New Gondola Lift at Jasna Ski Resort

jasna-logoA new 2km long gondola lift, one of the world’s largest ski construction projects this year, is underway in Slovakia’s largest ski resort of Jasna and is due to open in time for the start of the 2009/10 ski season.  Construction on the new 13 million euro, eight passenger Grand Brhliska gondola began in May. It will rise from close to the Grand Hotel Jasna, 320 vertical metres from 1100m to 1420m and has a capacity of 2,400 skiers per hour, double that of the older four passenger lift it replaces. Grand Brhliska gondola will also be 328m longer than the old lift.

jasna-life

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Bargains Still to be had in Eastern Europe

Leontij Vodoca, Strumica, FYROM
Leontij Vodoca, Strumica, FYROM

Eurostat have revealed the results of their latest price survey across Europe, proving bargains are still to be had across Eastern Europe. The survey revealed that price levels in 2008 differed widely across Europe: Northern European countries tend to have the highest prices while the south-eastern European countries have the lowest prices. Southern and central European countries tend to show price levels closer to the EU average.

In Denmark consumer prices appeared 41% higher than the average of the 27 EU Member States, while in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia prices are 53% lower than this average. Among the EU Member States, the cheapest country is Bulgaria (49% below the average).

Food and non-alcoholic drinks are most expensive in Denmark and cheapest in Bulgaria. Taxes on food, alcohol and tobacco across the bloc’s 27 states are highest in Ireland and lowest in Romania. Regarding clothing prices, Britain is the least costly and Finland is the most expensive. Prices for consumer electronics are lowest in Britain and highest in Malta. Hotels cost the most in Denmark and the least in Bulgaria.

Bran Castle, Romania
Bran Castle, Romania

Eurostat examined prices of 2500 consumer goods and services across 37 European countries (27 Member States, the three Candidate Countries (Croatia, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Turkey), three EFTA countries (Iceland, Norway and Switzerland) and four Western Balkan countries (Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro and Serbia).

The results of the surveys are expressed in “price level indices” (PLIs), which provide a comparison of countries’ price levels with respect to the European Union average: if the price level index is higher than 100, the country concerned is relatively expensive compared to the EU average and vice versa, if the price level index is lower than 100, then the country is relatively cheap compared to the EU average.

Mostar, Bosnia & Hercegovina
Mostar, Bosnia & Hercegovina

10 Least Expensive European Countries
1. Macedonia
2. Bulgaria
3. Albania
4. Bosnia and Herzegovina
5. Serbia
6. Montenegro
7. Romania
8. Lithuania
9. Poland
10 Slovakia

10 Most Expensive European Countries:
1. Denmark
2. Norway
3. Switzerland
4. Ireland
5. Finland
6. Iceland
7. Luxembourg
8. Sweden
>9. France
10. Belgium

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Spend September in Slovakia: Bargains from Mountain Paradise & Kempinski

Lobby
Lobby

Mountain Paradise is offering four nights accommodation for the price of three, saving £150 per person, plus a buy one spa treatment and get another free offer worth an additional £50 at the newly opened five star Grand Hotel Kempinski in Slovakia’s picturesque High Tatra Mountains.

The deal is valid for travel on the following departure dates: 3, 10, 17, 24 September with a four night break costing just £699 per person, including the discount, return flights to Slovakia from Bristol, London Luton, London Gatwick, Stansted, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Newcastle or Manchester, airport transfers and accommodation in a deluxe double room with breakfast. Mountain Paradise can also organise cultural, walking and activity day trips for those wanting to explore the region.

Spa
Spa

The Grand Hotel Kempinski, boasts 98 luxurious rooms and overlooks a stunning alpine lake in the mountain resort of Strbske Pleso, providing the perfect location for a relaxing break. Facilities include a superb all day dining restaurant featuring mouth-watering international cuisine and local specialities, two bars and a 1,300 sqm Wellness Centre & Spa offering an indoor pools, steam bath, various saunas, beauty and facial treatments and fully equipped fitness centre.

Bedroom
Bedroom

Despite being in the Euro zone, Slovakia represents excellent value for money with a pint of beer, a vodka, soft drink or large sandwich costing only €1, a main course in a restaurant around €3 and an ice cream just  €0.50.

