THE HIGH TATRAS MOUNTAINS OF SLOVAKIA

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Off the tourist trail of Eastern Europe, there lie the High Tatras and Zobor Mountains of Slovakia.

Although not very high, this enchanting trekking destination is a place of unspoilt nature, hidden corners and a variety of endemic plants, some of which are still used as natural healing remedies.

You may start your hike towards Zobor Mountain from the edge of the tiny city of Nitra. The 14.7Km path through continual woods of steppe grasslands consists of 27 stops, each offering an interesting insight on the beautiful alcoves of these pristine woods. The trails are very well marked, leading you to the top at about 617m above sea level, which only takes about an hour and a half.

A slight feeling of uneasiness may surround you as soon as you walk into the fog. Nonetheless, you will surely be captivated by the beauty of the woodland, and feel free to indulge in the deep scent of chestnut trees. Zobor’s flora can be mostly appreciated during spring, where the land is studded with low iris, potentilla sandstone and the endemic Slovak penny-cress. This is a tiny plant with little white flowers that can only be found within these woodlands.

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Like every forest, Zobor has its own myths and legends. One such tale is about the hermit Svorad Andrey, who is believed to have lived in a cave found at the foot of the hill circa 1032, in order to avoid the temptations of town life. An original painting – very dark in style – still lies in the cave. Though slightly vandalised, it still recalls the mood of those dark ages.

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I instantly sensed a feeling of detachment from the city chaos and the daily hectic routine. Walking in the thickness of these woods immediately reminded me of Wendell Berry’s incredible writings of his Agrarian Essays where he points out:

“Until we understand what the land is, we are at odds with everything we touch. And to come to the understanding it is necessary, even now, to leave the regions of our conquest – the cleared fields, the town and the cities, the highways – and re-enter the woods. For only there can he encounter the silence and the darkness of his own absence. Only in this silence and darkness can he recover the sense of the world’s longevity, of its ability to thrive without him. Of his inferiority to it, and his dependence on it. Perhaps then, having heard that silence and seen the darkness, he will grow humble before the place and begin to take it in…”

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Before getting too emotionally attached to my afternoon walks in these mystic woods, we decided to take a car and move up north to the High Tatras Mountains for more serious adventure. Skiing, snowboarding and not to mention the afternoon drinks at the après ski bars. Here, the woods were completely covered with white glittery snow, making the surrounding landscape really appear like a magical winter wonderland.