Written by Jacy Meyer
Stretch your legs and take a hike. The Czech Republic has a variety of hiking “styles;” be it flat, mountainous, fields or forests. An extremely well-marked trail system makes it a no-brainer to shed your weekly city life and get out for a nice easy/strenuous walk/hike in the fresh air of the Czech countryside.
The Czech Tourist Club (Klub českých turistů, www.kct.cz, limited information in English and German) is who to thank for the decently maintained and very well-marked hiking trails. Formed in 1889, the club really began going trail-marking crazy after World War II. They claim more than 40,000 kilometers of marked routes maintained by 1,350 volunteers. The club also coordinates the bike and skiing trails across the country. The club is divided into 14 different branches, corresponding to the different Czech regions. Contact information to each of the groups can be found at their website.
If you´ve been out walking around the country already, you´ve probably seen the three striped markers on trees, signposts, and other handy marking spots. Two white bars sandwich an either red, blue, yellow or green stripe to indicate what path you are on and where you are going. Periodically on your walk you´ll come across a posting with information on how many kilometers to select cities on your chosen route. You´ll also see other variations on this colored sign; for example an arrow indicates the direction you should go. Loop paths and educational trails are specially marked; a symbol key can be found at the Czech Tourist Club´s website. The group also produces the very useful hiking and cycling maps, available in just about any bookstore. The green ones are designed more for hikers; the yellow for the bikers. If you have a region you´d like to explore, it´s worth it to pick up one of these maps before the trip. Not only can you plan a rough route, they also offer points of interest along the way – and a very helpful beer mug indicating where you can stop for the all-important hiking pivo.
The Czech Republic is also a walker´s paradise not only for its beautiful mountains, rivers and forests but for the amount of castles and chateaux connected by the trails. There are so many different landscapes and paths that you can explore a different part of the country every time you want to go out. We offer some popular suggestions here. The Prague Post´s Fiona Gaze has been highlighting a hike about once a month this summer; check back issues online (www.praguepost.com) to discover some of her excellent ideas, lots of them quite close to Prague.
The Prague Vienna Greenways is a more than 250 mile long network of trails and country roads that connect the two cities. Many people choose to bike the whole route, as it´s obviously a bit quicker, but you go ahead and walk it. The nice thing about the Greenways, for the less ambitious among us, is the possibility to do the paths in parts or loops. The Friends of Czech Greenways (www.pragueviennagreenways.org) is a non-profit organization based out of New York dedicated to raising funds and promoting the Greenways. They have a wealth of information about the trails, including maps and selected itineraries. Since the paths were specially designed, they bring you past a ton of interesting points including castles, quaint villages, and UNESCO sites and along rivers and other picturesque scenery. Two examples of trails they suggest include a walk starting at Hluboká, going through České Budějovice and ending in Český Krumlov. In addition to the fairy princess Hluboká chateau, you´ll walk along the Vltava in the foothills of the Šumava Mountains. The landscape varies between forests and fields. Or head further east into Moravia and follow the trails around the wine making town of Znojmo. You´ll also stroll through the towns and castles of Vranov nad Dyjí, Znojmo and Bítov.
There´s an opportunity to hike every corner of the country. For a more hilly and forested experience, head towards Pardubice and the Svitavy River. There´s an eight kilometer trail of mostly field and forest paths beginning in Březová nad Svitavou. Also in this region is the Králický Sněžník education trail. You´ll start from the city of Dolní Morava and follow the yellow path. You´ll begin in the Morava River Valley and nine kilometers later find your self at the top of Králický Sněžník. You can keep going along the red trail for another five kilometers, ending at Návrší lodge. From the town of Slatiňany, you can take an easy two kilometer walk to Kočíčí Castle. In relatively the same area, near the Orlické Mountains you can pay an educational visit to the Museum of Hiking, Winter sports and Crafts (Muzeum turistiky, zimních sportů a řemesel) in Deštné v Orlických horách. Here you can learn about glass making in the Orlické Mountains; domestic textile production; hiking and winter sports in the region, and a rare exhibit of washers and irons.
Forest lovers should head south of Prague to the town of Písek. Lots of trees east of the city amongst the 60 kilometers of paths. A nature trail, the Jarník lookout tower atop Kraví hory and the Živec chalet are a few sites you may see.
On the Austrian border, from the town of Šatov you can take a fascinating walk to former military fortifications. Three former infantry log cabins can be found along the trail, as well as other Czechoslovakian military outposts.
Heading north to the Polish border and the Jizerské Mountains will reward rock climbers, and people who like to observe rock formations. Jizerskohorské bučiny is a national nature preserve offering a forested walk on the steep slopes.
This is a very brief introduction to only a few of the hiking areas across the country. Mountain enthusiasts should of course head to the Krkonoše; Český Ráj is another not to miss location with beautiful forested paths and amazing rock formations. The best rock labyrinths though can be found in the Teplice-Adršpach Rocks of East Bohemia. South Bohemia and its fish ponds are for lovers of flat walking, while South Moravia offers the more rugged rolling hills of wine country.