To find out more visit www.mountainparadise.co.uk/summer or telephone 01614 088988

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Belvilla’s Eastern Promise

Prague
Design Apartment Interior & View

Belvilla’s Eastern Promise is a company dedicated to helping you make the most of your travel money in countries that do not use the Euro.  The holiday company provides holidaymakers with premier self-catering accommodation which will not blow your budget. Here at Charlotte’s VVeb we have picked our favourites:

Design Apartment
Praha, CZ Republic
4*, sleeps 6, £809 per w
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The Design Apartment (100m) located in The Art Residence, a historic 19th century building in the center or Prague is a spacious, bright apartment with a Jacuzzi situated on the ground floor. The rear rooms overlook the garden and the front rooms look onto a beautiful historic building. The surrounding area features authentic Czech restaurants, pubs, shops and major attractions including Vitkov hill, the avant-garde TV Tower and a modern Jewish cemetery. The immense and charming Riegrovy sady Park is just around the corner offering you a breathtaking view of the Prague Castle and the Old Town rooftops.

Kelemen Exterior & Kitchen
Kelemen Exterior & Kitchen

Kelemen
Budapest, Hungary
3*, sleeps 6, £1003 per week

This 77sq. m. apartment is situated in the heart of Budapest where it resides in a beautiful building – an historic monument no less – within a stone’s through from the well-known square Oktogon with its magnificent Opera House and the famous promenade of “Váci utca,” Vörösmarty Square, the Heroes Square, the City Park and the Széchenyi Baths.

Porec
Vakantiepark Laguna Bellevue

Vakantiepark Laguna Bellevue
Porec, Croatia
4*, sleeps 4, £310 per week

Tasteful, modern and luxurious furnished, the houses of Vakantiepark Laguna Bellevue have a covered balcony (type loggia) with garden furniture affording spectacular views of the sea and provide you with an ideal location from which to explore the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Euphrasius’ Basilica in Porec which dates back to Byzantine times. Look out for the series of Byzantine mosaics, picturing Christ, the Apostles and the Virgin Mary. Euphrasius, Bishop of Porec, had the basilica built on the site of the older city basilica (some of which has been excavated), along with a series of accompanying buildings that together were to create one of the great architectural complexes of the time. Using craftsmen from Constantinople and Ravenna, the bishop’s ambitious idea was to bring in architectural and artistic innovations, the like of which had not been seen in the West at that time. Nearby you can also explore the village of Nova Vas and the famous Baredine Cave which offers a treasure chest of stalagmites and stalactites – those mysterious subterranean sculptures created over time by the slow dripping of water. Some of the rock shapes have taken on recognisable forms, including a realistic rendition of Our Lady, the leaning tower of Pisa, some ten-meter high curtains and a milkmaid who goes by the name of Milka. Other points of interest include a 66-metre deep crater that leads to a series of underground lakes. There are living curiosities as well as those made from stone – watch out for the tiny transparent crabs that crawl along the cave walls.

tatra
Vychodna

Vychodna
Tatra, Slovakia
3*, sleeps 8, £519 per week

Mountain Escapism and Natural Thermal Baths

This new, beautifully furnished holiday home of 120m2 lies in the western High Tatra. Vychodna is the ideal base for mountain walks, mountain biking and interesting excursions. You can relax in the thermal bath in Liptovsky Jan (20 km) or in the Tatralandia Aqua Centre in Litovsky Mikulas (27 km).

In the High Tatra you can visit the wonderful mountain lakes of Hincovo, Modre, Popradske. The impressive Strbske, Kmetov and Skok waterfalls and Belianska and Vazaecka caves are also in close proximity. The Pribylina Open Air Museum, the wooden church in Svaty Kriz, Kezmarok Castle and Strazky Monastery are all well worth a visit as well.

All villas can be booked through www.belvilla.co.uk or by calling 020 8099 0751

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Fantastic Slovakia Summer Holiday Savings

mountain-paradiseMountain Paradise is offering  £50 off of its week long cultural breaks and walking holidays plus a free day pass for luxury water park and spa, Aquacity, worth £50 – a total saving of £100. Both breaks now cost from £549 per person, including saving, for departures on 1, 8, 15, 22 and 29 August.

The packages comprise: return flights to Slovakia from Bristol, London Luton, London Gatwick, Edinburgh or Newcastle, return airport transfers, 7 nights B & B in Penzion Fortuna, Penzion Plesnivec or Penzion Sabato, plus a day’s Aquacity pass. Also included in the price are five days of guided walks (easy, moderate or difficult) or five guided cultural day trips.

Strbske Pleso
Strbske Pleso

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Go Green – Make Money

Affordable, luxurious and eco-friendly are three adjectives rarely used together at the same time. Yet all three apply to a remarkable water park in Slovakia. Geraldine Faulkner, the former editor of Sustainable Solutions, reports.

Dear guests, if the waiter does not bring you a receipt, please do not bother yourself with paying.

