Snowcapped peaks, ski slopes and hot chocolate. Sound like the Alps? Actually, this is the Tatras, the highest mountains in the Carpathians and a natural border between Poland and Slovakia.
The Tatras are Poland’s winter playground. People come here to ski, but they also come here to spa, to take off the winter chill. For this they stay at the Hotel Belvedere in the Tatras’ main resort of Zakopane.
We checked in in the snow. Outside, people with long poles were encouraging great wodges of the white stuff to make their way safely from the hotel’s roof to the ground and the lobby seemed to be gradually filling up with multiple gloves, hats and scarves as guests stepped into the warmth and disrobed in delighted relief.
Because the Hotel Belvedere is a real retreat from the frozen Zakopane streets outside. Here you’ll find cosy rooms with warm carpets, and en suite bathrooms with heated towel rails and underfloor heating. There is plenty of character too, from furniture made from local wood to slanting roofs and triangular windows.
We spend our days skiing on Zakopane’s nearby slopes and evenings riding by horse-drawn sleigh to filling dinners that tend to involve dumplings and always, always include vodka. But on our final day we decide to stay inside, and so we spend our time in the hotel’s spa area. I can’t say the pool décor – complete with integral fishtanks and watched over by an inexplicable retro deep sea diver’s suit – was quite to my taste, but the facilities are faultless. There is plenty of space for families to splash around in in the 20-metre swimming pool, while around it we find steam rooms, a sauna and a Jacuzzi plus a paddling pool and water slide for the kids. You could spend hours in here, before taking a seat in the lobby bar, from which you can watch over it all, vodka in hand.
If you still can’t face leaving the hotel, there is also a games room in the basement with two bowling alleys, virtual golf and its own bar, plus two squash courts and a gym. And there are three restaurants on-site too, serving traditional Polish cuisine.
We may not have left the hotel on our final day but we didn’t want for anything – and for an hour or two we even forgot it was snowing outside.