Who could resist the desire to visit a place called Bohemian Paradise? It conjures up images of a 1960’s retreat with white sand beaches and crystal blue waters. Well this Paradise may be far from that fantasy, although it has a richness all of its very own. If you love outdoors, being active and exploring romantic castles full of legend and folk history, then this is a place for you. ‘Where is it?’ I hear you cry!
Head to the Czech Republic’s capital Prague and keep going north east for a mere 90 minutes and you will arrive at the gates of Paradise. Whilst I know Prague is a massive draw for so many travellers with its UNESCO badge, I implore you extend your stay and reach out beyond the city limits. Let me draw you into an area of Czechia that oozes its own historical marvels and offers you a geological master-class that stands firmly amongst other European giants. As a visitor, be amongst a small handful of people who venture to the Bohemian Paradise and be rewarded by a region of geological and mineralogical brilliance. Come with us as we explore the legends, castles and hikes that will have you grabbing for your GPS for directions.
Just 90 minutes from Prague, heading north east you arrive at a green patch on the map. Green is always a magnet for us and soon becomes a centrepiece for our explorations. When I started to research the region called Čzesky ráj it brought back amazing memories of Slovakia’s Raj region.
This whole area together with Poland’s Stolowe south west region have clearly been under the same geographical influences from earth’s tectonic plates. Whilst I won’t attempt to indulge either of us in a geology lesson, the resulting effects of earth’s movement has crafted an incredible piece of art. Let us take you on a journey through this wonderful UNESCO Geopark that covers 110sq miles (184km) and was the very first protected nature reserve in Czechia in 1955.
Thanks to its rich geological canvas that dates back 60 million years, you can imagine the stories that can be told by this highly volcanic region. And it’s not just the treasure chest of gemstones found deep beneath this volcanic land that are precious. The gently rolling hills covered in pine and oak forests, luscious green fields harvested by farmers and natural Rock Towns that house ancient tales from underneath the sea.
As you explore the inner sanctum of these ‘Towns’, your neck craned in an awkward upward position, your mind will reel as you try to comprehend the magnificence of this natural design. Pine needles carpet the floor as you tramp through these sandstone giants accompanied by the faint odour of fungi that lingers in the air during the early doors of autumn. If this imagery doesn’t inspire you to reach for your map, then perhaps this short tour guide of our route and Top 8 Highlights will satiate your appetite.
Our Tour Around Česky ráj
In the south east of the region we found the 13th century town of Jičín. With its Municipal Reserve preservation award, Jičín has an incredible old town that is worth exploring. Like so many places the outskirts do nothing for its appeal, although once into the medieval heart, Jičín will surely impress. Its rectangle Old Town Square, which is oddly oversized for the town’s proportions, you can twirl 360º each side offering a fairytale perspective. Colourful facias create a sense of individual character as Gothic and Renaissance features build the central hub of this town.
The most unique thing for me was the castle of Veliš, with its striking mustard yellow garb that is integrated into the town’s structure. Subtle yet poignant poised amidst the locals. No lofty status for these Lords. Archways shelter arcades beneath the castle walls, whilst the mosaic cobbled streets have ancient merchant tales etched into their crevices. The clock tower – Valdice Gate is a dominant landmark that demands your attention, offering passage through to the newer part of town and Jičín’s fairytale dragon. Jičín not only collects historical moments, it is home to the folk stories of Remcajs and his family who was a kind bandit. People flock here to soak up the fairytale romance that oozes from this most beautiful town and it is a fabulous start to your Bohemian Paradise experience.
Check out our Jičín Gallery below
2. Prachovské Skály – Rock Town
Using Jičín as our Bohemian gateway, the next port of call was Prachov’s Rock Town. Only four miles from the town, Prachov is one of the most popular destinations for rock climbers and hikers. The road winds up into a forested haven, with pine trees taller than buildings looking as if they are trying to compete with the stone giants hidden in their midst. And that’s one thing to say about the Čzesky ráj – you really do have to get in it to experience it. Driving along its roads just doesn’t reveal its plethora of beauty.
