Svatý Jan pod Skalou
This little cave beneath the huge Svatojánská cliff near the town of Beroun is a very old place. Ivan, a hermit from Croatia, set up shop here in the 10th century, claiming to have visions of St. John the Baptist. Inside the pretty 17th-century chapel at the site is the healing spring from which he drank.
Nearby, in the museum of limestone quarrying, you can take a ride into the quarry on the original narrow gauge railway used to transport the stone. You will have to hike to get there, as no cars are allowed inside the Karlštejn nature reserve where, in addition to plenty of hike and bike trails, you will find Karlštejn Castle.
If castles aren’t your cup of tea, there is the Golf Resort Karlštejn a short walk from the train station. Or add some nautical flair with a 50-minute cruise on the brave ferryboat Kazi through the town of Černošice.
Directions: Busses from Zličín to Loděnice leave on the half-hour, then switch to the Svatý Jan bus. Kazi ferry: Trains run from Hlavní nádraží to Černošice several times per hour. Ferryboat landing is under the bridge next to the train station.
The town of Dobříš, with its pretty chateau, French gardens and English park, sits among large forests full of hiking and biking trails at the foot of the Brdy mountain range.
The rococo chateau, once the refuge of members of the Czech PEN club, doubles as a four-star hotel. A baroque Jewish cemetery on the Větrník hill north of town is also worth a visit. (Be sure to arrange it with the custodian first.) The municipal museum on the square has a special exhibit on the manufacture of leather gloves. Until 1992, gloves from Dobříš were exported all over the world.
Directions: Buses leave several times per hour from the Na Knížecí station.
Kokořín Castle and Valley
According to legend, the storybook castle, high on a ridge above the beautiful Kokořín valley belonged to robber barons. Built in the 14th century, it fell into disrepair and by 1895, when the Czech Tourist Club took under its wings, it was a heap of ruins. During reconstructions, 20 skeletons were found under the main tower. Whether they were the victims of the robber barons, or the gentlemen themselves is impossible to say.
Below is a 14-kilometer long valley of cliffs, rifts, small lakes and villages, so-called “rock towns” and sandstone formations. Follow the Cimbulkova trail to The Frog, Giant’s Head, Snow White and Co. and the mushroom-shaped “Little Lids” typical to the area. Or climb to the pretty lookout tower at the top of Vrátenská hora, then take a welcome dip in the Harašov pond.
Directions: Take bus from Ládví to Mělník, then change to Kokořín bus.
Step into the past in this tiny spa 40 kilometers north of Prague. Located in the valley of the Mšeno rivulet, near Roudnice nad Labem, the spa is surrounded by an forests and ponds stretching all the way to the castle Budyně nad Ohří.
For overnighters, the seven spa pavilions offer basic accommodations, along with therapy, baths and massages. In between treatments, there’s tennis, ping-pong, darts, petanque or fishing in the spa’s ponds.
Directions: Take bus from Ládví to Mělník, then transfer to Mšeno bus.
This castle atop a spur above the confluence of the Elbe and Vltava rivers once belonged to the grandmother of St. Wenceslas, St. Ludmila. A devout woman and an excellent wine maker, she taught her grandson piety and the art of wine. This, plus a little help from his brother Boleslav (who had him killed), eventually made him the patron saint of vintners.
Although the gothic town is beautiful in its own right, many of its most interesting features are underground: the ossuary (storage point of the bones of plague victims) under the church of St. Peter and Paul; the 54-meter-deep medieval well; and the wine cellars, of course, filled with the local wine, “Ludmila”.
Directions: Busses leave from Ládví metro station every hour.
This gem of a town, every bit as pretty as Krumlov, has yet to be discovered by the tourist hordes. By some miracle it retained its medieval battlements, and two massive gates. These lead to a square, surrounded by ornate, pastel-colored houses and a Renaissance chateau. The erstwhile moat is now a garden and beyond it there’s a wonderland of ponds and forests. Take a bike ride around the enormous Svět pond. Built in the 16th century, it offers swimming, boating fishing and windsurfing and is home to the excellent Třeboň carp, found on the menu of every restaurant in town and not to be missed.
Thanks to extensive peat bogs, the town has two spas: Bertiny lázně, near the medieval core, and the modern Aurora, located outside of town on the banks of the Svět pond.
The entire 700-square-kilometer Třeboň region, with more than 400 medieval ponds, is a UNESCO protected biosphere.
Directions: Take a train from Hlavní nádraží to Veselí nad Lužnící, then transfer to Třeboň.
