Hiking in the Poloniny National Park

Humenné was a pleasant place to stay for a few nights, and whilst the local nature would have been interesting enough for hiking, I decided to scour the map and investigate other options. Approximately 50 km to the east is Poloniny national park, which was also Slovakia’s first dark sky park due to its remote location and low levels of light polution. Whilst possible as a day trip from Humenné, I decided to base myself in Nová Sedlica and maximise my time in this rather untravelled region of Slovakia.

Getting there

I took the train from Humenné to Stakčín, and then a local bus to Nová Sedlica. Travelling through Stakčín I passed a Soviet tank and liberation monument, and the Orthodox Church of the Holy Trinity, which was built in the Byzantine style during the 20th century. The 40 km bus journey took two hours, primarily as we made lengthy detours to Topoľa and Runina, then Ruský Potok, as well as stopping on the main route at Kolbasov, Ulič and Zboj. On the plus side I was able to see a few additional sites and villages; including the wooden church in Ruský Potok.

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Leaving Humenne

The village of Ruský Potok

The village of Ruský Potok

Nová Sedlica

This small village has a population of around 300 and is the eastern most settlement in Slovakia. It really is the end of the road, and those who venture this far are most likely there for the fantastic hiking opportunties in the national park.

The focal point of the village is the church; religion of course still plays in prominant role in Slovakian society, especially in rural areas. The original church was the Greek Catholic wooden church of St Michael the Archangel, although it was moved to Humenne in 1966, and is now a feature of the Skanzen open-air museum.

Church of Dormition of the Mother of God

Village life

A google search for ‘Nova sedlica ubytovanie’ returns two similarly priced accommodation options; Hostinec Beskyd and Reštaurácia a ubytovanie Kremenec. I had opted for the latter at €17 per night for a single room with en suite bathroom. My only complaint with this place was that it was incorrectly marked on both mapy.cz and google maps, so it took me ages to find it. After seeing the entire village (at least twice), I asked some policeman for directions, at which they all simulatenously pointed to the other side of the stream. It’s probably worth mentioning that there aren’t really any shops here, so bring everything you need. Anyway, I was very impressed with Penzion Kremenec. It was clean, modern and comfortable, and an absolute bargain for €17.

Reštaurácia a ubytovanie Kremenec

It’s no secret that I usually order bryndzové halušky when eating in a restaurant. It is Slovakia’s national dish, and consists of potato dumplings with bryndza, a cheese derived from sheep milk. Whilst its distinctive flavour and smell isn’t for everyone, most Slovaks seem to love it. A good hearty meal that is quick and cheap to produce – it’s a must try. It’s usually topped with bacon (easily omitted for the vegetarians) and occasionally a dollop of cream. Anyway, this stuff was superb, most likely the best I’ve eaten in Slovakia. With respect to beer, Šariš is the local option when in eastern Slovakia – not my favourite, but nothing else available.

Halušky served with cream and proper chunks of bacon!

Quenching the thirst

After dinner I returned to my room to watch the Euro 2016 final between France and Portugal: whilst a very boring match and despite being very tired, I was determined to see it out. Thankfully Portugal scored and held on for the win. Lights out for me, and Euro2016.

THE HIKE TO KREMENEC

7 am. An early start. Whilst later than I would have liked, it was a reasonable effort considering I’m not really a morning person. After a quick shower and a bite to eat, I set out towards Kremenec (with two and half litres of water). There are two hiking trails from Nova Sedlica to Kremenec – the green route to the west of Prikry (952 m), and the red route to the east. Both take over four hours according to the mapy.cz route planner. My plan was to do a loop by ascending via the green trail, walk along the Slovak-Polish border to Kremenec, and return via the red trail in time for the bus to Stakcin at 16:47. The only other information I could find online regarding this area was a trip by a German hiker, which was a useful read whilst planning the trip.

The first few kilometres were relatively straightforward. However, the green trail markers seemed to disappear fairly quickly and the trail was incorrectly marked on mapy.cz (it’s now fixed!), so I wasn’t exactly sure where I was. Walking through some thick vegetation and muddy paths, I eventually returned to the marked trail. Still not entirely sure of my exact location, I kept going, skirting around what I thought must be Stužica, a Primeval Beech Forest (an ancient forest and UNESCO World Heritage Site). The terrain was quite steep at this point, and pretty tough going. I’d consumed just over half my water, and was beginning to wonder how much more climbing there would be; at which point the Polish border just appeared.