For a mere 200czk, which is £6.20 you can park up here for 24hrs, allowing you to sleep over if you have a camper/motorhome. (50.46882, 15.28501). There’s a small entrance fee (80czk, £2.50 per person) to get into the Rock Town itself allowing you to follow one of the many hiking tours in this area of the Park. The hikes have different levels of challenge, although they each require a scaling of steep steps into the upper echelons of the forest. So it does require a certain level of fitness and ability. Unfortunately a majority of the Park is not disabled friendly, sad to say.
We chose the Red path which had some challenges initially, although soon levelled out. And then we took the Green route back – and boy this was a real stretch and had us resembling some sort of ancient mountain goat puffing out of his rear end. Although wow what a trek, proffering some incredible views across the area and within the Rock Town itself. The best way I can describe the view is to liken it to when you visit a church. You marvel at the artistry, the construction and how it symbolises something that is way beyond your comprehension. This is how I felt looking at the vista in front of us. The view of Myles against the sandstone giants gave me a sense of scale, perspective and I have to say, reverence. This was one of our highlights from our four day tour.
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3. Trosky Castle and Kozakov View Point
One of the most iconic views in this UNESCO Geopark is the Trosky Castle. The two towers, sat atop two volcanic vents are visible from a large majority of the region and are classed as one of the most visited sites in Czechia. In the late 14th century, the basalt rock chimneys were seen as a defence opportunity and the construction of the twins begun. The castle courtyard situated in the crevice connects the towers lovingly named Baba (The Crone) and Panna (The Maiden). You can learn more about these towers and their role in the Bohemian history by clicking here.
Not more than 30 minutes drive away, we took a short diversion to the east of the region to scale the loft heights of Kozákov – Čseky ráj’s highest point at 744m. On a clear day the views must be amazing, although sadly our view was shaded with grey skies and low cloud. This hill is also the remanent of a volcano and is said to be the source of many precious gems, including jasper and garnet.
Turnov is the place to get your precious gem gifts, although beware if buying outside of Bohemian Paradise. Any stones that are larger than 02-0.8cm in diameter are not genuine Bohemian stones. Instead they are more likely to be a cheaper replica called rhodolite. Also make sure you ask for a Certificate of Authentication.
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4. Reigrove Stezce – Reiger Trail, Semily
Diversity when travelling is all-important to us and the Bohemian Paradise satisfies even this need. From Rock Towns to castles and gorges with river walks – now that sounds like our cuppa tea. So we were drawn north east of the region past Semily where I wanted to find the Jizera river gorge that snakes its way around from Semily to Malá Skála and then south until it meets the Elbe just north east of Prague.
This 100 year old Trail is definitely off the beaten track and is just lovely. A path that hugs the gorge, climbs up into the forest and then back down to the water’s edge is gorgeous. And as autumn’s grip becomes obvious the smells, the sights and sounds makes this such a lovely hike. You can take the route all the way from Semily to Spálov.
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5. Frydštejn and Vranov Castle Hike
As you wind your way to the north boundaries of the region, Malá Skála is your next port of call. This is a charming town that, with its river frontage offers super kayaking opportunities. Plus high above the river is the Frydstejn to Malá Skála ridge, a hike that transports you back in time. We started at Frydštejn Castle, where we stopped overnight and then hiked the 5km sandstone ridge towards Vranov Castle. The 14th Century ruins form one of the area’s traditional rock castles and whilst a shadow of its former self many historical mysteries are held in its stoney walls. You can enter the castle between 10.00-1700 and it costs 50czk per person.
Continuing your hike, it takes you along the ridge sheltered by pine trees. With a path strewn with tree roots and sandstone boulders it makes for a challenging path. Although with monuments and viewpoints along the way, it’s worth persevering. The goal is the precipice at the end of the ridge that overlooks the Jizera valley and the valley below. And entry to the Vranov Castle (Pantheon) is well worth the 50czk which is open from 10.00 to 1800.
