Relaxation and peace of mind are words that come to mind when most people who have been to the region think of this country in Central Europe – the Czech Republic. They discovered that this new EU member has a glorious countryside crisscrossed with thousands of kilometres of hiking tracks, an incredible number of cultural sites, picturesque historical towns and renowned spas where people come for treatment and to relax. The tourist season is not restricted to a mere few months of the year either. You can travel to the Czech Republic anytime and see for yourself what an ideal holiday and short break destination it really is.
Despite a history stretching back over a thousand years the Czech Republic is the youngest state of the ten that joined the EU in 2004. On 1 January 1993 the Czechoslovak Federal Republic was divided into two separate countries – the Czech and Slovak Republics. Shortly after the fall of Communism in 1989 the country became an important and popular tourist destination mostly due to the diversity visitors found here. Few would expect to find such a variety of places in such a small country which comprises 3 historical regions - Bohemia, Moravia and Silesia. In the west there are scores of extinct volcanoes and hot springs, in the north sandstone ‘rock towns’ tower over the landscape, in the central regions the fertile Elbe plain spreads out far and wide and the south is literally pockmarked with ponds and lakes. The Moravian mountain ranges are thickly carpeted with forest which gradually gives way to the undulating wine growing regions of South Moravia. The whole country is girdled by mountain ranges, ideal for winter sports.
The Czech Republic displays a symbiosis of natural and man-made beauty. As far as cultural sites are concerned it is a top European destination. Tourists from around the globe come to see our culture, history and architecture. The clearest evidence of this is the inclusion of 12 sites in Bohemian and Moravian towns in UNESCO’s world cultural heritage list. In 2005 a large part of the Czech Paradise area including the Protected Czech Paradise nature reserve were declared a UNESCO Geopark. Visitors can easily reach any of these places by car from Prague in a matter of 30 minutes to 3 hours. Prague’s historical centre has been part of the UNESCO list since 1992. No other place on earth can boast such a high concentration of UNESCO sites in such a small area.
It would take a whole book, not a short text like this, to truly acquaint people with the Czech Republic. So in order to introduce the country, let us look at 5 of the most attractive places which represent the best of everything the country has to offer – castles and chateaux, historical towns, a rich culture, beautiful countryside, relaxing spas and many other interesting places as well as things to see and do.
Prague – Mother of all Cities
The Czech capital is both a modern city and an architectural treasure trove rolled into one. The so-called Royal Way links the most notable tourist sites located in the old city centre, itself more than 1000 years old. The Royal Way starts at the Municipal House (www.obecni-dum.cz) and ends at the Prague Castle (www.hrad.cz). Those who stroll its entire length have the chance to admire the most important square in Prague, the Old Town Square with its celebrated old town hall and astronomical clock. Then there is the magnificent Charles Bridge dating from the middle of the 14th century, adorned with 30 Baroque statues of the saints, and the Malostranské Square dominated by the Church of St. Nicholas, itself encircled by palaces. Prague castle, the largest castle in the world according to the Guinness Book of Records, is dominated by the Cathedral of Sts. Vitus, Wenceslas and Adalbert. Prague is also a place with a vibrant pulsating cultural life. Locals and visitors have a choice of over 300 galleries (www.ngprague.cz, www.citygalleryprague.cz) and exhibition spaces which display a good cross-section of work by Czech and foreign artists, countless museums (www.nm.cz) and numerous theatres, concert halls, cinemas and music clubs. A vast number of cultural events take place here such as the Prague Spring International Music Festival (www.festival.cz) to mention just one. After a well spent day in the hustle and bustle of the city, visitors can retire to one of Prague’s many parks or take a boat trip on the river Vltava. The Czech capital is also a popular congress destination. In 2000 the IMF held a meeting here, in 2002 NATO had its summit in Prague, in 2006 the congress of the American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA) took place in the city and many more congresses and conferences are planned.
