The phone on my hip buzzed as my party reached the base of the mountains after a long decent and an even longer climb. Despite my broken understanding of Slovak, I knew what the notification said. “Congratulations! You walked farther today than anytime in the past year!” I couldn’t help but smirk. It told me the same thing during my hike one week prior. At this rate, I will trek straight over the Tatras and into Poland come October!

It was truly a satisfying hike. The turquoise water of energetic falls whisked under pines that audibly sighed in the wind. Past mountain cottages we hiked, their warmth and aroma spilling out and inviting us in—but our goal was higher. Quickly, the forests gave way to the light scrub of the upper mountain and we could see the old stone walls of our destination, set against a background of the Tatras’ highest peaks. Téryho Chata (or cottage) did not stay in our sights long—built atop the crest of small plateau between the mountains, it vanished as we began to ascend from the bottom of the cliff—but the knowledge that respite was near kept me going forward. Fearsome winds sped at our backs, nearly pushing us down at times; it pierced jackets and chilled flesh in way that belied the season.

It proved worth the effort, however, when I climbed the steps of the cottage. Hot air from the kitchen and the crowds of resting hikers gave the inn a stale but cozy aura. It was almost as if the air itself wrapped around you like a blanket. After enjoying tea and a bowl of warm kapusnica (cabbage and sausage soup), we headed back out and down the mountain.

I must say, the brooks, falls, and stony cliffs of this area tempt me to return alone. So that I may sit and enjoy their company for hours. I can see myself amidst these woods many-a weekend, studying, reading, or simply watching nature. It was truly a magical place, comparable to the fairy-tale landscapes depicted in fantasy. And also, somewhat reminiscent of the rolling, blue ridges of my home.