A few days walking in the Ždiar region and beyond

Over the past years I have visited most corners of Slovakia. Surprisingly enough, however, the High Tatras remains still very elusive to me. I have visited the obvious places like Štrbské Pleso, but other than that I haven't seen much of this gorgeous region.

I therefore got very enthousiastic when my in-laws proposed to spend a long weekend in Lučivná, in the Ždiar region. At ca. 900 meters above sea-level and counting around 1400 inhabitants, Lučivná is a small quiet village at the foot of the Belianské Tatry. The Belianské Tatry are part of the Eastern Tatras and, with its highest peak at 2,151 meters, contain some of the most astounding mountains tops. Unfortunately for me the weather was not good enough to get a proper picture of them other than these:

We had a few stops planned on our journey through the Ždiar region. Besides a stop on the way to there from Bratislava at the always beautiful Dobšinská ĺadová jaskyňa (the Dobšinská ice cave), we would first head to the newly constructed wooden walkways through the treetops of Bachledova Dolina. I have wanted to go there ever since it opened up last year summer. How amazing would it be to walk as high as the treetops! Amazing it was. After a 1,5km hike up through the woods and some necessary water breaks (my wife is 6 months pregnant), you get the opportunity to take an easy walk of 1,2km across a solid wooden walkway at the height of the treetops and to climb a large wooden viewing tower that would give you a 360 degrees view of the Belianské Tatry on one side and the Pieninský National Park on the other. Click through the gallery below to see what I am mean:

Next up was Stará Ĺubovňa. To the hardcore ice-hockey fans perhaps best known for the birth place of ice-hockey star and NHL player Marián Hossa, to me it is known for its beautiful castle and open-air skanzenmuseum of folk architecture of this region. Although not really located in the Ždiar region (or in High Tatras in general), it is a worthy 40 minutes by car eastwards.

The castle, standing proud more than 700 meters above sea-level on a limestone cliff, was built between the late 13th and early 14th century. It had an important function as a defensive bastion at the Polish-Hungarian border, when the Hungarian empire reached up to nowadays Poland. Later it became part of the Polish rule and even at one time secretly housed the Polish coronation jewels, whose replicas can be seen in the center building of the castle. As so many castles, it had to be reconstructed throughout the centuries, continuously changing its shape and design. In the mid of the 20th century, the castle opened its doors as a museum, which it remains until today.

I have been at Stará Ĺubovňa a few years ago but as an enthousiast for castles I always wanted to go back. After watching the usual falconry show, we took the guided tour, led by a very enthousiastic guide (unfortunately not a usual thing in castle tours in Slovakia). There is a lot of climbing involved in going through the castle, especially if you decide to climb the central tower. My wife logically decided to stay with both feet on solid ground. I, however, folded myself up and wriggled my way through the insanely narrow staircase all the way up to the tower. The view you get is definitely worth the claustrophobic tendencies.

At the foot of Stará Ĺubovňa castle, you find one of the most interesting open-air museums in Slovakia, the Ĺuboviansky skanzen. This village is completely recreated from original wooden houses, built in the traditional folk architecture of the region. Mind you, these are not replicas! These are original houses, moved in their entirety to this location at Stará Ĺubovňa, and fully furnished as they would have been back in the days. There are some truly remarkable buildings among its collection, including a mill, a granary, a school, a blacksmith's workshop and various farmers' houses. The most exquisite building, however, is the Greek Catholic Church of St. Michael, from 1833, brought from the nearby Šariš village of Matysová to the museum complex, complete with its internal decoration. If you get the chance to visit the castle, the skanzenmuseum is an absolute must. Resembling a small village, it truly brings you back to bygone days.

On the last evening, in between storms and sunshine, we decided for a walk through the village of Lučivná. The village has a recorded history going back to the beginning of the 15th century and houses probably the smallest fire station I have ever seen (sorry, no picture). It is everything you would expect from a small Slovak village - a few small churches, a pension which does double service as a village shop, the necessary number of pubs, a mansion, and a lot of vegetables patches in the backyards. Lučivná is situated near some of the High Tatras skiing slopes, so you will as well find various pensions and small hotels scattered through the village. With the setting sun, the evening walk made for some great picture moments.

The Ždiar region and its neighbouring Stará Ĺubovňa impressed me a lot and I can only recommend anyone heading up that part of Slovakia to stop by for a good walk. Rich in history and even richer in views, you will not be disappointed!