Carlsbad – Spa with First-rate Reputation Worldwide
Carlsbad (www.karlovyvary.cz, www.karlsbad.cz, www.spas.cz) is the largest spa in the country. It lies in the far west of the country not far from the German border. You will not find as many. The number of curative hot springs in the region is unparalleled anywhere else in the world. It is not only the hot springs which have a therapeutic effect but the surroundings too: eye-catching structures such as the Church of St. Andrew, the Eastern Orthodox Church of Sts. Peter and Paul, the municipal theatre and the Mlýnská Colonnade and dramatic mountainous landscapes of the foothills of the Krušné Mountain range, themselves crisscrossed with kilometres of walking tracks through forests just begging to be explored. You can make the most of your spa stay by strolling around some of the local sights, trying your hand at a sport or going to a concert, a theatre performance or one of the various festivals held in the town. The International Carlsbad Film Festival (www.iffkv.cz), one of only 4 category 'A' film festivals in Europe, is held annually at the beginning of July and attracts film stars and young film fans alike. Avid golfers will be pleased to learn that there are four 18-hole golf courses in the area (www.golfresort.cz, www.agc-cihelny.cz, www.gr-fl.cz, www.golfml.cz). The last of these courses is the second oldest in Europe and was founded by Edward VII, King of England. Synonymous with Carlsbad is the traditional production of crystal and porcelain, the world famous Becherovka herb liquor and, naturally, bottled mineral water.
Český Krumlov – Cultural and Historical Gem of South Bohemia
Tucked away in the meandering Vltava valley in South Bohemia is Český Krumlov (www.ckrumlov.cz). The historical centre of the town is part of the UNESCO world heritage list. Italian Renaissance style architecture is strongly present in the inimitable appearance of the town, however, the Church of St. Vitus, built in South Bohemian Gothic style, is dominant. The castle and chateau complex in Český Krumlov is the second largest in the country after the Prague Castle. The historical seat of the Rožmberk family embraces an array of buildings, the famous ballroom, the unique Baroque theatre, the chateau gardens with their Rococo fountain and the Bellarie Villa including its theatre and revolving auditorium (www.jihoceskedivadlo.cz) where summer performances take place. Český Krumlov is not merely a complex of 300 historical buildings. The extraordinary ambience of the town is completed by numerous cultural events which have gained world renown such as the Český Krumlov Music Festival, the Festival of Ancient Music or the summer Cinquefoil Rose Celebrations. The founding of the Egon Schiele Arts Centre was another important cultural milestone. The town is also a congress venue with a level of services that meets the expectations of the most demanding of clientele.
The ‘Rock Towns’ – Countryside Oasis
The Czech ‘rock towns’ are unique in Europe. The finest examples are located in the Czech Paradise region, the Czech Switzerland region and the Adršpach-Teplice locality. The Czech Paradise (www.cesky-raj.info, www.bohemian-paradise.info), a remarkable area stretching between Mnichovo Hradiště, Jičín and Turnov, is a very befitting name for an area which boasts romantic valleys with ‘rock towns’, meadows, log cabins and amazing views of the surrounding area.
The region is also home to numerous historical sights and visitors are often taken aback by the spectacle of grand castles and chateaux literally on every hilltop, such as the Trosky Castle ruins and the Renaissance chateau of Hrubá Skála to name but two. The Czech Switzerland region (www.ceskesvycarsko.cz) lies in the north-west of the country. Unusual rock formations draw climbers, abseilers and day trippers alike. One of the most popular rock formations in the national park is the Pravčice Gate, a sandstone arch, the largest of its kind in Europe. The Adršpach rock formations lie to the north of the town of Náchod near the border with Poland. There are several interesting walks visitors can take through the rocks. In the middle and amongst the rock formations there is a lake with a 5 metre tall waterfall. In summer there are boat rides on the lake. All the so-called ‘rock towns’ differ from each other in many respects but one thing they do have in common is that they are superb places for hiking and climbing of all levels (with permission).
