High Tatras and Low Tatras: This is a large mountain range that is part of the big Tatra Mountain chain, located in central and northern Slovakia. The High Tatras are located north of the town of Liptovsky Mikulas and are a very good area for hiking and other winter sports. The Low Tatras are south of Liptovskz Mikulaš. During the winter, hiking can be very interesting and of course a bit risky. In the High Tatras there are more than 29 peaks higher than 2400m. Most popular are Krivan and Gerlahovsky Stit. You can start your hike to Krivan from Strbske Pleso Lake, a very beautiful body of water located between mountain peaks. During the winter it is usually frozen over, so if you are not afraid you can try to walk over this amazing lake, stand on its ice, and observe snowy peaks jutting into blue winter sky. If you want a real adventure, try to climb Gerlahovsky Stit, the highest peak in Slovakia, which is about 2,650m high. Passing through pine forests over snow isn’t so dangerous, but it is really magically beautiful, just like a winter fairytale. At a higher altitude you should really be in good physical condition if you want to scale frozen cliffs while a strong wind blows on you. The cliffs can be dangerous and life-threatening, but if you like this kind of thing, bring some hiking equipment and give it a try. Wildlife here is composed of foxes, wild pigs, deer, wolves, and bear. To avoiding the bears and wolves, avoid dense forests that seem deserted. Reaching Gerlahovsky Stit is really worthwhile for the view at the summit across lower, snow-covered peaks, lakes, forests, rivers . . .
In both the High and Low Tatras there are many ski resorts such as Jasna, Chopok, Zavazna Poruba, Certovica, Stary Smokovec, Strednica, and others. Skiing is available from Dumbier (2044m) at the top of the Low Tatras, but primarily by experienced skiers. In the vicinity are small villages with hotels and cottages. You can ski on amazing ski slopes as much as you want and during breaks warm up with mulled wine or honey brandy. There are also restaurants near the slopes where you can try delicious Slovak bryndzove halusky (a cheese dish) or grilled sausages. Skiing in the Tatras is for those who prefer challenging skiing and those who like to manage navigating by the crowds of skiers.
While visiting both Tatras you should definitely visit Tatralandia center. It is a special wellness center and the biggest one in Central Europe. Entrance costs only 18eur, and you can spend a whole day there and enjoy swimming in one of many swimming pools, relaxing in the water, or tobogganing. There are more than 25 pools, so you won’t be bored spending several hours there after an exhausting day of skiing. Also there is a special pool with healing water that is a hot 40 degrees and is outdoors. You can sit in hot water and chill out while snow and extreme cold are around the pool, but you feel safe and warm. In addition to Slovak tourists you can meet Polish, Hungarian, Russian, Czech, and Serbian tourists.
Owl Mountains (Gory Sowie): Certainly not the most famous but definitely worth visiting are Poland’s Owl Mountains. They are located in the Central Sudetes of Southwestern Poland and are among the oldest mountain ranges in Europe. The Owl Mountains are a great option for fans of hiking and viewing animals as well as for fans of more active winter sports. You can start your tour in the towns of Nowa Ruda or Bielawa. Some of the mountain area is covered with deciduous forests but also by evergreens. Both landscapes are very interesting to pass through. The mountain is very rich with fauna even during the winter, when most of the area is covered with snow. On the way to the peak over one of several paths you can encounter many animals including lynxes, fox (in lower areas), salamanders (in the streams), and capercaillie birds. Don’t be afraid of lynxes, they are not dangerous and are actually afraid of humans and try to avoid people. In the evergreen forests there are pine martens and also many deer. And of course there are owls in the trees as they are the symbol of the mountain, which is named after the owls. The peak is called Big Owl peak and is 1100m high. Unlike the Tatras, this mountain is relatively safe for winter hiking because there are not many cliffs and the altitude is relatively low.
On Owl Mountain there are 15km of ski slopes which attract fans of winter sport. There are several ski centers with hotels, cottages, and hostels and with places where you can rent skis or snowboards. Owl Mountain is particularly fun for those who prefer slopes that are less crowded and less steep than some of the others mentioned in this article.
