Traveling through Europe, images of the Eiffel Tower or visits to a museum or old town square may be conjured up. But for me, gentle, rolling lands, dotted with forests, winding rivers and picturesque mountains come more to mind. This land I had often read about, was at central stage, when I got a chance to spend several days hiking through the Bohemian Paradise in Czech Republic.
The Bohemian Paradise is a very large, naturally preserved area, located about 1.5 hours train travel from Prague. It’s dotted throughout with small villages and hamlets surrounded in a sea of gently rolling lands, forests, ponds, winding rivers, picturesque mountains, and many very weird and mystical rock formations.
“Base camp” for my five-day hiking excursion was situated right next to the ruin Trosky Castle. I was pretty fortunate to find this place, since there was nothing else surrounding the two structures (my hotel and the castle) but the beautiful undulating land and forests for miles around. Multiple trails fanned out in all directions from my hotel, so that each morning, I began in a new direction. Hikes ranged from 8-12 hours eventually looping back to the hotel.
Getting to my hotel was an adventure in itself. My train from Prague arrived in Turnov in about 1.5 hours. From there, I took a smaller train-tram for about 15-30 minutes to a small, unattended train depot for the village of Hruba Skala, but this was a mistake. Unless I was driving there, I should have continued on the tram going farther down the track to Borek pod Troskami. From that train depot, I would have had a nice 30-45 minute hike on a trail through forests and open land before arriving at my final destination. But because I got off the train too soon, I had a six-mile hike ahead of me, albeit, through a beautiful, winding, paved road that went through many nice little villages and other interesting sites, while Trosky Castle could often be seen in the distance as I got closer. But I did come to hike!
I arrived at my hotel near mid afternoon, which gave me time to settle down, eat, and visit the ruin Trosky Castle “next door”. Getting there was a short 30 minute hike up a heavily forested hill to reach the castle at the top. There was a small entry fee and began with a medieval reenactment of sword fights and a short play. After that, I climbed the castle’s two towers to gaze out at the sprawling, surrounding land, which brought images of medieval fiefdoms and peasants working the fields. It also gave me an overview of land I would be hiking for the next several days, as far as my eyes could see, in all directions.
Each morning, I typically would start my hikes before mid morning. After having breakfast and packing my day pack with food, poncho, map, etc., I would make my way in a new direction and trail. It’s very important to pack a poncho. You can be caught in the rain for hours and become thoroughly soaked. With a good poncho, the only thing that gets wet are your shoes. It rained once on the trail and another time in the morning when I was departing … really hard … during approximately a 45-minute trail back to the nearest train depot. It was one of the hardest rains I saw in Europe. The hotel owner smiled sheepishly and wished me a nice hike. Water was rushing down parts of the trail but, fortunately, rocks were laid out in the required spots to step through over the little water torrents. I was really glad I at least had a poncho that also covered my backpack. I eventually made it to my lone train depot in plenty of time before the little tram came to take me back to Turnov.
Villages and hamlets are strewn throughout the area. But in my particular area of hiking, I never came upon anything larger than a beautiful, well-manicured village, that blended in with the surrounding land. Typically, trails would provide discreet entries and quick exits if it were a large village. Little hamlets would just have pretty entrances directly in and quickly out of the micro settlements. I would hazard to say I hiked only about 15-25% of Bohemian Paradise. It’s large and other areas may have larger settlements.
I don’t remember seeing many hikers on the trail, except for maybe a few each day. I also didn’t see many animals, for whatever reason. This was typical on all the trails I hiked, which has made me think the previous ruling king pretty much wiped them all out. There’s a castle somewhere, I think, in Austria that houses his ridiculous amount of trophy heads.
Large sandstone rocks are common features of the landscape. Through many years of erosion, they can make eerie stone faces looking out at tiny hikers. They’re also fun to climb. And often they make nice resting spots on top, while giving great panoramic views of the surrounding country. I often would find engravings on them that added to their stories. One I stumbled upon off the trail had a picture of a tank with a series of 3-digit numbers aside it. It may have been used by lookouts during WWII upon the surrounding land, monitoring tank movement, I thought. On one hike, at twilight, as I made my way back to the hotel, I passed through dozens of these towering rock “faces” peering down on me from both sides. It felt eerie as if I were passing through this ancient, natural “gothic cathedral”. But I had to stop and pay reverence in the auditorium’s uniquely deep silence and dark atmosphere.
Picturesque ponds are also strewn throughout. Bohemian Paradise offers a lot of eye candy but not much excitement, such can be found in neighboring Slovakia’s Slovak Paradise. The trails are easy and are perfect for anyone who loves the outdoors and walking. But you won’t find ladders scaling straight up sheer cliffs or rickety, steel-railed ladders suspended over rushing rivers (see my article “Hiking in Slovak Paradise“). But, if you’re imagining beautiful landscapes conjured up by Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony, Bohemian Paradise will hit the mark. There were many spots coming out from a forest-trail that would open up onto a beautiful, gently sweeping, hilly, European village landscape … cue strings and flutes.
Ideally, I would have rather hiked farther from “base camp” and reached another pension. I had a great start. My hotel was toward more the eastern edge. I could have hiked toward the center of the park and probably been able to have reserved another pension at the several villages on the way. In this way, a hiker could see much more. A map of the naturally preserved area is essential (mine, Eurokart). There are so many trails (designated by red, blue, green, yellow) that you need to know where you’re going and how to “loop” back. Villages and their restaurants and accommodations are also marked out.
For many more pictures I took, see Bohemian Paradise Hiking Images.