Slovensky Raj, also known as ‘Slovak Paradise’, might be one of Europe’s best-kept secrets. Nestled in the Western Carpathian mountain range, this National Park is rarely listed in guidebooks or travel blogs, yet it’s enchanting forests and dramatic waterfalls are nothing short of magical.
300 km of marked trails crisscross this vast wilderness; metal ladders and rather rickety bridges take you across ravines, through vast canyons and past ancient, monastic ruins. In the summer months, Slovak families flock to the Park and scale these ladders with children in tow. Don’t be fooled though - these trails aren’t easy. Sheer drops and vertical inclines await, which is enough to churn the stomach of even the most seasoned of hikers. When I did these routes, heavy rainfall meant that the rivers had burst their banks and swept away some of our trusty ladders. Whilst this made for an exhilarating hike, it certainly wasn’t for the faint-hearted. We often had to switch between different trails and create ad hoc footholds from slippery rocks and fallen branches.
These dramatic trails can take up to 5.5 hours to complete and you’d be lucky to find a bench, let alone a cafe at the summit. So, remember to pack the essentials; bring plenty of water, waterproofs as you’ll get your feet wet and sun cream is an absolute must even under the canopy. It’s also best to get an early start on these trails in order to beat the crowds and avoid queues for the ladders.
If you are not quite sold yet, this hiking paradise is also home to some of the most extraordinary flora and fauna Europe has to offer. Hikers on the less popular routes have spotted lynxes, eagles and even brown bears.
Unfortunately, planning your trip here isn’t so straight-forward. This gem is shrouded in mystery partly because most of the advice and blogs online aren’t in English. Entry into the national park is only €1.50 per adult, but make sure you get a trail map on your way in! Though the trails are impressively sign-posted, asking for directions might not be easy without the language. To avoid disappointment, it’s also important that you take a look at the official Slovensky Raj website before you set off to check on the condition of each route. This ethereal landscape is ever changing, so it's possible some trails may be seasonally closed or in poor technical condition.
It’s not hard to see why Slovakia has worked so hard to keep this natural wonder a secret. The fairytale landscape is well and truly breath-taking, whilst each trail promises adventure.