Olomouc – Historical Town in the Heart of Moravia
The city of Olomouc (www.olomoucko.cz, www.olomouc-tourism.cz) lies in the fertile area along the river Morava in the Haná region, famous for its dialects, its rich folk costumes and its vast whitewashed farmsteads built of unfired bricks. The historical city of Olomouc boasts the second highest concentration of protected sites in the Czech Republic, second only to Prague. The Baroque Trinity Column, the largest single Baroque sculpture in Central Europe is included in UNESCO’s list of world heritage sites.
The most important sacred site in Olomouc is the Cathedral of St. Wenceslas, restored between 1883 and 1890 in Neo-Gothic style. It is the location of the assassination of the last Přemysl king - Wenceslas III - in 1306. Other noteworthy buildings include the Přemysl Palace, Hradisko, the largest Premonstratensian monastery in Europe and the fortified Cathedral of St. Moritz dating from the 15th – 16th century with its famous organ. Visitors can hear the impressive sound this organ emits when the annual International Organ Festival is held here. The autumn Sacred Music Festival (www.sacredmusicfestival.net) enjoys a good reputation and attracts enthusiasts to Olomouc each year.
For more information please visit the website of the Czech Tourist Authority – CzechTourism (www.czechtourism.com or www.czecot.cz). You will also find photographs of beautiful places in the Czech Republic which can be downloaded free from http://photo.czechtourism.cz.
The Krkonoše Mountains
The Krkonoše Mountains are the highest mountain range in the Czech Republic. Although only reaching a height of around 1 500m above sea level, the Krkonoše range has an arctic climate. Peatbogs at the summits are covered in rare mountain pine. Thanks to its natural beauty and good skiing conditions, the Krkonoše mountain range has become one of the most popular places of recreation in the country. In summer cycling and walking dominate, with visitors taking advantage of the excellent system of marked tracks and the wide range of accommodation in mountain chalets on the mountain ridges. The mountain town of Jánské Lázně is a holiday resort with a cable car station by means of which visitors can reach the top of the mountain Černá hora. It is also an important spa town: natural springs with healing properties were discovered here in the 14th century and today 30 springs rise to the surface here. Pec pod Sněžkou, Špindlerův Mlýn and Harrachov are important international mountain resorts.
North Moravia and Silesia
A significant part of this distinctive region is formed by two large mountain ranges, the Beskydy and Jeseníky Mountains. These are mountainous wooded regions with alpine fauna and flora and the remnants of original virgin forest. The climate around the Priessnitz Spa in the town of Jeseník strengthens the body and soul as do the world famous Priessnitz hydrotherapy methods which make use of the 80 natural springs that rise here. The same is also true of the spa at Karlova Studánka. The characteristic style of the region’s wooden buildings can be admired at the open air museum in Rožnov pod Radhoštěm. In Čeladná there is an excellent golf course and riding school, and another golf course is located in the park around Šilheřovice Castle.
The region’s administrative centre is the city of Ostrava, the third largest in the Czech Republic.
Ostrava has a great sporting life, many music festivals take place there and numerous conferences are held in the city. Unique technical and industrial heritage sights dating back to the first half of the 19th century are proof of Ostrava’s rich industrial past. Ostrava’s Stodolní Street is considered a cultural phenomenon, boasting over 70 night clubs.
The main city in Central Moravia is the university town of Olomouc, the second largest protected urban area in the Czech Republic. The focal point of the city is Horní Square with its town hall, astronomical clock and baroque trinity column (UNESCO). Another highlight of this flat, floodplain region is the Archbishop’s Palace in the town of Kroměříž, housing a unique gallery and a huge library with an extensive music archive. The chateau and its surrounding gardens with rare examples of baroque palace garden architecture are protected by UNESCO. The well documented archaeological finds from the early Stone Age at Hradisko are proof of the region’s rich history. A boat or canoe trip along the River Morava is an unforgettable experience. The countryside, rich in lakes, sand quarries and floodplain forests is ideal terrain for light cycling trips. Visitors can also sample rich local traditions and folklore at the annual Hanácké celebrations in Tovačov, the folklore festival in Chropyně and the traditional Ride of the Kings in Kojetín.
