At Aquacity, in Slovakia, you can hit the flumes, tubes and jets of the giant water park, take to the ski slopes and woodland trails, or experience sub-zero temperatures in the cryotherapy chamber
AquaCity in Poprad, Slovakia, is not an easy place to categorise. On one level it’s a giant water park, offering holiday-makers of all ages endless opportunities to swim, slide and splash, whatever the weather. But it’s more than that. It is also the world’s greenest resort, saving energy by utilising heat from a huge geothermal lake some 2,500 metres below the foothills of the High Tatra mountains. It’s also a thriving conference centre, spa and, oh yes, the coldest place on earth!
As a family resort, it’s probably pretty much perfect. There are outdoor swimming pools where the water is heated naturally to around 36°C. There are flumes, jets, slides, toboggan tubes, kids' water parks and toddlers’ play pools. If you need a break, the Oskar Kids Club will entertain your little darlings while you take a spa treatment, and at night you can watch a spectacular laser show in one of the indoor pools.
When you need to relax tired muscles, you could try the sauna and solarium, but if you’re really serious about relaxation, or if you suffer from more serious conditions such as arthritis or wear and tear on joints, then head for the CryoTherapy Centre.
Originally developed in Eastern Europe as a way of accelerating the healing process in top athletes, cryotherapy is now available to anyone, subject to a satisfactory medical assessment. I’d been mountain biking the day before and was suffering from a few twinges, so I decided to give it a go. Having never previously experienced anything below about minus 25°C (and then always through several thermal layers and a down jacket), I found the prospect of spending two minutes at minus 120°C in nothing more than socks and shorts difficult to contemplate. But then I thought, what’s the worst that could happen? Fortunately, there were no passing brass monkeys eager to offer a suggestion!
After a brief medical and blood pressure check, I was given my socks and shorts, a headband to protect my ears, mittens, a pair of wooden clogs and a mask to prevent cold air being inhaled directly into my lungs. Not the sort of image you want turning up unexpectedly on YouTube but at least we all looked equally ridiculous. We were told to breathe normally in the chamber and avoid touching our skin.
We acclimatised by spending about a minute in an ante-chamber, cooled to a cosy minus 60°C, before a door opened automatically and we walked through what looked like a cloud of dry ice into the main chamber. There were three of us taking the treatment. We were instructed to walk in a clockwise direction for the first minute and then reverse the direction for the final minute - presumably to keep our blood circulating and prove we were still in charge of our faculties.
It’s difficult to describe the experience. The first minute or so wasn’t too bad but with about 30 seconds to go, my skin unaccountably started to burn. Once out of the chamber, we were immediately ushered upstairs to the gym, where we set about reheating our bodies on the exercise bikes. So did it work? Well, I have to admit that in the bar that evening my aches and pains seemed to have completely disappeared. To experience optimum benefit, however, you really need to take a course of at least five to seven sessions.
Where to stay
There are two hotels on the complex: the three-star AquaCity Seasons Hotel and the four-star Mountain View Hotel. I stayed in the Mountain View, where the rooms were spacious and fitted to a high standard. Slovakia is now part of the Eurozone, so prices will vary with season and exchange rates, but I found them sensible considering the facilities available. At the time of writing, a double room in early June would cost around €150 per night.
AquaCity is located on the outskirts of Poprad, about 10 minutes' drive from the international airport, which is served by direct flights from Luton. Poprad itself is a small town, pleasant rather than spectacular but with a number of lively bars and good restaurants located in the main street. The town centre is about a 15-20-minute level walk from AquaCity, but reception staff seemed happy to advise on bus routes or call a taxi.
The small town of Spisska Sobota is also within easy walking distance and well worth a visit. The well-preserved central square is a unique collection of Gothic and Renaissance architecture, dominated by St George Church. The whole place has a sleepy timelessness about it that I found particularly enchanting. If you need to take a couple of hours out, then this is the place to chill and watch the world go by.
The High Tatra mountains are a mini alpine range (highest peak 2,655 m), forming a natural border between Slovakia and Poland. They are about 15 minutes' drive away, but you can also reach them by the electric train system, which operates on a continuous loop. The mountains are spectacularly beautiful, offering excellent walking in the summer and good intermediate skiing in the winter. If you enjoy walking, take the train to Stary Smokovec, then take the funicular up to Hrebienok and follow some of the woodland trails.