By Leigh G Banks
If you ever decide to take tea in a koliba as eccentric as the one in Stara Lesna, take a fire extinguisher too. They spike your tea with a lethal dose of Slivovica and serve it in flames.
It gives you a heartburn that can only be put out by a bottle of red wine while the resident gypsy trio plays bohemian rhapsodies in this tiny village off Route 534, two miles from Tatranska Lomnica.
A stately Kalinka, Kalinka, Kalinka Ki-ya on a double bass, violin and a percussive cimbal gets the diners dancing hand-in-hand round the stone rotisserie where tiny game birds hiss and spit.
The gypsies kylinka to a halt. The diners return to their tables and raise their glasses solemnly.
Then the waiters take over, singing as they serve brynza (chopped onion and crusty bread) before the main course of kapustova polievka – dumplings with sheeps‘ cheese and fried bacon.
Kolibas really are the places to eat – smoky and boisterous, charming, funny and cheap.
They are the historic memories of the sheep sheds dotted across the mountains. For centuries those sheds were beacons to snowbound hunters. Roofs like witch’s hats pulled down against the elements, hickory smell of smoke, heavy soups, incendiary brandy and a roaring fire.
Restaurants, cafés and burger bars are springing up all over the place as Slovakia tourism booms and, because of them, an important part of the past is fading into the background.
But the real kolibas are worth tracking down. You can recognise them by the folk music behind closed doors.
Climbers and skiers like the koliba in Tatranska Lomnica because of its good beer and proximity to the ski slopes of Skalnate Pleso. Music lovers like it there too, particularly in August – it’s only a short trip to Zakopane into Poland for the International Highland Music Festival.
The kolibas and folk music are the cultural heart of Slovakia‘s society. They are the taverns they still write songs about.