This surprising and completely true statement appears on the restaurant menu of the huge indoor spa resort, AquaCity in Poprad, eastern Slovakia, which claims it is the only water park in the world to use geothermal energy as its primary energy source, produces almost zero emissions and which plans to be 99% energy self-sufficient by the end of 2008.

Set in the foothills of the High Tatras, which at 8,000 ft are the tallest peaks of the Carpathian Mountains (the highest mountain range in middle Europe), AquaCity sits above a vast underground lake of hot mineral water 1,200m below the surface that is naturally heated to a temperature of 49ºC and which is believed to measure some 70km by 30km and is up to 500m deep in parts.

Poprad
Poprad

Thanks to this massive natural resource, the spa can rely on an inexhaustible supply of natural heat to provide all the water, heating and electricity that it needs for decades to come.

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Mountain Moments in Slovakia

Levoca
Levoca

Slovakia is one of those little bits of Europe that has formed after the tides of imperialism, royalism, fascism and communism ebbed. Its most recent shaping happened after the sub-division of the former Czechoslovakia, following the collapse of the communist government 20 years ago and its amicable, non-violent separation from the Czech Republic, known fondly as the `Velvet Divorce’.

Slovakia’s mountainous north-east region is the country’s main tourism destination and includes the ranges and plains of The Tatry Mountains, made up of the High Tatras and the Low Tatras. The region was a favourite holiday haunt for Europe’s nobility and the seemingly untouchable Austro-Hungarian Hapsburg family during the 19th and early 20th centuries; the grand, gothic hotels from that era are today still adorned with chandeliers, silver and gilt.

Lomnicky Stit is the highest point of one of the High Tatras’s highest peaks, one of eleven in the range that exceed 2,500 metres. Here, bizarrely, I was served Jamaican Blue Mountain Coffee, freshly ground and brewed from the world’s most expensive and sought after beans.

Viewing Platform, Lomnicky Stit
Viewing Platform, Lomnicky Stit

The peak at Lomnicky Stit in the High Tatras is home to a surprisingly bijoux restaurant, a weather station, an Alpine flower garden and one cosy apartment for four. It is only accessible by the very fittest, who hike up its flanks, or by an extremely scary single gondola lift, dangling on a wire that sags like a heavily laden washing line. The coffee comes all the way from Jamaica, only to be hauled up like everyone else in the bubble in the sky.  The washing line gondola lift is the third longest span between two points in the world and undoubtedly among the highest, all of which was apparent as we moved, imperceptibly slowly, at heights of up to 1000 feet above the ground.

The High Tatras, a natural border between Slovakia and Poland, became a national park in 1949, and is one of three national parks in the region. It is heavily protected by an environmentally aware management who severely regulate development of its tree lined slopes with the protective instincts of a lioness.

In this land of extremes and surprises, I arrived on the mountain to the whoops of joy from the owners of the ski resort at Tatranska Lomnica who, that very day, had received news that, after 4 years of lobbying, their proposed 33 million euro development of the ski slopes and lifts could go ahead in time for the 2008-9 ski season. Good news for skiers looking for skiable snow and lift pass prices that are around 30% lower than most Austrian and Swiss resorts.

View from gondola station on Lomnicky Stit
View from gondola station on Lomnicky Stit

The surprises became more surprising as the day unfolded. A woodland walk beside a fast flowing river after a funicular rail trip up from the Alpine town of Stary Smokovec found me alternately sipping piping hot herb tea and mountain cold schnapps in `Rainer’s Cottage’, a small stone structure housing a rustic café that struck me as ideally suited for habitation by trolls.

Here on a rough hewn table, surrounded by walls fashioned from boulders, our troll-like host unravelled tales of delivery men strapping Socialist-style range cookers to their backs and delivering them to remote mountain cottages, the earliest form of white van man. In an area keen to hold onto its heritage, there are mountain back-packing and carrying competitions held to this day in the High Tatras. Slovakia would be a strong contender for Olympic gold stove-hauling.

Slovakia’s second natural border with southern Poland is the charming and fast flowing river of Dunajec. Walnut skinned men wearing blue felt, embroidered waistcoats and hats decorated with cowrie shells punted us downstream past Poles on the left, Slovaks on the right, occasionally pointing, grunting and nodding at passing scenes of possible interest to us.  We followed their nods and passed the shadowy image of an Eagle that magically appeared in a sheer rock formation, the triple granite peaks of a monster, and the guest house where Hitler spent a couple of nights in the late 1930s.

