A Holiday on the Rocks
During the third week of July, 2017, we travelled through the picturesque Český ráj district in the northern reaches of the country.
It’s the Czech Republic’s oldest protected natural area, having been declared so in 1955. In more recent times, it has been listed on the European Network of Geoparks (2005) and the UNESCO list of Geoparks (2015).
Český ráj, or Bohemian Paradise in English, is an area of roughly 740 square kilometers. The bulk of the region sits in North Bohemia with smaller areas spilling over the borders into Central bohemia and Eastern Bohemia. The region is characterised by a number of stone formations, caves, gorges as well as extinct volcanoes.
The area is not only one of the most popular outdoor tourist destinations in the Czech lands, it is also an area of tremendous international importance in a number of Earth sciences for what it shows us about the formation of land dating as far back as the Mesozoic Era (252 – 66 million years ago).
As this blog entry is intended to give you some idea for what you can accomplish in a week in Český ráj and I will be writing extended entries on some of what I’ll touch on here, you can view this entry as more of a chronological travelogue of how we approched it.
At that, let’s go:
Jičín – The Gate to Paradise
A small city along the south east edge of Český ráj, Jičín is one of four or five towns at various points along the area’s periphery that are seen as imaginary gates into the geopark.
The city was our base for the week and it does make a good jumping off point to visit some key attractions in the area if you don’t have a car at your disposal as it has several good train and bus lines running from it.
We travelled by rail between Brno and Jičín, switching trains in Pardubice and Hradec Králové on both directions.
Jičín has significant historic ties to old nobility and has kept a good deal of the old, primarily Baroque, architecture and landscaping intact for visitors to take in.
Beyond the arcaded walkways of the town square, you can walk or cycle along an alley of linden trees that leads to more formerly noble properties including a loggia and associated park. The linden tree alley is a little over a kilometer long and is lined with around 900 trees arranged in four rows. The alley and the park it leads you to are said to be older than the famous gardens of Versailles in France by about 60 years.
We found Jičín to be a pleasant place to stay, though most shops and restaurants seem to close between 19:30 and 20:00 on weeknights and many don’t open at all on Sunday.
If you’re the self-catering type, the city has two decent sized supermarkets within walking distance of the centre.
Jičín also has a number of pharmacies and sports shops where you can stock up on sun screen, insect repelent, hand disinfectants and other such needs before you embark on your journey into Bohemian Paradise.
Day 2 – Prachovské Skály
Taking a short bus ride from Jičín, we started our holiday in earnest at Prachovské skály, the Prachov rocks.
One can trek through the area using two main routes:
The short route (yellow markers) is approximately 1.5 kilometers in length and contains two viewing points. It’s good for getting a basic feel for the region and not too demanding physically.
The long route (green) is approximately 3.5 kilometers long and much more demanding than the yellow route. However, the green route will let you see much more of the rocks through eight viewing points.
As the routes intersect at some points, you can mix them a bit. That was the approach we took. Our route took us through gorges and some narrow passes as we made our way to the various viewing points.
For myself, I found the combination of sandstone formations in the midst of lush forest to be an intriguing contrast. We have similar formations in the area of Canada where I’m from, though they are of the arid Badlands type geography with most vegetation being sparse and of the low growing scrub variety.
I would advise anyone going into the Prachov rocks to wear strong trekking shoes with good grips at the very least as far as footwear goes. The terrain is quite uneven for the most part and you’ll want supportive shoes. I saw some people walking in sandals and other light footwear and I don’t know how they were managing.
Also, as it’s a forested area, wear a hat and have insect repellent with you. Be sure your repellent contains ingredients against ticks as tick borne encephalitis is a real concern through most of Central Europe.
Day 3 – Hrad Trosky
There is perhaps no image more associated with Český ráj than the twin towers of the ruins of Hrad Trosky. The castle is a highly visible landmark from many places in the region and its profile is used in many logos and other graphics associated with tourism in the area.
Dating to the late 14th century, Trosky Castle is a veteran of both the Hussite wars and the Thirty Years War. It was left a ruin after being set fire to in 1648 during the latter conflict.
Trosky is not the easiest place to access if you don’t have a car. However, the views of the surrounding area from the towers are ample reward for efforts made to get there.
Several tourist trails will get you to Trosky, but you should do your research into how long and demanding they may be. I recommend getting in contact with the Český ráj tourism office and asking specifically which trails are more and less demanding.
We travelled from Jičín by train to the village of Ktová and took a trail from there to Trosky. It was a great deal more demanding physically than we had been led to believe on the internet. It included significant inclines and many stretches of the trail were overgrown with bush. Thankfully, there are a couple of restaurants by the castle so we could recharge ourselves before exploring the castle itself.
Motomuzeum at Borek
We decided while at Trosky that we would not return the same way we had arrived from and spent some time exploring our options over lunch.
We decided we would take a seemingly easier trail to the nearby town of Borek pod Troskami and take the train back to Jičín from there.
It was a stroke of good luck for us that a taxi was arriving at the restaurant just as we were leaving and we negotiated a ride to Borek and saved a ton of time and energy.