Brno is the capital of South Moravia and the second largest city in the Czech Republic. Thanks to more than 70 years of experience in holding international trade fairs, the city has become synonymous with meetings attended by experts from around Europe. Among the noteworthy architectural monuments in Brno, the functionalist villa Tugendhat stands out as one of the few examples of modern architecture protected by UNESCO. The list of UNESCO world heritage sites also includes the so-called ‘Garden of Europe’, the area around the chateaux of Lednice and Valtice, set in a charming landscape of parks, lakes and romantic buildings. Those interested in folk traditions should not miss the international folklore festivals which take place annually in Strážnice, Velká nad Veličkou, Kyjov and Vlčnov. A fine example of baroque architecture in South Moravia is the pilgrimage church in Křtiny designed by the architect J. B. Santini. The towns of Znojmo, Mikulov and Valtice are also known as centres of the wine making industry. For centuries wine from the region was served at the tables of Czech kings and even at those of the Holy Roman Emperors. Znojmo can also pride itself on its underground labyrinth located beneath the historical centre and a Romanesque rotunda with unique Romanesque murals. A popular place for a trip is the Moravian Karst with its labyrinth of stalagmite filled caves, the underground Punkva River and the 138 metre deep Macocha canyon.
The Czech-Moravian Highlands
The Highlands region is a picturesque area with rounded wooded hills, romantic rock formations and wide river valleys. In summer it is enchanting, in winter it is a harsh place. Most of the region is made up of the Czech-Moravian Highlands massif, an ideal place for a family holiday at any time of year. There are three UNESCO protected sites not far from each other in the region. These are the renaissance chateau in Telč and its preserved renaissance and baroque square, the Church of St John of Nepomuk at Zelená hora near Žďár nad Sázavou built in the shape of a 5 pointed star, and the town of Třebíč with its basilica and unique Jewish quarter and cemetery.
The chateau complex in Jaroměřice nad Rokytnou, one of the largest in Europe, also merits a visit. Those in search of an active holiday will certainly be attracted by the Žákova hora nature reserve with its woods of fir and beech, or by the unique Mohelenská hadcova steppe where various herbs grow in the wild. Rivers and reservoirs add to the romantic feel of the landscape. The countryside is a great place for horse riding and windsurfing, anglers love the rivers and lakes and cyclists appreciate the excellent network of marked cycle tracks. The Highlands region also boasts a tradition of glassmaking and glass is a popular feature of many exhibitions in local museums.
he two major centres of East Bohemia are the regional capitals of Hradec Králové and Pardubice. The region has an excellent transport infrastructure and an extensive network of cycle tracks. Hradec Králové is sometimes called the ‘Parlour of the Republic’ due to its interesting functionalist buildings by the famous architect, Gočár. Another important place in the region is the town of Litomyšl with its renaissance chateau protected by UNESCO. Thanks to its extraordinary level of preservation, the historical centre of Litomyšl has been declared an urban protected area. The town of Nové Město nad Metují is also worth a visit to see its main square lined with renaissance houses and arcades, as is the large monastery in the town of Broumov. Cultural heritage is brought to life every year in East Bohemia at various festivals and other folk celebrations. Every year, several thousand enthusiasts in historic uniform brandishing historic weapons re-enact the battles of the Austro-Prussian war. The „Velká Pardubická Steeplechase“ is also an important sporting event followed throughout Europe.
The horse farm in Kladruby nad Labem also used to be well known outside the borders of the Czech Republic in the distant past. The white horses bred in Kladruby since the middle of the 16th century still gallop around the farm with its meadows and fields, rows of trees and English park. The Kunětická Mountain near Pardubice dominates the floodplain of the Elbe. The Divoká Orlice is heaven for those who enjoy canoeing. The Adršpach and Teplice rock formations and the Broumov cliffs are ideal for those who love the thrill of rock climbing.