Delivery
Delivery

Today the Hapsburgs may turn their graves to learn of the most recent fate of Europe, now divided and subdivided into 48 countries, including the new Slovakia. An early grave sprung to mind and my skin flushed alternately hot and cold as I eased myself into a self-powered go-kart to hurtle the 3km run back down the mountain. One of the last surprises during a stay in one of New Europe’s surprisingly unspoilt, emerging destinations.

Slovakia fact file:

Where to stay: The Grand Hotel Smokovec, www.grandhotel.sk or the Grand Hotel Praha, www.ghpraha.sk

How to get there: Flights to Slovakia can be booked with Sky Europe from London Luton to Poprad and Manchester or Dublin to Kosice. www.skyeurope.com

For information about the High Tatras visit www.vt.sk and Jasna in the Low Tatras, www.jasna.sk


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Holiday Offer of the Week

slovakia-bear

Mountain Paradise is currently offering £200 off new wildlife watching tours in the Slovakian Tatras meaning you only need spend £995 for a week or £699 for a short break in a spectacular region with incredible wildlife.  The High Tatras are unspoilt and one of the smallest mountain ranges in the world.  They are situated in the northern part of the Slovak republic on the border with Poland.  The region is rich with flora featuring almost 1400 species of plants.  However, the real ornament of the Tatras is the Cedar pine.  It is an alpine species of pine tree, which grows on the steepest parts of hillsides.  Wildlife is also in abundance; above the rocky relief of the Tatras you can often see a Golden Eagle and Chamois and Marmots are both endemic to the area.  Wolves and brown bears can also be found in the Tatra’s forests.

Mountain Paradise, (www.mountainparadise.co.uk 0161 408 8988) is offering exhilarating wildlife tours in Slovakia’s Tatra Mountains for the first time this summer with a special introductory discount of £200 off of a week’s stay and £100 off a short break if booked by 30 June.  Packages start at £995 for a seven night holiday and £699 for a three night break.
Packages comprise: return flights from London, Luton or Manchester, airport transfers, full board accommodation in private rangers’ cottages and in chalets, transport to wildlife locations, two days of wildlife watching on the short break and five on the week stay.

These unique tours, led by expert guides and mountain rangers, take participants to areas of the Western and Belianske Tatra National Park previously inaccessible to tourists.  They offer the chance to see a selection of Slovakia’s abundant and diverse wildlife including: brown bears, wolves, roe and red deer, the elusive lynx and the endangered Tatra chamois.  Pine martins and many birds of prey including golden eagles and falcons also inhabit the area.  The tours run on selected dates between June and October.

slovakia-cat

Mountain Paradise does not use animal hides or bait the wildlife instead they rely of the expertise of the rangers to track animals ensuring that clients see them in their natural habitat. The company also restricts numbers to six per guided group.  The tours are part of the bear research programme being carried out by Tatra foundation, a not-for-profit organisation that provides funding for conservation initiatives throughout Tatra Mountains National Park. Clients will be able to see the results of some of the bear research while on these tours. Mountain Paradise will also donates £100 to the Tatra Foundation for every booking made.

The wildlife tours require a moderate level of fitness as they feature walks of approximately three hours around the valleys of the Tatra National Park with ascents and descents during wildlife watching.  The holidays are not suitable for children under the age of 14.

Despite being in the Euro zone, Slovakia represents excellent value for money with a pint of beer, a vodka, soft drink or large sandwich costing only €1, a main course in a restaurant around €3 and an ice cream just €0.50.  Slovakia is just 2-hours by air from the UK (flights from London, Luton or Manchester) and the short transfer to the mountains means that holidaymakers spend the maximum amount of time on location.

Mountain Paradise’s 2009 wildlife tours are running on the following dates:
27 June to 4 July, 7 nights, ppp £995 if booked before 30/6, £1200 after
14-17 August, 3 nights, ppp £699 if booked before 30/6, £799 after
22-29 August, 7 nights, ppp £995 if booked before 30/6, £1200 after
29 Aug-5 Sept, 7 nights, ppp £995 if booked before 30/6, £1200 after
5-12 September, 7 nights, ppp £995 if booked before 30/6, £1200 after
12-19 September, 7 nights, ppp £995 if booked before 30/6 £1200 after
25-28 September, 3 nights, ppp £699 if booked before 30/6, £799 after
2-5 October, 3 nights, ppp £699 if booked before 30/6, £799 after
9-12 October, 3 nights, ppp £699 if booked before 30/6, £799 after
17-24 October, 7 nights, ppp £995 if booked before 30/6, £1200 after
24-31 October, 7 nights, ppp £995 if booked before 30/6, £1200 after

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