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Riding south with the High Tatras at my back

A small and mountainous country in Central Europe, Slovakia is a place with many beautiful national parks and some spectacular scenery. I spent a little over a week bikepacking through from Poland in the north down to Hungary in the south. My route was mostly off-road, which allowed me to get deep into the mountains and which also gave me a major physical test. Slovakia’s hills are steep!

Into the Tatras

I was able to explore two of Slovakia’s best castles, Orava and Spiš; both of which were incredible and boast fascinating histories. As with much of Central Europe, churches are also everywhere and shrines dot the roadside throughout the countryside.

Orava Castle
The view from Orava
Spiš Castle
The view from Spiš Castle
Small roadside churches

The High Tatra mountains were a real highlight, as was the pictureque Slovak Paradise national park further south. My route was definitely a challenge. Aside from the often brutal gradients, it was often rough, slippery and technical. In particular the track up to Zelené Pleso was extremely difficult to ride as it was steep and boulder strewn, making for a solid test of skill and strength, both when climbing and descending. I later found out that a few years ago a mountain biker died on his way back down, which was certainly sobering.

The road to Zelené Pleso
Zelené Pleso
At Popradské Pleso
Štrbské Pleso
Slovak Paradise National Park

Another danger was from brown bears – I heard them on several nights whilst wild camping in the mountains, and just over the border in northern Hungary I saw one at night by torchlight not twenty metres from my tent. They never bothered me but it was definitely quite unnerving having them so close. 

Wild camping in the High Tatras

Because my route was so remote I didn’t have a lot of interaction with Slovakian people, though those I did meet were very friendly. Most welcoming of all were the Slovakian kids, who had little shyness and were generally enamoured of Lara’s fat tyres, though I also caught plenty of adults staring in astonishment at her monster truck wheels. 

Slovakian kids with Lara

Further south another challenge was that my route often took me into areas where the 'road' was either run down, overgrown, or in some cases; nonexistant. I took away plenty of scratches from dragging my bike through bramble patches in areas with no alternative but to plow through. 

"This is going to hurt.."

Slovakia is one to come back to. Off-road is definitely the way to go here in order to better explore the gorgeous national parks, though it is very hard work and there will inevitably be a fair amount of pushing involved. I’d also love to come back for a hiking trip in the High Tatras as the topmost sections are for walkers only and look really spectacular. Slovakia is an outdoor playground and I have thoroughly enjoyed crossing it. From here I'll be continuing south through the Balkans on my way to Greece, Turkey, and ultimately Africa. A long way to go. 

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