18. October 2008
AquaCity, a new eco-resort in the Slovakian town of Poprad, will be on the itinerary when the Queen and Prince Philip visit central Europe next week. Katie Hughes takes her family for a carbon free holiday.
You wouldn’t describe Poprad as an attractive town.
Bread and tyre factories distract the eye from the magnificent peaks of the Tatras Mountains, and grey tower blocks dominate the industrial townscape – a legacy of Slovakia’s Communist past.
But not all of Poprad is grey. For it is also home to AquaCity, a grand eco-project that rises from the mountains of northern Slovakia. Family water park, health spa, conference centre and two hotels all rolled into one, AquaCity promised our family (my husband and me, plus three children, aged nine, seven and two) a holiday with a zero carbon footprint. Since it opened its doors to the (predominantly eastern) world in 2004, AquaCity, which owns the world’s only luxury solar-powered swimming pool complex, has been voted the world’s leading green resort. Last year alone, it saved €2.5 million on conventional energy costs. The source of its energy? Wind, water and sun. All of which helps to offset the guilt of hopping on a flight to get there – though we took the scenic route, flying to Krakow, followed by a mountain drive of two and a half hours. But neither route would have prepared us for our first glimpse of AquaCity: gaudy flumes and huge shimmering tubes, shooting streams of children into the frothy waters below. Was this Butlins in Slovakia? No, this was something much, much cleverer.
Swathed in stainless steel and glass, AquaCity is all Western veneer. Rooms with sweeping mountain views, sunken poolside bars and lights that are sensitive to the slightest of footsteps. As for the green bit, the hotel receptionist filled us in. “AquaCity’s geothermally heated, mineral-enriched waters spring naturally from a source that is 15,000 years old and 1,400 meters below the ground,” she reeled off. “These waters feed our swimming pools, relaxation pools and therapy pools. They heat the hotel, flow through the taps in its bathrooms and keep the car park ice free throughout the long winter.”
Even better, AquaCity generates 80 per cent of its own electricity. No wonder it has just been voted the world’s leading green resort in the World Travel Awards.
Max (aged two) and I headed for the bubbling waters of the outdoor thermal pool and noticed that our arms looked very spindly next those of the stocky Slovakian families whose chatter rose up with the steam. All of us were dwarfed by the huge mountains that surrounded us – where resorts such as Strbske Pleso, less than an hour from Poprad, offer excellent skiing. As Max and I splashed around, I wondered fleetingly whether the minuscule amount of chlorine used here (a 10th of the amount normally found in public pools) was sufficient to battle against all these bodies – but AquaCity’s nine pools are all lined with stainless steel and filtered up to six times a day to negate the need for heavy use of chlorine. Good news for Max’s eczema. In the distance, I saw my two older children speeding down kamikaze slides in giant rubber rings, dipping in and out of water fountains and riding the surf of the wave machines. The best ride of all, they later told me, was the Black Hole Experience, where they spun through night-black darkness before plunging into the warm water of the pool below. Later, we all braved the chill of the indoor Snow Cave – where the children threw snowballs at a like-minded Slovakian family – then rushed back to the curved couches of the Tepidarium, warmed by Poprad’s geothermal waters. And all this was included in the modest price of our stay.
Aqua City incorporates two hotels – a three-star (Seasons) and a four-star (Mountain View). We stayed at the former – a better bet for families, with its large, split-level family rooms. There we luxuriated in guilt-free baths in geothermally heated water – and down in the restaurant, with a backdrop of the High Tatras, we were served mounds of meat from a Seventies-style buffet. When a nicely warmed bottle of Slovakian red wine arrived (no sign of a wine list), our language limitations prevented us from asking if it, too, had been heated by geothermal waters.
Over dinner we realised that Aqua City was quite unlike anywhere we had stayed before; the snoring lifeguard on duty by the Olympic-sized swimming pool, the slow transit of the dusty old freight train behind the brightly coloured water flumes, and the functional furniture in the otherwise sleekly modern hotel restaurant were small but significant reminders that we were, after all, in eastern Europe. Beneath Aqua City’s slick surface is a charmingly idiosyncratic hotel.