The Czech Paradise
The romantic region of the Jizera riverbed brings together natural beauty, the skill of local tradesmen and numerous historical places of interest. The most famous Czech jewellers’ academy was founded in Turnov and was the first of its kind in Europe. A huge deposit of garnet and other semi-precious stones was discovered in the Czech Paradise region in the 19th century. Semi-precious stones were cut and polished here in almost every cottage. In others, glass bead necklaces were made and sold to European travellers and missionaries who would in turn use them to pay tribal leaders and shamans in Africa, Asia and Latin America. The castles of Kost and Valdštejn, the castle ruins of Trosky, the chateaux of Sychrov, Hrubý Rohozec, Mnichovo Hradiště and Jičín and many fine examples of folk architecture all vie for tourists’ attention. A typical feature of the region is its rugged terrain with distinct and curious rock formations such as the Hruboskalské, Prachovské, Klokočské, Betlémské, Příhrazské ‘rock towns’ and the Borecké stones, Drábovna and the ‘rock towns’ of Kalich and Chléviště. Another rare phenomenon of the region are the upside down bells in the belfry in Rovensko pod Troskami. The Czech Paradise region is also an ideal place for those who like active holidays involving cycling, climbing and walking.
A significant part of the region is formed by the diverse landscape of the Jizerské and Lužické Mountains, crisscrossed with kilometres of cycle paths and ski tracks. The administrative centre of the region is the town of Liberec, dominated by the extraordinary television tower at the summit of Mount Ještěd, which houses a curious shaped hotel. The town itself boasts the oldest zoo and botanical gardens in the country. The Babylon Aquapark with its bowling alleys, restaurants, conference halls, hotel and shopping mall also draws many visitors. The most noteworthy tourist sight in the region is the huge gothic castle in Frýdlant.
One of its owners was duke Albrecht of Wallenstein and the castle was the first site of its kind in Europe to be opened up to the public. The Bozkov dolomite caves near Železný Brod conceal the largest underground lake in the country. The area around Bezděz Castle is a place of relaxation, swimming, boat rides, windsurfing, yachting and angling on Máchovo Lake.
North West Bohemia
The administrative centre of this region is the town of Ústí nad Labem dominated by the Střekov castle. Kadaň, Litoměřice and the military fortress town of Terezín are just some of the many important urban conservation areas. There are chateaux at Klášterec nad Ohří, Krásný Dvůr and Velké Březno. The spiritual side of the history of the region can be observed at the Franciscan monastery in Kadaň, the Cistercian monastery in Osek and the chapel in Rumburk. A tour of these places can be combined with various activities such as a visit to the autodrome and hippodrome in Most, a walk through the gorges around Hřensko or around the „Sphinxes“ near Měděnec, skiing and other winter sports in the Krušné Mountains or water sports at the Nechanice reservoir and the Kamencové lake. A dominating feature of the Bohemian Central Highlands mountain range is Milešovka, an extinct volcano. It is one of only a handful of Czech mountains only accessible on foot, as there is no road or track leading to the top. It reaches a height of 300m and the view from its summit was described by Alexander Humboldt, one of the greatest travellers ever, as the third most beautiful sight in the world.
West Bohemian Spas
The so-called spa triangle formed by the towns of Carlsbad, Marienbad and Františkovy Lázně offers over 500 health restoring natural springs. Carlsbad is the largest spa town in the Czech Republic. Its name is synonymous with hot springs, although it is also known for its international film festival and rich cultural and social life. The second most popular spa town in the region is the attractive town of Marienbad. The picturesque spa-town of Františkovy Lázně is admired for its prettiness and relaxed atmosphere.
