Monday, 15 August 2011

A Liptov Weekend: Hotel-Hopping on a Whim

Last weekend found us in Demanova Dolina, right under the illustrious Chopok peak in Nizke Tatry (Low Tatra) mountains. We drove there late on Friday afternoon more or less on impulse.

A Standard Room at the hotel Ostredok is large and done up in a neat colour scheme
I was secretly hoping to score a room at the Hotel Ostredok - it came recommended from a friend whose agency organised some of the glamourous guests and I have complete faith in her recommendations. But when I called Ostredok only had a room for Friday.

We were pleasantly surprised to find that other nice hotel we stopped by were full for at least one of the nights of this mid-August weekend. Tri Studnicky, a four-star from the Tatry Mountain Resorts (Slovak financial group J&T) portfolio was only available Saturday (and Chopok Wellness Hotel 4* as well as the appealing Penzion Drak were full).

Hotel Ostredok
Slovak three stars guarantee nothing but I was expecting much from Ostredok. We ended up liking most everything there, finding it adequate to the price charged, with the exception of the restaurant and crappy pillow.

Room 308 on the third floor (no lift) was really, really large and would have actually easily fit four beds (it turned out there was a third fold out bed already in the room posing as an ottoman). We loved the yellow (laminate wall panelling and oversized number on the room door inside) and grey (carpet) colour scheme, which my resident interior design expert pointed out was a rare departure from the usual Slovak brown and brown ambience.

The bed was OK but the pillow and duvet where from such slippery materials that they virtually undressed themselves on contact. The pillow was understuffed with what felt like pure plastic and I found it truly uncomfortable to sleep on. The hotel simply needs new duvets and pillows (the covers were of decent quality but kept sliding off as they did not close in any way).

The hotel's only restaurant is La Collina and it serves Italian food. It let us down with incompetent staff. We were served by three really friendly and polite young waiters/bartenders but they simply did not know their job. They started us off with a great impression, promising the kitchen could do and has done in the past pasta without gluten. In all fairness, this one promise they delivered on.

The soup of the day was a very tasty pumpkin but a really small portion of insubstantial thin soup was EUR 3. And then the incompetence started. Our main course arrived and we never received any further attention from the waiters. They missed out on the chance to sell us wine (!), more beer, desert, coffee. They deprived their employer of maybe EUR 25 in extra revenue and themselves of perhaps EUR 4 in tips. When after not being able to flag down a waiter in over 40 minutes I went to pay at the bar, I was explained that I cannot put a tip on my credit card because "it goes to the company in Bratislava."

The food itself was not bad. The wine menu looked OK (though for some odd reason the years were given for foreign wines but not given for Slovak wines), the views were great. If there was a head waiter who knew the basics of serving guests at a mid-market restaurant we would have had a great time.

If I were the owner of Ostredok I would go to complain to the construction contractor about this tile work.
On other issues, if I were to nit pick I would mention the shoddy plasterwork in the bathroom, which two years after refurbishing looks like it has been there for 20 years. In the morning the water pressure in our third floor room was less than adequate as well (though my wife had a nice warm shower in the evening).

But on the plus side, all the staff were friendly, breakfast was decent, architecture was a great example that a good designer can make a place look nice and feel pleasant on a budget. We enjoyed the hotel and anything (other than the cracked plaster between the tiles) can be fixed with a little bit of training. After all Ostredok gets really hot in its main season, which is winter, when you can better appreciate being literally tens of metres from the slope and ski lift in one of Slovakia's prime skiing resorts.

Tri Studnicky
On Saturday we moved to Tri Studnicky, the 70% more expensive four-star hotel. Again, a Slovak four star rating actually does not guarantee a good hotel and there are plenty of unpleasant four star hotels around the country you would regret staying at.

Not so the Tri Studnicky. We loved the hotel and found the high price justified by their faultless service, genuinely tasteful designer interiors, great breakfast and neat if small spa.

A Standard Room at the Tri Studnicky was small but really pleasant.
The lobby was beautifully furnished and decorated, a rare occurrence in Slovak hotel design. Out Standard Room was small but very functional and it never felt cramped. We had a view of the stream, which was really charming. I appreciated the info packet, which is still all too rare in many hotels. There were typos to fix but at least the packet was there.

We took advantage of our free two-hour entry in the small but tasteful Spa. It is only open from 3 pm to 8 pm but was not full. We used the two jacuzzi baths (indoor and outdoor) and there were also two saunas. The fitness room looked like a place I would want to use if we were staying any longer.

We ate dinner at the Tri Studnicky restaurant (which claims to be 'excellent' on a banner by the hotel above the main road) and I must simply say it was excellent. A competent, experienced server (whose only fault was he did not come to say goodbye before he left to be replaced by another friendly and competent colleague).

If the hotel manager (who has been awarded a top national award in 2011) were to ask me about room for improvement I would maybe send her to Wellness Patince to see how every staff member there automatically greets any passing guest. On the same note the spa lady could have given us a quick tour on arrival (would not have had to leave her chair for that given the size of the spa). But that's really about the only minor gripe I could come up with if pressed. The up-market looking clientele seemed appreciative of the hotel's qualities.

Remember, the Low Tatras are about these beautiful mountains, not about hotels.
Where to stay in Liptov then? You will do well with Penzion Drak, Hotel Ostredok or Tri Studnicky and there were many other place we passed by that look passable to promising.

It is wonderful to see such great tourism infrastructure in place in Liptov. This beautiful piece of Slovakia is well worth visiting as a family destination, sports or nature-lover destination, however far you are coming from.