by Paul Wojnicki

IF I wasn’t looking at Donovaly’s live webcam on my phone I wouldn’t believe there was going to be any snow in the resort. After all our coach is in Banska Bystrica- less than an hour away from Slovakia’s best loved family ski resort- and we’ve not seen a single snowflake.

“The temperature in central Europe is unseasonably mild this year,” I was informed by the receptionist when we checked out of the Novotel Budapest around two hours ago. And as we head closer to the Fatra Mountains, part of the western Carpathians, I’m starting to get a little concerned.

But as the coach leaves behind the pretty spires of Slovakia’s sixth largest town we being to see settled snow on the slopes around us. Then, in the blink of an eye, we’re surrounded by the stuff. In fact less than half an hour after we hadn’t seen a single flake we find ourselves in what looks like Narnia, and one of the first things we see as the Flixbus enters Donovaly is huskies pulling sledges past snow covered pine trees, with miles of sparsely populated pistes behind them.

We’ve clearly stumbled upon one of Europe’s best kept skiing secrets, as far as families and beginners are concerned in any case. To put things into context, this is the week between Christmas and New Year- when even a week in Bulgaria costs well over £500 per person with the main UK operators, before factoring in lift passes and ski rental. Yet we’ve managed to find a modern, central apartment sleeping six people for less than £50 a night- or less than £10pppn. Granted the transfer from Budapest does take three hours, but most ski resorts have transfers between two and three hours and you’ll be hard pressed to find a ski holiday with somewhere as interesting as Budapest as an added bonus. Not only that but our transfer back isn’t to Budapest, but Krakow, also well served by budget airlines.

This triple city break, including flights, a night in Budapest, four nights in Donovaly and two nights in Krakow, is weighing in at only half the price of a seven-night ski holiday to Bulgaria.

Back to the skiing. I have to admit that expert skiers and snowboarders are going to find Donovaly limited in range. Only a few kilometres of the resort are black runs, with an interesting snowpark for advanced snowboarders to play on. However for beginners, and families, the slopes are pretty much perfect, with most runs being gentle blues and more challenging reds. Families with smaller children are particularly well catered for with the largest funpark in central Europe and wide uncrowded slopes that don’t merge with advanced slopes at the bottom, so I’m not looking nervously over my shoulder every two seconds.

We’re also happy to find that husky rides only cost €6 per adult, or €4 per child, so Ella and Harrison are able to enjoy a thrilling ride through the forest every day without damaging mum and dad’s finances too much. And, despite the fact that we have a fully equipped kitchen in the apartment, we’re able to eat out most nights thanks to the fact that a meal for four in the restaurant across from the apartment costs less than £35- with drinks! All of which leaves more money for us all to enjoy Krakow in when we have to leave this hidden gem behind.

Fact file:

We used to find a modern six-bed apartment in the resort. £50 per night over the Christmas period. Rooms with breakfast in the town’s best hotel, with excellent spa facilities, can be found for under £100 per night even in peak season.

As with many ski resorts there are a variety o lift passes on offer. We used the eight-hour pass, giving eight hours of skiing over any number of days for €55. Three full days, in comparison costs €86 or €68 with a Snow Card (visit

Patty Ski is at the foot of the main slopes, and with its own fun park for beginners, offer full equipment rental from €18 for one day. Rates decrease for each consecutive day.

Flixbus travel daily between Krakow and Budapest. The midway point (three-and-a-half hours from Krakow and three hours from Budapest) is Donovaly, so it’s the ideal place to break the journey any time of year.