Vranov is an iconic rock castle that is actually best viewed from below. Although when you enter the stone gate, it’s like walking through Narnia’s Wardrobe. A portal that takes you into a world of fantasy, legend and 15th century history where famous names from times past are celebrated. The castle is in two distinct parts; the chapel which is a well preserved building and forms the iconic image and the sandstone remains that presents 12 points of interest. You can scale the steps to each of the sights, although be warned that these are incredibly steep and can not be accessed by young children or anyone with any disabilities or injuries. The final section to the wooden cross, from which you can see Frydstejn Castle requires you to rock climb up vertical steps in order to reach the top. It’s a fine example that really requires a good hour to explore. For the best view, walk from the castle back towards the town and turn right. Walk about 200m and look behind you, where the full perspective of this magnificent rock castle is apparent.
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6. Valdstejn Castle – Romance is in the air
Weaving up through the pine forests from the Jizera river valley, you head towards another outstanding looking castle. Valdstejn lies in the throbbing heart of the Malá Skála rock town, and the uphill climb through the forest brings you beneath its dominant shadow. Walking through the arches to the upper level, you are immediately transported back to the 13th century. The cobbled walkway offers a regal passage into the soul of the castle, which is thought to be the oldest in the Bohemian Paradise. The sounds of horses and men from battle walk with you in spirit as you cross the castle’s threshold. A tour around the grounds will introduce you to the tempestuous history that has seen this palace go from grandeur to ashes, to a phoenix rising.
There is something incredibly romantic about this castle. From the walk to it from the car park through rust coloured forests paths, past stones that must tell a million tales to the roots of trees that seem to vainly hold the earth together. You can visit the castle as a self-guided tour for 70czk each or a guided tour for 90czk per person. You are free to visit between April and October – for their opening hours, please check here.
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7. Hrubá Skála
Within walking distance from Valdstejn, depending on your energy, you can extend your trip deeper into the history books. With the forest inviting you in on a geological journey through time, you can easily stroll around this amazing nature reserve. Unlike its Prachov cousin further south, this is a more tame affair in terms of the walking.
Gentle and less demanding, Hrubá Skála gives you a more moderate and tender experience. With regular outlooks, you can look across the tree tops and gaze in awe at the rock columns that stand before you. In all their elegance, withstanding millions of years, they demand you to enquire about the bigger picture of life beyond our every-day tribulations. It is here that you will find the most famous of rock collections, aptly named The Band.
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8. Kost Castle
For this final Bohemian Paradise highlight, it might be worth you casting your mind back to Hannibal Lecter and his cannibalistic tendencies. As it is at this southerly most castle of the ráj that Hannibal Rising was filmed. And there’s something about its grey facade and haunting and impenetrable walls that creates a sense of approval for their choice of venue.
Unlike its castle siblings in the area, 14th century Kost is not built on a hill, rather it has been constructed on a spit between two brooks. It is one of the best preserved castles in the area and it offers you four different tours which you can find out more about here.
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So Paradise by name and paradise in nature. With diversity as its middle name, this Bohemian beauty will thrill you around every corner. At only 60 miles (around 100km) from Prague, it is a journey that can be done in 90 minutes and means that this natural wonderland is easy to reach with an extended city break visit. With its easy to drive roads, water sports, heavenly hikes and the best biking opportunities, the Bohemian Paradise will satisfy everyone.
The towns dotted around the region offer hotels and Air BnBs and there are campsites offering a chance to still the motion of your wheels and enjoy the Geopark on foot or by bike. For more camping opportunities, check here.
Don’t forget that if you decide to drive in Czechia, then you will need to buy a vignette for the country’s toll roads. Whilst it is possible to avoid the tolls, we always purchase one just in case we end up on one inadvertently – in spite of a good SatNav! The price for 10 days is just €12.50 (£11.34) and if you are driving in or around Prague then it is almost impossible to avoid the toll roads. For more information on the tolls and toll route map, check here.
Czechia is a beautiful place to visit with its plethora of castles, the walls of which tell tales of knights and medieval maidens defending the honour of their lands. With its magnificent UNESCO sites and rolling hills, you won’t be disappointed by your visit here. For more information on Czechia and its exploration possibilities why not keep an eye open for our up and coming posts or check the Visit Czechia website.
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