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The Tatra mountains: Cheap, quirky, and with plenty of snow

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Cheap, quirky, and with plenty of snow, the Tatra mountains could really take off, says Matt Carroll

I've only been in Poland a few hours and am already worrying about my safety. Night has descended on the town of Zakopane, two hours' drive from Krakow, and I've just been attacked by a Mad Dog. It went straight for my face before mauling my senses, leaving me in a state of confused embarrassment.

Alright, so it was my own fault really; rather than a vicious breed of local wildlife, "Mad Dog" is the name given to a particularly poky alcoholic concoction given to me by a Polish bloke I'd met on the way here.

"Don't ask me what's in it," he said, "just try it." So I did. Trouble is, instead of swallowing it back and slamming the glass on the table with a manly grunt, I tipped the transparent liquid all over my face. In the ensuing confusion ("Matt, what are you doing?"), I found out that the intense stinging in my eye was due to the fact that a Mad Dog is made up of 95 per cent alcohol, raspberry syrup – and Tabasco sauce.

It felt as though someone was stripping the roof of my mouth with a potato peeler. As my streaming eyes began to recover, I was finally able to take in my surroundings. The bar we were in is called Bakowo Zohylina (say " bonkovo zoheeleena"), a cosy wood-timbered restaurant lying a few minutes' walk from Zakopane's main drag. Upstairs, among the stuffed animals and rustic knick-knacks, waiters in traditional garb brought us delicacies such as sheep's cheese and cranberry sauce, followed by a mixed grill of local game. In the background, exotic gypsy folk tunes belied the fact that we were only two hours' flight from the UK.

With the snowfall being less than predictable in Europe's big-name resorts last season, an increasing number of British skiers are heading east, where it's often cheaper and the powder plentiful.

Many Brits have already ticked the likes of Bansko in Bulgaria off their list, but Zakopane, in southern Poland, is still largely undiscovered. Located in the Tatra mountains, the first tourists started coming here in the 1870s. Since then, people from all over Europe and America have come here to gulp down bucketloads of mountain-fresh air, but when it comes to skiing, it's a relative newcomer.

Sorry, this is the story (by Matt Caroll), and cannot be displayed in full on

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