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The Slovakian-Polish border at Čierťaž

1 hr 45 min to Kremenec

This next section was relatively flat (it’s only a 120 metre climb over 4 km), so it was good to have the majority of climbing out of the way. It wasn’t long before I stumbled upon the grave of a Soviet soldier killed in 1944. The Battle of the Dukla Pass, contested between the advancing Soviet Union and the retreating Nazi Germany, began in September 1944 and lasted until the end of October. The primarly goal was for the Soviets to cross the Carpathians via the Dukla Pass and capture Presov within five days. Whilst it took them 50 days to reach Svidnik, with significant casualties on both sides, the Soviets abandoned attempts to capture Presov and pushed east, successfully completing the liberation of modern day Ukraine. Apparently there are a number of graves in this region, as well as several memorials between Dukla (Poland) and Svidník (Slovakia), in what became known as the Valley of Death. Many sports clubs in Czechoslovakia incorportated ‘Dukla’ into their names, in honour of those who died during this battle.

Grave of a fallen Soviet soldier

Grave of a fallen Soviet soldier

The next two kilometres proved to be the most spectacular. I stopped briefly at both Hrúbky (1186 m) and Kamenná lúka (1201 m) to enjoy the panoramic views and take a few photos. The weather was perfect, and the air was clear. This is what hiking is all about!

Westwards view from Hrúbky (1186 m) along the Slovak-Polish border

Kamenná lúka (1201 m) looking towards Slovakia and Ukraine

Kamenná lúka (1201 m) looking west along the Polish-Slovak border

Finally, just before 11 am, and after three and half hours of walking, I reached the Ukrainian border and the most eastern point of Slovakia! There were a couple of Slovak hikers enjoying their lunch, and my ‘Dobrý deň’ somewhat startled them. One of them spoke some limited English, enough to have a broken conversation, they insisted that I join them for a beer. They were curious as to what the UK hoped to achieve by leaving the EU – a question I’m still unable to answer.

A large triangular stone obelisk erected in 2001 marks the point at which Slovakia, Poland and Ukraine converge. On each side is a national coat of arms and inscription of ‘Kremenec’ in the native language.

Slovakia-Poland-Ukraine Tripoint

Slovakia-Poland-Ukraine Tripoint at Kremenec (1221 m)

A slightly newer addition to this landscape is a time capsule buried by the Ukrainian border guards on 21st May 2016, which is due to be recovered on the 28th May 2031. I’m curious as to what it contains. A bottle of vodka must surely feature. In light of the current political instability in Ukriaine, perhaps a more imperative question is ‘What will Ukraine look like in 2031?’.

A Ukrainian time capsule

I wandered along the Polish-Ukrainian border for around 500 metres in search of another spectacular panoramic view; unfortunately there were too many trees. Time was marching on, and I didn’t feel I would have enough time to continue to both Wielka Rawka (1304 m) and Mała Rawka (1271 m) in Poland, and make it back in time for the bus to Stakčín. I was also slightly wary of the route back, having strayed off course of the way up.

Polish and Ukrainian border posts

I reluctantly decided to abandon my intial plan and return via the same route (but without the accidental detour). The main downside was that my water was quite low at this point, and there were no streams to fill up at. Still, the majority of the walk was under the cover of trees, and it was downhill. It also gave me another chance to enjoy the views along the Polish-Slovak border.

Which way home?

The path descending from Čierťaž seemed a little steeper than on the way up, although it wasn’t long before I reached Lúky pod Príkrym, the point in which I’d rejoined the path earlier that morning. Another section with a very steep descent followed – the legs were getting a little heavy at this stage, so it was good to make it to the flatter ground near Nova Sedlica.

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Zbojský potok with Príkry (952 m) in the background.

I arrived back at the penzion around 14:30, and was able to freshen up before returning my room key. After a few hours relaxing on the terrace at the restaurant with a couple of beers and more halušky, it was time to begin my journey back to Bratislava.

Nová Sedlica bus terminus

Nová Sedlica bus terminus

Final thoughts

This was a fantastic trip, and I’d highly recommend it to anyone who is interested in hiking. In hindsight, I would stayed an extra night to allow an extended walk without having to worry about getting back for the bus. Another walk which I had looked at was the 10 km blue trail between Uličské Krivé and Topoľa, although this would have only been suitable for a half-day trip.

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