Before you take to the snow on your ski spree in Chopok (Slovakia’s and indeed one of Eastern Europe’s main ski resort areas), it’s worth bearing in mind where the best piste stops for refreshments are. And of course, they’re not always in the big hotels in the Demänovská Dolina resort area. Far from it (or, perhaps, far above it). Swoop up in the cable car from the resort village (from Záhradky at 1028m to Priehyba at 1342m and then from Priehyba up the dizzying heights of Chopok at 2024m), passing most of the 100-odd sq km of ski slopes en route, and you’ll arrive at one of the highest points on the Low Tatras mountains: the bare, stark and spectacular Chopok ridge. This thin scree-strewn crest of the mountain range, shaped like an up-ended old-fashioned iron, exudes a feeling a little akin to tightrope-walking on top of the world, so narrow does it taper at certain points and so dramatic are the vistas. And it’s here that you’ll find one of the most singular dining experiences anywhere in the Low Tatras region: Kamenná Chata…
Translating as ‘stone house’, Kamenná Chata lies a stone’s throw down from the Chopok cable car terminus: one of a few places in the country where you can eat out at 2000m+ altitude (2010m, to be exact – and Teryho Chata, Chata pod Rysmi and the restaurant at the summit of Lomnický štít in the High Tatras are the other lofty eateries). There is a pricey restaurant inside the cable car terminus too, of course, but Kamenná Chata ticks to a far more animated beat and distinctly more reasonable prices. The food focuses on typical Slovak mountain delicacies: a substantial bryndzové halušky (sheep’s cheese dumplings), for example; piping hot goulash or oh-so sweet pirohy (mini dumplings filled with plums) but it’s the quality of the view rather than the food that is the real draw.
The outside terrace leans over the tumbling slopes of the south side of Chopok, where almost lunar-like views dominated by the rocks and boulders which provide the locale’s appropriately stony backdrop crash away into the inky green valleys below. The cable car toiling up from Srdiečko adds further eye candy and shows mankind’s partial taming of this wild spot, but the taming is only a recent thing. It was only in the mid-1990s, whilst the Chopok cable cars were being constructed, that Kamenná Chata came into existence at all (as accommodation for workmen): before this these mountaintops were far less visited than they are today, and the panoramas from this mountain house still make for an awe-inspiring place to break off from your ski session (winter) or hike (summer).
Because it is old-school, Kamenná Chata: a textbook mountain house inside despite the grey-stone exterior, sporting a convivial wood-panelled space cluttered with tables and memorabilia and a big old ceramic mountain stove besides the bar area (only a rather crass menu board spoils the scene). Accommodation is offered here, too, for a bargain 23 Euros per person with breakfast included.
The ski scene can often be dominated by somewhat thoughtless and rushed-through modern development: but here, in a house originally intended for construction workers, is something far wealthier tourist accommodation can lack: a little bit of soul and value for money to go with the unbeatable views from the restaurant terrace.
OPENING: 7:30am-10pm year-round (the first and last parts of these opening hours may be a struggle to get food at unless you’re staying here)
RESERVATIONS: You can contact them (tel 00421-48-617-0039, firstname.lastname@example.org) but at busy periods they don’t normally take reservations, due to the fact that they pull in the crowds regardless. Plus, it’s not really worth reserving for the restaurant – there will always be some kind of space inside and out and you can ensure you get there a little outside of lunch hours to guarantee a table. For the attached accommodation, however, booking is essential
BEST TIME TO VISIT: Ski season is a cracking time to come here when there will likely be snow as far as the eye can see, but the light in summer from the terrace is sublime. Compromise: March – marginally warmer weather for sitting outside, and the first signs of spring, but still snow on the ground.
NEXT ON THE JOURNEY: Kamenná Chata features near the end of stage two or near the start of stage three on the Hrebenovka ridge hike across the Low Tatras: under three hours’ hike southeast via the Low Tatras high point of Ďumbier is Chata M. R. Štefánika mountain house whilst three to four hours west are Chata Útulná and then Chata Magurka mountain houses.