Additional tip: Near Owl Mountain there are secret dungeons and bunkers that are now open to the public. They were built by Nazi Germany between 1939 and 1945 for secret research projects, and actually no one is sure why they were built since the Nazis destroyed all documentation as they retreated. If you love history and especially WWII, you can visit these underground corridors and imagine what the bunkers were used for.
Krkonoše Mountains: This is a mountain range located on the border between the Czech Republic and Poland. Its biodiversity is very rich, and it is part of Krkonoše National Park. It is best to start your hike from Harrachov town, located at an altitude of 650m with a small train station and church which can be very interesting and are located in a little town that is well-hidden in the midst of mountains. The landscape is typical of lower and middle altitudes and is dominated by evergreen trees such as pines and spruces. Also famous are the so-called “dead forests”, which can be a bit scary when you pass among dry pine trees without a single leaf. There is also the very beatufiul Mumlava waterfall that is nestled among spruce trees. Its stream is very fast and does not freeze during the wintertime. Snowfalls are really deep here during the winter and can last for 3-4 months. Snow cover can be as deep as 3m, so watch your step if you don’t want to fall into snow that is deeper than you want to handle. There are a lot of small animals in these mountains such as foxes, squirrels, field voles, and many birds such as redpolles, doterrels, thrushes, bluethroats, and ouzels. They stay through the winter, hidden in hollows in trees or standing on branches and singing while the snow falls on them. These birds can keep you company while you are hiking and can break the silence of the winter forest. The higher elevations are more deserted, with a many stones and low bushes covering the stones. From Snežka Peak you can see a lot of forests, hills, and fields covered by snow in both the Czech Republic and in Poland. Snežka is the highest peak in the CZR and is 1603m high.
When it comes to skiing, the most popular areas are near the previously mentioned Harrachov town, where there are many slopes, and near Pec pod Snežkou. More experienced skiers and snowboarders dare to ski down Snežka peak. Ski resorts on Krkonoše Mountain are the most popular winter sport centers in the Czech Republic, so they are quite crowded during the winter. Also there is the special Čertak hill, outfitted for ski jumping and offering interesting adventures for fans of extreme skiing. In addition to hotels in the towns, a very popular form of accommodation here is found in cottages that lie at higher elevations and even near the peaks. I think it is best to rent a cottage with a fireplace as in cold nights you can sit next to the fire and watch beautiful snow shining under the moonlight with thousands of stars in the sky. If you like spending the night surrounded by a forest, this is perfect option for you to have a romantic evening with a loved one or to warm yourself behind wooden walls with your family.
Schneeberg Mountain: This is the highest mountain in Lower Austria, located only 65km from Vienna.
Hiking here is only for the bravest hikers and for those who cannot live without adventure. Hikers can start out at Schneebergdorfl village. The lower and middle altitudes are covered by forests and fields and are commonly visited during the whole year and even during the winter. The higher areas are composed of very steep cliffs with only small bushes and minimal grass cover. Even during the summer you need special equipment to handle these rocks. During the winter, it is highly advised to climb only when there is no wind and no fog to provide for your safety. In the winter you really need to be cautious, but when you reach a peak the view is really breathtaking. Peak Klosterwappen is 2076m high. From there you can see other areas of Austria covered by snow, Vienna, and even Bratislava. During the wintertime there is only one rescue cottage open, at an altitude of 1380m, and hikers or skiers can get hot tea and sit in the warmth a bit before continuing further.
If you prefer winter sport instead of hiking, Schneenberg also has much to offer you. The most famous slope on this mountain is located at Puchberg am Schneeberg and is 4.1km long. Most of it is of medium difficulty, so for most skiers it isn’t hard to handle. There are several locations where you can rent skies or snowboard here. There are also several restaurants where you can order Austrian beer and domestic sausages. Hotels and huts are quite comfortable here with well-heated rooms, pools, saunas, and spas. In the evening there are several pubs and even nightclubs open in the hotels. The nightlife is quite lively because many tourists come here between December and March.
Whichever mountain you choose will be a good choice. Just decide your preference, and you will be on your way to an unforgettable winter holiday.