Strbske Pleso, in Slovakia’s High Tatras, is the sort of place to go to clear out the marsh gas that accumulates in the lungs in a polluted swamp such as Budapest. You can breathe deeply in the clean mountain air and feel it must be doing you a whole lot of good.
At the same time – breathe deeply, breathe deeply – “listen” to the silence. There are no snarling two-strokes or other noisy city sounds, just an almost total calm, pierced only by birdsong or the swish-swish-swish of a duck beating its way across the lake surface.
Mountains and an alpine lake: the clear water is backed immediately by peaks high enough to have a little snow even in June. Bears and deer inhabit the pine-covered slopes.
A four-hour drive, Strbske Pleso is a healthy holiday playground 1,351 metres above sea level. The village is small, comprising a dozen or so hotels and restaurants, plus the ubiquitous souvenir stands, mostly tucked under the high ground occupied by the dominant establishment, the Grand Hotel Kempinski High Tatras.
Taking in the view
The spectacular view is just a skimming stone’s throw from the Kempinski’s rear rooms. There aren’t too many signs of Man – a few rowing boats, a distant ski-jump now used for bungee jumping, another hotel and a few pleasure seekers out for a walk.
A deer is also wandering around the trail and every camera clicks. People say, reassuringly, that in the unlikely event you stumble across a bear it will be more scared of you than vice-versa. Yell at it and it will go away. Indeed, warning signs advise you to watch out for trees falling on the noggin rather than life-threatening wild beasts.
If you have a room at the front of the hotel you are looking down – way, way down – past Strbske Pleso village and onto a valley so wide it could be the unexplored regions that must be crossed by adventurers searching for fabulous wealth hidden in King Solomon’s mines in the far-off ranges.
And if you stay in the Honeymoon Suite – almost worth getting married for – it has windows facing both front and rear, with a steep staircase leading up to a rooftop jacuzzi and a total 360-degree view over the lake, peaks and valley (above).
The Kempinski hotel is the grandest and oldest in Strbske Pleso. Starting life in 1872 as a hunting lodge for the aristocracy, it was added to in 1893-94, 1906 and 1923 and the joined-together sections are now a rather architecturally odd mish-mash. It makes for a hotel that is rather eclectic, if not downright eccentric, from the outside at least.
Eclectic and luxurious
Thus, a suite at one end has a round tower, some rooms have balconies and some don’t. A short distance from the honeymooners’ jacuzzi-in-the-sky is a viewing tower – square this time – where up to four people can have a romantic private dinner.
The building became a sanatorium, excellent for respiratory ailments, but fell into disuse in the 1970s until it was renovated from 2005 and reopened in 2009 by the Kempinski group, hoteliers since 1897. It was the first five-star hotel in Slovakia.
The renovators retained 71 historical elements. Who in your group can spot the most? Hint: look up at the ceilings, check the banisters and light fittings, find the areas with wooden beams. A rather sprawling complex, most of the 98 rooms and suites (including a sumptuous presidential suite) are different in some way – creating favourites among repeat visitors – and there are an astonishing 27 lifts in all.
Open fireplaces burning wood create a homely atmosphere in the large lobby and reception area, in the Lobby Bar (60 whiskys and cognacs) and in the Grand Restaurant (above).
There are two ballroom/meeting rooms, a small business centre and a players’ lounge with little library and pool table.
Mercifully: no antlers “adorn” the walls.
From the beginning a highlight for any guest is the fabulous cavernous Zion Spa (above), 1,300 square metres, with its indoor pool, whirlpool, fitness centre, Finnish and salt saunas, steam bath, bar, VIP spa suite for private rental, ice rain shower, Kneipp’s way (good for the feet), relaxing room and a variety of massage rooms.
Guests in white robes roam the hotel, on their way to and from the facilities.
As mentioned in these columns before, if it is a Kempinski it is fully worthy of five stars. Strbske Pleso: short on vowels, long on views.
Grand Hotel Kempinski High Tatras
Kupelna 6, 059 85 Strba-Strbske Pleso, Slovakia
Reservations: email@example.com (check current rates/special packages)
Tel.: (+421) 52 3262-222
Car: Four-hour drive: Váci út to Vác, follow E77 north over border then via Zvolen, Banská Bystrica and Ruzomberok, turn east on E50, turn off north near Vazec.
Train: Takes twice as long, leaves several times a day from Keleti and Nyugati railway stations with changes. firstname.lastname@example.org www.mav.hu/english/index.php, Tel.: (+36) 40 494949.