Located at the base of the High Tatras, the tallest range in the Carpathian Mountains, is the picturesque village of Zdiar, which is the oldest Tatra settlement. With its decorated timber cottages, surrounding cliffs and thick woods, and verdant hiking trails that take you up into the mountains, this has to be one of the most beautiful spots I discovered on my trip to Slovakia. However, my favourite thing about this village, and the reason I came here in the first place, was the wonderful Ginger Monkey Hostel, where I spent four nights. As a solo traveller, it’s essential in a place like this to find likeminded people who make you feel like part of the ‘family’, and the Ginger Monkey certainly has that family feel to it. On my first night, I was shown around the hostel and upon entering the kitchen, an array of smiling faces looked up at me and welcomed me in, before asking if I wanted to share their beer and delicious home cooked food- an offer I could hardly refuse! That night, we sat up till the early hours playing numerous daft drinking games, which had me in stitches (and I wasn’t even drinking).
Over the course of the next few days, we went on lengthy hikes, swam in lakes, visited the beautiful Slovak Paradise National Park and spent ample time enjoying the sunshine and views of the mountains from the hostel’s terrace. The sunshine vanished altogether on one of our hikes though, when we were just half an hour from the peak of a mountain and the heavens opened, torrential rain drenching us all. Unfortunately, nobody had thought to bring a jacket or a waterproof and, as we’d heard there was no shelter at the top, we resorted to turning around and walking back the way we’d just come, a feat which proved difficult due to the bad visibility and slipperiness of the slope. Everybody just took it in their stride though and, despite the fact we were all totally freezing, we were immediately able to see the funny side.
My last day was possibly my favourite; it began with another hike, this time with uninterrupted sunshine, along an exceptionally beautiful trail that led to a place where you could go luging on a rail. For a mere €8, we were able to purchase three goes on this crazy virtual luge, whizzing through the woods faster with each turn – that certainly brought out the kid in me. We then took a (considerably slower) chairlift down the mountain and hopped on the bus to take us back to Zdiar. By that point, I was starving, so I returned to the traditional Slovak restaurant we’d visited the night before and ordered the beast of all meals: roast pork knuckle, Zdiar’s local delicacy. Words can’t even describe how tasty and immensely satisfying that dish is… I can feel my mouth watering just thinking about it.
The day only continued to get better, with us returning to the first part of our morning hike and walking back up the hill to get a prime view of the town and its surroundings. With snacks and beers in hand, we sat down on the grass and watched the sun set behind the mountains- a truly spectacular sight. Near the foot of the mountain, there was an old, abandoned hotel, which had had us all intrigued since we’d arrived and we thought it might be fun to check it out at night. In an attempt to spook one another, we switched off the lights on our phones and lit a candle, before setting it down on the floor and writing eerie messages in the dust around it. I began telling a ghost story, and was almost at the end when out of nowhere, we heard footsteps and saw a figure appear at the window with a torch (at this point I genuinely was a bit scared!) The figure turned out to be a policeman, who wanted to know what an earth we were all doing in an old building that hadn’t been open to the public in years and demanded that we get out immediately. Once again, we all saw the funny side and luckily, so did the policeman (once we’d assured him we wouldn’t be returning).
It was back to the hostel after that, for unsurprisingly, there wasn’t exactly much nightlife in Zdiar; the previous night, we had gone for a couple of drinks in the one bar that stayed open past 10pm and had been the only people in there. The barman, who had made continuous hints that he wanted us to leave, was instead forced to watch us get up on the table and start dancing, something I’m fairly sure he’d never before witnessed in his bar! Still, he didn’t object and we all enjoyed ourselves immensely for the short time that we were up there.
The following morning, I was up early and back on the train to Bratislava, a lovely scenic train ride, during which I reminisced over the fantastic four days I’d spent in Zdiar. If there was one piece of advice I could give to anyone travelling to this part of the world, it would be this – don’t just city hop. So many people visit Eastern Europe and go from one capital city to the next, never branching out or bothering to look at what else each country has to offer, meaning you miss out on all the hidden gems. I’m very glad I found out about Zdiar and the stunning Tatras Mountains and would highly recommend a trip here to anyone. If you stay in the Ginger Monkey, please send them my love and give their gorgeous dog Wally a big pat from me!