by Richard Kvasnovsky
BRATISLAVA, July 29 (Xinhua) -- Slovakia's High Tatra Mountains are the nation's natural jewel and pride. The high rocky mountain chain along the border with Poland rises more than 2,000 meters, includes the first European cross border national park and is a UNESCO biosphere reserve.
More than 70 percent of Slovaks feel the High Tatras are the most attractive destination in the country, according to a recent survey. As much as 63.4 percent of tourists in the High Tatras in 2013 were Slovaks.
When it comes to foreign visitors, Czechs were followed by Poles.
According to the Lenka Matasovska, executive director of the team managing the attraction, the main goal for the coming years is to attract more tourists from Western Europe, Russia and Asia.
The most important condition for reaching this goal is modernizing the nearest, but very small airport in Poprad.
Poprad airport was used by 24,815 passengers last year, which represents a moderate annual drop. "We're currently holding talks with several air carriers, and we're aiming to restore regular flights. In two cases, we succeeded," director of the airport, Ivana Herkelova, said.
New routes include Poprad-Riga which will be operated once a week by Latvian carrier airBaltic from next winter. The second connection is Poprad to London-Luton. "The service will be operating three times a week via low-cost airline Wizzair with the Airbus 320 aircraft, which can carry 180 passengers," pointed out Herkelova.
For those interested in hiking holidays in the High Tatras during the summer, the mountains beckon with nearly 30 peaks higher than 2,500 meters.
However, only two of them are freely accessible by tourists. If visitors want to climb some of the highest peaks of the High Tatras, they must be accompanied by a mountain guide.
Hiking to the highest peak -- the Gerlach at 2,665 meters -- costs 200 euros (268 U.S dollars) per person.
Tourists can look forward to wonderful nature with minimal human influence. Many rare animals and plant species, which have disappeared from the other Central European countries, are native to the High Tatras. One can fine brown bears, wolves, lynxes, goat-antelopes, chamoises and beavers.
"Beavers were deemed an extinct species in Slovakia by the middle of the 19th century. First reports on their return to Slovak nature came from the catchments area of the Danube and Morava Rivers," said High Tatra Mountains National Park director Pavol Majko.