The extra time the taxi ride gave us allowed us to explore the small but very well presented Motomuzeum adjacent to the Borek train station.
The museum’s focus is on motorcycles and many vintage models are on display across three floors. Most of them are from Czech domestic producers like ČZ, Jawa and Praga though there are foreign types in the mix as well.
It was an unexpected, though not unwelcome, way to finish that day’s trip.
Day 4 – Sychrov Chateau
After two days of intensive trekking over rocks and other manner of uneven surfaces, it was time for a day on level ground!
Travelling by train to the western side of Český ráj, we found ourselves at the distinctive Sychrov Chateau.
We visited Sychrov previously in 2006. As it is a quite memorable place, we had no problems deciding to make a return visit. With pink facades, Neogothic styling and and English style garden; Sychrov projects a much different feel to the visitor than many other Czech chateaus do.
This different feel is no doubt to do with the Rohan family, a French aristocratic family exiled from France during the French Revolution, who bought the chateau in 1820 and owned it for 125 years. Because of the Rohans, Sychrov contains the largest collection of French portait art outside of France.
From Jičín, Sychrov can be access by rail with an exchange at Turnov. From the Sychrov train station, the chateau can be accessed on foot via a marked trail and signs.
Day 5 – Hrubá Skála
Hrubá Skála, within close proximity to Trosky Castle, is one of the more popular areas to visit in Český ráj. Marked by sandstone formations, tourist trails and sweeping vistas to take in from a variety of viewing points; it’s not difficult to see why it’s popular.
While geographically not far from Jičín, the winding roads in the area made the bus trip between the city and Hrubá Skála a bit nerve racking and take the better part of an hour. Upon arrival at the chateau hotel, the multitude of souvenir and refreshment stands in the parking lot attested to the touristy nature of at least this aspect of the region.
Before trekking through the rocks, we took lunch at the hotel restaurant. There has been castle and chateau type constructions on the site of the current chateau since the 1300s. As with many chateaus in the Czech lands, it was siezed by the state following the Second World War. Under the Communist regime, the chateau was used as a recreational home and the interiors irreparably altered. Presently, it is used as a luxury hotel.
Trosky castle, approximately 4 kilometers to the south east, is clearly visible and prominent from many viewing points in the area. Some viewing points will allow you to see the distinctive Ještěd peak, roughly 25 kilometers to the north west, near the city of Liberec.
As with the Prachov rocks, my advice for strong trekking shoes and tick inclusive insect repellent goes for Hrubá Skála as well.
Day 6 – Kost Castle
A relatively short bus trip from Jičín took us to Kost Castle, one of the most visited and best preserved castles in the Czech Republic.
Almost as soon as you arrive, Kost gives a different feel than many other Czech castles do; this is for three main reasons:
Firstly, the castle is located at the bottom of a valley rather than high on a rocky outcrop. As such, a visitor travels downward to visit rather than upward.
Secondly, Kost is not a state run castle; rather it is one of the relatively few Czech castles to have been taken back into the possession of historical owners. In the case of Kost, those owners are the Kinský family.
Thirdly, Kost is one of the very few true Medieval castles left in the Czech Republic. While most other castles were converted to chateau living or left to ruin, Kost has been maintained much as it was in the Medieval period. While it has seen repairs, it has seen little in the way of renovation of conversion. It is a particularly important historic monument as a result.
The day we visited was a bit unusual as there was a Medieval festival going on at the castle all day and we saw a lot of activity that we normally would not have seen.
Day 7 – Humprecht Chateau
Our final day in Český ráj saw us back on a bus. This time we were bound for the small town of Sobotka and Huprecht Chateau which sits about half a kilometer from the town.
The chateau was an easy walk along well marked trails from the town square, where the bus let us off.
Dating to the late 1600s, the chateau was ordered by Czech aristocrat and diplomat, Count Humprecht Jan Černín of Chudenice as a hunting lodge and summer residence. The unique eliptical design of the chateau was the work of Prague based architect Carlo Lurago and is generally considered to represent the Mannerist style which existed during the transition from Renaissance to Baroque architectural styles.
I came away from our visit to Humprecht pleasantly surprised. What I could find on the internet said very little about it and it looked like quite a small place from all the exterior photographs I could find. However, it really is a case of big things coming in small packages.
The main hall boasts excellent acoustic qualities and is sometimes used to host small concerts. Our tour guide gave us a small demonstration of the acoustics using a flute and it was fantastic sound quality.
The living quarters of the chateau consist of 27 rooms of various purposes, all very well presented.
In spite of my initial misgivings, I’m happy to have seen this chateau.
Paying a Visit and Learning More
As I said towards the start of this piece, I will be writing longer entries on some of what I touched on here.
There really is so much to see and do in Český ráj that our single week in the area only really scratched the surface. Depending on time, interests and energy levels; one could easily spend twice that amount of time in the region and not get bored.
This link will take you to the Český ráj website. No doubt you will find the inspiration to design your own adventure in Bohemian Paradise.