This magnificent baroque chateau near Dvůř Králové was once the home of the mysterious Count František Antonín Špork. Part alchemist, part philanthropist, he turned the chateau into a spa and social center for the nobility and also founded one of the first hospitals in the country. This, along with an baroque pharmacy, can still be seen today. Outside in the terrace gardens, you can admire statues of the Vices and Virtues, by the renowned baroque sculptor Matyáš Bernard Braun, whose statues are on Charles Bridge. He is also the author of the nativity scene in the nearby forest: a series of figures carved in the living rock, depicting villagers bearing gifts to the Baby Jesus. Of the original 20 figures, only 10 are left, but these alone are worth the 7 kilometer walk.
Directions: Take bus to Hradec Králové from Florenc, then change to Kuks bus.
Oddly, the place where St. Wenceslas was murdered in 935 is named after the man who had him killed, his brother Boleslav. For Czech patriots, the Romanesque basilica of St. Wenceslas, built on the spot where he was stabbed to death, is a place of pilgrimage, along with the church of St. Clement, where he was heading to pray when he was attacked. The interior of the church is adorned by exceptional Romanesque frescoes from the late 12th century.
Nearby, the Proboštská jezera, a flooded sand quarry, are a popular place to fish, swim, camp and windsurf. Bikers can ride along the Labe bike trail which runs through 370 kilometers of lowland plains, Czech Switzerland and mountain landscapes all the way to the source of the Elbe in the Krkonoše mountains.
Directions: Buses leave from Černý most to Brandýs/Stará Boleslav náměstí several times per day.
A long time ago, in the time of legends, Great Father Čech brought the first Slavs to Říp, ascended to its peak and said, “Nice place. Let’s stay.” And they have. Since then, this bowler-hat shaped “mountain” rising some 495 meters above sea level is an obligatory day-trip for every patriot. At the top is the 12th-century rotunda of St. George and Adalbert, as well as great views of the Elbe valley. It is a frequent venue of concerts and outdoor events.
Directions: Take the local train from Holešovice to Vraňany, then change to the local to Ctiněves.
Jílové u Prahy
If Kutná Hora was the Czech center of silver, the small medieval town of Jílové u Prahy was the center of gold. The ore was mined here from Celtic times until the vein was exhausted in the 1970s. Nowadays, a museum of gold mining tells the story. In summer, you can try your hand at gold panning in the courtyard and even visit a medieval gold mine. A 45-minute hike along a nature trail will bring you to the St. Josef mine, dating from the 14th century. The nearby mine of St. Anthony of Padua was in use until the 17th century. Inside, visitors move among the levels via ladders, lighting their way with original miners’ lanterns. The museum itself is in a medieval house which once belonged to the notorious English alchemist and adventurer Edward Kelley.
Directions: Buses leave several times a day from Budějovická metro station.
The Czechs are a spa-loving nation. But who can afford Karlovy Vary or Mariánské lázně these days? Fortunately, there is a place where you can enjoy the spa life at a fraction of the price less than an hour away by train.
The art deco style Poděbrady spa has a colonnade surrounded by parks, fountains, cafes with concerts and afternoon tea dances and several hotels offering wellness programs. Kids will love the lookout train that runs along the Elbe River.
The Poděbrady Lake (Jezero Poděbrady), a flooded quarry located just a five minute walk from the city center, offers a nice refuge from the heat. In addition to three sand beaches, there are aqua rollers, aquazorbing, boat rentals and a children’s beach for the tykes. For parents there are three bars and a campground.
Directions: Trains leave several times a day from Hlavní nádraží.
Okoř – Cyclotrain
Okoř, an erstwhile water fortress, is one of the country’s prettiest ruins. There’s not much left but battlements and a gothic chapel, but in summer there are regular fencing shows and even entire battles, festivals and concerts. Nearby, hikers, horse and bike riders will also come into their own.
Every Saturday and Sunday in the summer, a rolling playground in the form of a train leaves Masaryk station promptly at 9:18 a.m. and 3:18. Inside, under the supervision of a Playmaster, kids can enjoy board games, building blocks, and, presumably, a miniature train, while parents enjoy the view. There’s also a special bike car, equipped with repair equipment.
Directions: Busses leave Dejvická metro station every two hours.
This 79-square-kilometer national park on the border with Saxony is a surreal land of limestone cliffs, canyons, towers and mesas. The most famous among them is a 26.5-meter-high rock bridge called the Pravčická brána (Pravčice Gate). At 619 meters above sea level, the Růžovský vrch, its slopes covered with old-growth forests, lords it over all. The Canyon of the Elbe around Hřensko is the lowest point in the country. You can tour the most dramatic parts it in a ferryboat which runs among the high cliffs inside the canyon.
Directions: Trains from Hlavní nádraží to Hřensko leave several times per day, transfer to a bus (a three minute walk) going to Hřensko k soutěskám.