Jáchymov in the Krušné Mountains has become known thanks to its mildly radioactive hot springs. Some of the other less well known spas include Lázně Kynžvart and Konstantinovy Lázně. Loket Castle and town are well worth a visit as is the chateau in Sokolov. The Premonstratarian monastery in Teplá houses the second largest monastery library in the country. Part of a tour of the chateau in Bečov is an exhibition devoted to the reliquary of St. Maurus, an important Romanesque relic. There are golf courses in Carlsbad and Marienbad, the oldest on the continent, which offer golfers top facilities. For those who like rafting, the most picturesque segment of the river Ohře between Carlsbad and Kadaň is highly recommended.
The Pilsen Region
Pilsen is the fourth largest city in the Czech Republic. The church of St. Bartholomew on the main square boasts the tallest church spire in Europe. However, Pilsen’s greatest claim to fame is the beer that bears its name. Pilsner Urquell is the name of the best and most famous beer produced in Czech breweries. The Brewery Museum is the only museum in the world to be housed in an original medieval brewing house. Try the beer and local game specialities at the Na Spilce and U Salzmmanů pubs in Pilsen. The second largest synagogue in Europe, Pilsen’s Great Synagogue, is also the world’s third largest after those in Jerusalem and Budapest. The largest monastery in West Bohemia can be found in Kladruby. The Abbey Church of the Holy Virgin, rebuilt by architect Jan Blažej Santini-Aichl, is one of the finest baroque buildings in the country. Another baroque highlight of the region is the small town of Manětín. The chateau in Manětín was rebuilt by Jan Blažej Santini-Aichl. The second largest riding school in Europe in Světce u Tachova is also well worth a visit.
The Šumava Region
Two mountain ranges, the Šumava and the Bohemian Forest range form an extraordinarily peaceful green oasis in the centre of Europe, sometimes dubbed the „green roof of Europe“. The area is rich in mysterious peat bogs, romantic valleys, deep forests, glacial lakes and the remnants of virgin forest. There is no better place for hiking and cycling. The upper reaches of the region’s rivers are ideal for canoeing, as is the largest reservoir in the Czech Republic, Lipno (sometimes called the South Bohemian Sea) for windsurfing and yachting. The modern marina complex at Lipno was built as a place of fun and sports and offers mooring space for 144 yachts, indoor tennis halls, squash courts, a bowling alley and a large indoor swimming pool with an artificial subtropical climate. On your way to the Šumava region you should not miss the opportunity to visit the castle and chateau in Horšovský Týn and the Kašperk Castle. The largest castle ruins in the country are located at Rábí. The jewel in the crown of Czech towns is picturesque Český Krumlov. The town castle with its unique baroque theatre is the second largest in the country after Prague Castle. The narrow winding streets of the old town are lined with countless gothic and renaissance houses which have kept there original appearance. The historical centre and other places of interest in Český Krumlov are protected by UNESCO.
The South Bohemian countryside has been cultivated since the middle ages. Proof of this fact is the system of artificial lakes and the 40 km long Golden Canal which supplies the lakes with water. South Bohemia is a place virtually untouched by modern civilisation. Visitors can immerse themselves in the historical towns, castles, chateaux and monasteries of the region. Many South Bohemian towns and villages illustrate the skill and artistic talent of anonymous craftsmen. Their beauty is known even beyond the borders of the Czech Republic thanks to the unique ‘folk baroque’ houses and barns in the UNESCO protected village of Holašovice. Landštejn is one of the oldest, largest and best preserved castles in the Czech Republic, rising nobly above the wooded hills of the border area. Jindřichův Hradec is one of the most attractive Czech towns for admirers of splendid renaissance town houses concealing gothic interiors. The town also has a series of churches and monasteries and a large lakeside chateau. Visitors can also enjoy the pleasant historical spa towns of Třeboň and Bechyně. One of the most popular chateaux in the Czech Republic is the fairytale chateau of Hluboká nad Vltavou, another is Červená Lhota. České Budějovice, the regional capital, is also a pleasant place to spend time with its well preserved historical main square and fountain.
Czech Tourism Authority – CzechTourism