Poland to Slovakia: Crossing the Tatra Mountains
With many travelers now busy planning summer trips, it’s worth remembering that public transportation across Europe is an ever-changing creature. Routes come, routes go, and new timetables are often introduced to reflect (or defy) changing patterns of demand.
To keep abreast of changing schedules, the best comprehensive source of information is the monthly European Rail Timetable (ERT). It’s good for more than just trains for, within the tightly packed pages of the ERT, you’ll also find lots of ferry timetables as well as key bus links across Europe.
Traveling through the Tatra Mountains just a few weeks ago, we checked out the bus service that connects Zakopane (on the Polish side of the High Tatras) with Poprad (in Slovakia). It’s shown in Table 1183 of the ERT. This cross-border bus service taking just under two hours has long been such a valuable link, plugging a major gap in Europe’s rail network.
Crossing the Polish-Slovakian border
So, flicking through the pages of the May ERT, we are concerned to see that the direct bus from Zakopane to the Slovakian Tatra resorts and Poprad has just been axed. The service was run by Polish bus operator Strama, which has dropped the direct international bus service amid a dispute with the bus licensing authorities in Slovakia over the company’s right to transport local passengers on journeys wholly within Slovakia.
We very much hope that this important bus route will be reinstated sooner rather than later, but meanwhile the journey can still be undertaken using local buses on either side of the border, connecting between the two on the frontier between Poland and Slovakia.
By bus through the High Tatras
Trans-Bus Bukowina run regular scheduled services during the spring and summer months from Zakopane to a remote beauty spot in the High Tatras called Morskie Oko. Along the way, these services stop at Lysa Polana on the border, but they do not actually cross into Slovakia. From Lysa Polana there are local buses on to Poprad. You just need to walk over the border bridge, a hike of about ten meters, to connect between the two bus routes.
This is a journey that need not be rushed. It covers some glorious mountain country. Our top tip for a stopover is the Slovakian village of Zdiar. It is a long and straggly village, strung out along the flank of the Biela Valley. It is bypassed by the main road and is easily missed. But last month we took time out for Zdiar and it is an absolute gem. With the land rising up north of the village to the slopes of Mount Magurka, and superb views south to the Tatra summits, the location of Zdiar is hard to beat.
The village styles itself as a hub of Goral culture. The Gorals are the local mountain people, pastoralists by inclination, who populate parts of the Carpathian region. Several guest houses and small hotels in Zdiar play the Goral card, offering food and entertainment that is evidently typically Goral in character. It’s a neat piece of cultural theater. Ultimately, though, Zdiar is above all just a good place to be—a place to stop off for a day or two, breathe the clear mountain air and relax.