One of the main reasons I chose to stay at Grand Hotel Stary Smokovec for my trip to the High Tatras is the fact this is a historic hotel of Europe. Also, seeing its location on Google maps across the street from the train station was an important consideration for ease of access.
High Tatras is the most popular resort destination in Slovakia and consists of a series of about 15 villages spread across 22 km along the base of the High Tatra mountains, Europe’s smallest alpine mountain range in north-central Slovakia. Together these villages are called Vysoké Tatry and connected by High Tatras electric train rail network.
Tatra National Park is Slovakia’s oldest national park created in 1949. The southern slopes of the High Tatra region developed as a spa and resort destination more than a century ago, along with Zakopane, Poland on the northern slopes of the High Tatras, where there is Poland’s Tatra National Park (created 1954). The High Tatras region is a popular ski destination in winter and a major Central Europe hiking destination in summer with more than 600 km of marked and maintained trails on the Slovakia side of the border. I packed hiking boots and trekking poles for this trip.
In 1993 the combined Slovakia-Poland High Tatras region was designated a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. There are currently about 669 biosphere reserves worldwide. The High Tatras have an estimated 100 brown bears active in the area. My eyes were always focused more on the rocky trails rather than looking for bears. I did not sight any large mammals during my four days in the area.
Grand Hotel Stary Smokovec 1904
Grand Hotel Stary Smokovec was one of three hotel resorts built for High Tatra tourism when it opened in 1904. The other two Grand Hotels are located to the east and west in two other major resort villages for the region. Grand Hotel Praha (1905) in Tatranská Lomnica is a major ski resort with its famous aerial cable car to Lomnický štít, the second highest peak in the High Tatras. Grand Hotel Kriváň (1906) in Štrbské Pleso is beside a lake. The hotel fell into disrepair and was closed, then remodeled, restored and reopened in 2009 as Grand Hotel Kempinski High Tatras.
All three Grand Hotels were built in the art noveau style for aristocratic tourism during Europe’s Belle Époque period before World War I.
Grandhotel Starý Smokovec.
Stary Smokovec at 985 meters is the least developed of the three major resort centers of Vysoké Tatry, although there is quite a bit of new development happening in the village around the hotel. Trails ascend into the Tatras directly from the hotel and there is a funicular by the hotel that carries passengers up to Hrebienok, a small ski resort at 1,285 meters on Slavkovsky stit.
Slavkovsky stit (peak) directly behind Grand Hotel Stary Smokovec. Lomnický štít is the peak seen on the right side of my photo, accessible by aerial cable car from Tatranská Lomnica.
Castro Café is named in honor of the 1972 visit by Cuba’s Fidel Castro.
In 1972, Fidel Castro himself paid a visit to the brothers and comrades in Czechoslovakia. And during his short 2-day stay in the Tatras, he made his mark in the history of our hotel and in the hearts of two chamois that he hunted and killed (these were the last 2 chamois hunted and killed in the Tatras, at least officially). Just for the record, he had an official permission to kill one chamois only but nobody dared to interfere with his hunting passion. His table tennis match against Vendelín Vrano, the pioneer and a keen promoter of table tennis in the Tatras, who was working as the hotel boiler tender at that time, was simply unforgettable. The tough and merciless duel ended in a tie. However, the final score was not officially recorded.
The photo depicts the climax of the match when Fidel was getting warmer (and had to take off his military vest and shirt).
There is a room called the Sinatra Bar I walked through on my way to the dining room where the breakfast buffet was served, but I did not see any photos of Frank Sinatra as a hotel guest. After a little more research I found a reference to Nancy Sinatra being a hotel guest.
The restaurant was only open for breakfast buffet at time of my stay. Lunch and dinner were served in Castro Café.
I barely made the 10am breakfast buffet closing on my first morning. The staff uniforms, down to the caps worn by the kitchen staff, indicated a desire to return the hotel style back to its former glory years.
There is a spa portion of the hotel I never visited as my focus was hiking.
The patio outside the Castro Café during the sunny days was the most active area of the hotel during my 3-night stay.
Guest Room 310
The hotel appeared to have low occupancy during my stay. There were at most about 10 to 15 guests I saw at any one time and that was during breakfast. No children were around.
At the time I booked the hotel the lowest rates were listed at 99.60 EUR per night through the hotel’s website. Expedia.com had the hotel rate at $157 per night for a suite. I ended up booking a 3-night rate for $213.69 all-in I found via Kayak.com through online travel agency easyclicktravel.com or $71.23 per night. There was also a 1 EUR per night tax I paid at checkout.
My room was a top floor room with no balcony. One side of the window opened wide. I’d recommend a balcony room for better air flow in summer. The rooms do not have air conditioning.
Aside from DoubleTree Kosice, three other Slovakian hotels where I stayed had this kind of bath with a shower hose and no doors around bathtub.
There was a mini-bar below the TV and space for my own items. It chilled my bottles of beer quickly.
Room amenities were basic, but matched the hotel price. I had come to the High Tatras to hike in the mountains and not be pampered. Those services are probably better at the other two Grand Hotels of the High Tatras.
I loved the fact that I could hike directly out the door of the hotel into the hills. I never rode the funicular up to Hrebienok. I hiked the trail adjacent to the funicular tracks.
A market and Tourist Information are directly across the street from the hotel and the Stary Smokovec train station is on the other side of those buildings.
Stary Smokovec is the central station for the electric train to Poprad, the largest city (55,000) and regional business and transportation hub for the area.
The building across the way from Grand Hotel holds one of the two main markets in Stary Smokovec I found. There is a larger food market in a shopping complex to the left of the hotel. Tourist information, a few shops and several cafes are on the main road. There are probably around two dozen businesses and a dozen hotels in Stary Smokovec. I liked the central location of the village.
Tatranská Lomnica has major ski facilities and aerial mountain trams. Grand Hotel Praha in that village was a bit of a walk from the train station based on my observation of the hotel location from the aerial tram. I never made it west on the train to visit Štrbské Pleso and see the Kempinski resort or lake. That is probably the most touristed part of the High Tatras.
I enjoyed visiting the High Tatras and I might very well go back there some day to check out more of Slovakia’s most popular outdoors region.
My other articles about Slovakia
Lomnické sedlo, Slovakia – Roof of the High Tatras (aerial trams from Tatranská Lomnica).
Hiking Tatra National Park (to come)