and lots of arguing with police.
Time for a real hike. We got up at 6am, raided the local grocery store at 6:30am, and drove to Liptovský Ján.2 After an intense ascent of about 650 m of altitude we arrived at the peak of the Smrekovica (1287 m). Since most of the area around that altitude is covered in forests, there are only rare occasions for a view over the Váh valley. However, because of the – again – high temperature that day, we appreciated the protection offered by the sprawling coniferous woodland.
After covering about 1100 m of altitude, we decided against going all the way to the peak of Ohnište. Also, some of the paths were overgrown and difficult to find, so we did not expect to be able to experience any new panoramic views. We were rewarded on our descent back to the town, where the Ohnište mountain could be seen in full glory.
Because of poor planning we only brought about 1.5 l of water per person, which – as any experienced hiker could tell you – is not enough for a full-day hike. Fortunately the last third of the tour followed along the Štiavnica stream where we could refill our bottles.
After this experience I was completely knackered and my feet had developed some nice blisters.
This day was the only one where we experienced bad weather.
We decided to visit a cave since in there, it usually does not rain.3
Slovakia has a lot of caves that are open for tourists – there is even an entire government agency responsible for them –, with the closest two being in Demänovská.
We got started a bit late which meant that one of the two caves was already overcrowded.
But luckily Demänovská
jeskyně svobody Cave of Liberty was still accepting visitors.
As expected the cave was fascinating and I can highly recommend it (even though the guided tour was only available in Slovak language).
For today, we picked a special tour. Since we were planning to go up the highest mountain of the Low Tatras the next day, we wanted to do a tour that wouldn’t involve too much altitude. To the East of the Low Tatras is the mountain range known as Slovenský raj (“Slovak Paradise”) that features numerous hiking trails along gorges. We were not disappointed: the Piecky trail sported various ladders to surmount the waterfalls along the creek. Those routes can only be traversed upwards to avoid bidirectional traffic at the ladders. Also, we had to pay an entrance fee of 1.50 € per person to aid the maintenance of the trail.
The highest mountain of the Low Tatra range is the Ďumbier (2043 m). Before starting, we discussed the optimal tour for a while: the usual tour starts in Jasná – a ski town – at about 1100 m of altitude, goes up the neighbouring peak of Chopok (2024 m), follows the ridge to Ďumbier, and then down again, for a total ascent of 1390 m of altitude (and since it’s a round trip, same amount of descent) and a trip time of 8:30 hours. With the difficulty of the hike on Day 2 still in the back of our minds, we chose to reverse the route, starting at a car park in Lúčky.4 The plan was to hike upwards and then take the cable car down towards Jasná, which is close to the car park.
When we arrived at the car park, I was a bit dumbfounded by the fact that it was closed. Maybe we were too early? After all, we got started as usual at 6:30am and arrived shortly after 7am there. I decided to park the car opposite the road on a small area that neither had “parking allowed” nor “parking prohibited” signs. As is usual for me I worried about whether our car would still be there waiting for us after we return from the hike. (The answer turned out to be “yes”, and the reason for the closure was that as a skiing area it was only open during season.)
We followed some unmarked hiking paths upwards until we arrived at the river Demänovka, where the markings started and which we followed. The initial ascent was fairly doable but became nastier the closer we came to the Krúpova sedlo (saddle). However, we were richly rewarded by the beautiful panorama that slowly but steadily came into view behind us, including the High Tatras in their full glory. We reached the peak of Ďumbier before noon, which turned out to be very convenient: on the way over the ridge to Chopok, we had a ton of opposing traffic; presumably people that took the cable car up to Chopok (there is no cable car to Ďumbier). But because we were early on the peak that day, there was hardly anyone around and we could enjoy the sight in peace. This was not true for Chopok, which we skipped because there was a literal traffic jam of hikers.
The cable car ticket down from Chopok to Jasná cost 18 € per person, which I didn’t mind because I love cable cars. Also, it beats trotting down boring 1000 m of altitude by far. Very satisfied we drove back and consumed alarming quantities of Quattro Formaggi pizza.
A beautiful day today. To add a bit of culture to our itinerary, we hiked up Liptovský hrad (“Liptov Castle”). As the tourist information writes:
Liptov Castle, which is situated on Sestrč Hill, at altitude of 1000 meters, used to be the castle with the highest altitude in Slovakia.
This hike is not covered in the book we brought because it is outside of the Low Tatras, but belongs to the Choč mountains. The starting point is the village of Kalameny that also offers a (crowded) hot spring. We did not expect more than a few stone ruins after the ascent of 350 m in bright sunshine. Turns out that the castle offers a fantastic view over the area, with the Veľký Choč (1611 m) on one side and Liptovský Mara to the other side. It is also a superb picnic spot. We probably spent half an hour up there.
We rounded off the day by once again going for a swim at the reservoir. Our host had given us a few recommendations for nice spots and we found one that was not as crowded as the one on Day 1.
Inspired by yesterday’s view of Veľký Choč, two third of our group decided to hike up there as the final tour. Me on the other hand stayed at home because my ankle felt a bit funny, and I had to be able to drive back home on the following day. They started the hike from Lúčky Kúpele and I picked them up from the nearby Lisková. As far as they told me, the views were great, which the following picture attests to:
(All rights to the picture in this section reserved.)
Off we go, back to Budapest to return the car!
Part of the initial plan was also a two- or three-day stopover in Vienna, which would presumably also have involved indoor activities. To compensate for the many cakes that were not eaten by us, a friend brought us some cake to the train while it was calling at Vienna Central. ↩
Many places here are just called Liptovský + male name for random male names (or Liptovska for the female equivalent). If someone could explain that to me, I’m all ears. ↩
Is a cave indoor or outdoor, though? Topologically speaking probably outdoor. ↩
There are multiple towns called Lúčky in Slovakia, so be careful when operating your GPS device. ↩