When the brochure of our hotel said that it was located 100 metres from the train station, I groaned. We had been travelling for over seven hours on an unusually warm day with the train air-conditioning behaving quite weird. And, thanks to the translation problem (the ticket guys at Praha hlavní nádraží — Czech Republic’s largest railway station — weren’t able to converse in English), we could reserve seats only for the first leg of our journey from the Czech capital to Strba in neighbouring Slovakia. For the second leg — nearly two- and-a-half hours — we stood in the bogie’s alley. And when we finally reached Strba, we were welcomed by a sign that read “Elevator not working. Please take the stairs.” Would you please groan with me now?
Our destination was Štrbské Pleso, one of Europe’s most beautiful mountain towns. It is a place very few Indians seem to have heard of, and even our travel agent friends — used to our unusual requests — were quite surprised when we told them we want to visit this ski resort town. To reach Štrbské Pleso, take funicular from Strba, and it is, if I recall correctly, the third stop.
Once the train left Strba, I realised why the High Tatras are so popular among Central Europeans. We forgot about our tiredness, and as if on cue, the warm winds on the plains became a gentle pleasant breeze. And, when we reached Štrbské Pleso, another delightful surprise awaited — our hotel was only 30 metres from the station, making my heart leap in joy. Suddenly, everything fell into place. A good weather can have a therapeutic effect on your senses.
Štrbské Pleso — named after a glacial lake of the same name — is exactly like a place you read about in a Hercule Poirot murder mystery. Without a murder, that is, and a place where the Belgian detective would have gone to take a brief hiatus from London’s killing stress. The town is quaint, the roads are long, steep and winding, and the skies are the bluest you’d ever see. Just the place you’d want to go to clear your lungs stuffed with Delhi’s pollution.
It is in this weather that my wife and I decided to hike in the High Tatras. Our guide Eric Sevcik — a ski instructor, mountaineer, bear spotter and local historian all rolled into one — took us on a moderately easy climb on the mountain range that encompasses the northern border of Slovakia with the southern region of Poland. The easiest of climbs is anywhere between 10km to 12km up and down from the town and back; so take a lot of water with you.
To be sure, the sheer pulchritude of the mountains on a clear day literally takes your breath away (this is not an exaggeration; for proof, see pictures alongside). But over a couple of days, you get used to it. Or do you? Eric told us that he has been hiking and trekking on the High Tatras since he was six, and not once did he feel bored.
The next day, we took a cable car to the town’s highest point, and at the restaurant at the top, it is must to enjoy the local cuisine while the mist embraces you with its softness. When we returned to the town, we took a long walk along the glacial lake. You could do this for hours every day, and not once would you feel tired. Eric later told us that several people with asthma and chronic lung diseases often come to Štrbské Pleso to feel better. As it turns out, my wife does have asthma, and on the third day, when we were about to leave, she breathed in deep. “The deepest I have breathed in many years,” she said.
Elevation: 1350m above sea level
When to go: If you are into adventure sports, go in December or January; but if you want to enjoy good weather, July-September is the best time.
How to reach there: You can reach here by taking the train from Prague (Praha hlavní nádraží station) to Strba, a journey of seven hours. From Strba take the funicular for a euro to Štrbské Pleso. Don’t forget to book in advance and reserve your seat at least a day before the journey.
What to do: Štrbské Pleso is a town to go and relax. Take long walks, hike along the High Tatras, or go bear spotting. This is town built for tourists, and almost every local is involved in the tourism industry. They are polite, communicate in English and are helpful.
What not to do: This is not a night spot. Don’t expect any evening entertainment.
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First Published: Oct 11, 2019 19:35 IST