Beauty and the Bleak: Slovakia's Almanac

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Getting There You can fly Czech Air (212-765-6022 in New York City or 312-201-1781 in Chicago; web: www.csa.cz) via Prague; round-trip fare from New York to Kosice costs $400 in winter and $800 in spring. From there you can take a train to Poprad (two hours, about $7) and a cab to Stary Smokovec (about $15). Trains and cabs tend to be clean, orderly and cheap, so it's entirely possible to travel without a rental car. If you do rent a car in Kosice (Hertz International, 800-654-3131, charges about $60 per day), insist that it have snow tires and chains.

Sleeping In Even without reservations, we had no problem finding rooms. The local tourism offices can allegedly steer you (for a fee) toward private rooms and pensions, some as cheap as $5 a night. In Kosice, the Hotel Slovan (011-421-95-622-7378-80) is slightly bizarre but clean and posh, and runs about $80 per night for two, including a buffet breakfast heavy on kielbasa. In Stary Smokovec, the Hotel Smokovec (011-421-969-442-5191 ) is clean, modern and has a good restaurant. It runs about $42 per night for two, and meals are extra. In Jasna, try the Hotel Junior (011-421-849-559-1571), where double rooms with breakfast are about $85. A less expensive option is the Hotel Druzba (011-421-849-559-1555), where doubles with shower and shared bath are about $40, including breakfast and dinner. Avoid the Hotel Grand: The employees are rude and the food is overpriced and mediocre.

Vital Stats Those in search of modern lifts and moderate challenge should go to Jasna in the Low Tatras. Number of trails: 18; Number of lifts: 19; Elevation: 6,578 feet; Vertical drop: 3,247 feet; Lift-ticket price: $10. Contact: Otupne 111, 032 51 Demänovska Dolina, Slovakia. Tel: 011-421-849-559-1623.

In General U.S. citizens don't need a visa, but you will need an international driver's license (available through AAA for about $20) if you plan to rent a car. The food is good and cheap, the beer excellent, but it's recommended that you drink bottled water. Some Slovaks speak English, but don't count on it. If you don't speak Slovak or have a guide, German is essential. Not all restaurants and hotels accept credit cards, but most towns have ATMs, which give a good exchange rate. The Slovak currency is the koruna, worth roughly three cents.

Contacts We found the Slovak Embassy and the various Slovak tourism boards to be useless. But with a good guidebook (Lonely Planet Guide, Czech and Slovak Republics, Lonely Planet Publications, Hawthorn, Australia) you don't need them. Martina Zabkova of AZ International Travel (888-744-8747 or 440-808-8098) in Westlake, Ohio, is smart, friendly and helpful, and offers some package deals.