The Tátra mountains. Nobody outside this part of Europe has heard of them, since they’re overshadowed by the Alps, which span four countries that give them good PR. But these days, everyone would prefer to go somewhere “undiscovered,” right? Well, then the Tátras are your mountains.
They’re just a three-hour drive from Budapest, on winding country roads, through villages both prosperous and poor. The mountains are as high as the Alps, but the range is tiny, just 24 peaks dotted with alpine lakes, just the right size for a weekend trip. They span the border between Slovakia and Poland.
My husband’s family comes from these mountains, which were part of Hungary until 1918. That’s why we traveled there last weekend, to visit the graves of great-grandparents and other distant relatives. All Saints’ Day is a beautiful holiday in this part of the world, a day to remember loved ones who have died, decorating their graves with flowers and lighting candles. Even our kids like the walk through the cemetery to “visit Dédi (great-grandma),” where they collected chestnuts and laid them in the shape of a heart on her grave. Even though they don’t really remember her.
But I do. She taught me Hungarian, telling me stories from her life, over and over again (as elderly people are wont to do anyway) until I understood. She told me about the Tátra mountains, the fresh air, and the beautiful hotels her family owned until they were nationalized after WWII. She told me how she wasn’t able to travel from Budapest to visit her parents in the mountains for six years during the most oppressive communist regime. How she raised two children as a single mother in the 50s and 60s. How she loved to go back and visit the Tátras – she took a gondola up to one of the highest peaks at the age of 95, six months before she died.
We took a leisurely hike with the kids to an alpine lake and took a horsedrawn carriage on the way back, rode a gondola to a peak where there was a beautiful lakeside playground, went bobsledding on a year-round track, and stayed at this inexpensive inn http://www.zdiaranka.sk/, one of many charming “penzion,” but you can choose from everything from five-star wellness hotels to mountainside log cabins that you have to hike to! If you’d like more information about what to do, where to stay and what to eat in the Tátra mountains, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.