As the season winds down, I thought it fitting to put one last episode of trekking up. It’s not quite too cold to go for some walks outside, and the leaves are still hanging on, all gold, yellow, and red. That means for the shorter and lighter day walks around Prague, it’s all still perfect, especially on any day like today, full of sunshine and blue skies.
Granted, when we went out, it wasn’t sunshine and blue skies, but bear with me. It was cloudy, gloomy, and on-and-off rain, weather a bit more typical for the Czech Republic. But it still made for a wonderful hike, with many a great vista and view. Which is not hard to do in Cesky Raj, or "Bohemian Paradise."
it's clear why this is a paradise
Cesky Raj is one of the best places to go for walks near Prague. It’s full of weird rock formations—what they call “Rock Town”, or Hruba Skala—great views, a massive underground lake at Bozkov, most excellent rock climbing, and half a dozen castles. You can literally hike from castle to castle, and with a full day’s hike, maybe get three castles, possibly even four, in.
leaves and rocks, what's not to like?
For our walk, again we based everything off of the (free) app, mapy.cz, which is an open source map where thousands of Czechs have kindly enough put up their favorite walks, hikes, and bikes, which means just about every bit of trail has a place on the GPS-powered app. I can’t stress it enough how useful it is (not just in the Czech Republic, but also in all of Europe).
Since we were hiking in the fall, our target was mainly to find vistas for admiring the foliage changes. This meant the park Hruboskalsko would be our destination. We drove to Hruba Skala Castle first and parked our car there. There’s some street food places around there as well, if you’re hungry for a quick bite or need a pre-hike beer.
Hruba Skala Castle
Hruba Skala Castle is also a hotel. So yes, you can stay in a castle for the night if you’re so inclined. There’s also a hostel next door, for the more budget conscience, but it’s not in an historic part of the complex.
Hruba Skala Castle
The original castle was built sometime in the 14th century, though most of the Gothic style construction dates to about the 17th century. The heavily fortified complex is perched high up on the rocks, with cliffs on three sides, and entry limited to two moats and bridges. I’m assuming at least one of those bridges was a draw bridge back in the day, making the castle nearly impenetrable.
The castle saw heavy action during the 30-Year War. When the resident duke was assassinated in another town, it was left under a lack of leadership. First the imperial Austrian troops sacked it, then the Swedes stationed their army there, and then it was taken back by the Austrians.
the inner courtyard of Hruba Skala
After the war and the collapse of the noble family that owned it, the Wallansteins, it was sold to the Aerenthals, who had a penchant for converting castles into beautiful chateaus, which is where the present style comes in. The chateau was one of the Aerenthal’s main residences, and was even the birthplace of the most famous member of their family, Alois Lexa, who was the mastermind behind the Austrian annexation of Bosnia and Herzogovina. So well done for legacy, Hruba Skala, your beautiful and romantic setting is almost responsible for starting World War I.
easy to conceive with a view like that
After World War II, the Aerenthal’s, being Austrian, which is to say, German, were kicked out of Czechoslovakia as revenge for being German, and the Communist government took over the estate. These days, the castle is now a hotel, hostel, spa, restaurant, ropes course, and parking lot. You read that right, there’s a ropes course around the outer moat. Cool place to swing around in the trees.
The City of Rocks
The walk begins there. From there, we descended down these steep rock steps that went down a narrow passage between two massive stone columns, and at times this passage was more of a cave or tunnel.
into the City of Rocks
Down, down, down we went, and we emerged into what was like a forest of stone, giant sandstone pillars piercing into the sky all around us, as though they themselves served as the battlements of an even grander castle than Hruba Skala.
the giant rock houses of the city
The hike continued winding its way around and through the rock formations, and then finally emerged to a countryside walk alongside one or two remote pensions.
one of the rock tunnels in "the city"
Then finally for the views. The rock formations that we walked through, and others like it, were now visible, providing majestic autumnal views from nearly 360-degree vistas, themselves mounted on more of the weird and alien formations.
the view everyone comes for
Because of those rocks, the area is quite famous for rock climbing, and I imagine in the summer there must be swarms of climbers going up one pillar or another. As it was, the only evidence of this was one or two informational plaques about one famous climber or another.
The trail can continue on to Castle Valdstejn, which is another massive fortress overlooking the town of Turnov. But as we got a late start hiking, and the weather was looking to turn, we decided to take the bend rather than go on to the castle. If you’ve time, definitely go for the visit, as it’s a full on 14th century ruin, with part of it restored as a museum. We’ve had our share of castle museums though, so we weren't too dismayed about missing it. It does look pretty impressive, and it’s super close to Prague, so we might update you guys with a visit in the Spring.
looking back up
On the way back, we took a lower route, where we were looking up at the rock towers for the most part, rather than looking down from them. The route finally climbed up the rocks again, now with a view of the valley and the more distant Trosky Castle, which is a complete ruin and is mounted on a high hill in the distance. If you start early, and from either Trosky or Valdstejn, it is entirely manageable to do all three castles in one day. But we started quite late and the weather was bad, so that was that.
For more trekking ideas around Prague, check out my last blog and take in a few tips.