I knew I wanted to do some hiking in the Czech Republic, and it didn’t take much research to discover that this country is a trekking paradise, so I made plans to make two stops before I headed to Prague. The first stop in ‘Bohemian Switzerland‘ and the second in ‘Bohemian Paradise.’
The town of Hřensko is billed as being ‘the gateway to Bohemian Switzerland‘ and it is supposedly the best place to start any of your adventures. But after checking hotel prices online, I found nothing in that town that fit into my budget. So I looked a bit further east, into the Czech National Forest, and I found a little pension that seemed like a bargain.
I must have had my map zoomed out when I looked ‘a little bit east,’ because I had booked myself into a small village over 20 miles into the heart of the forest in a tiny village of Vysoká Lípa. I checked my travel app and it said I could take a train to their local stop and catch a cab from there for the last few kilometers. However, when I arrived at the stain stop, it was in the middle of nowhere. The conductor of the train looked at me with great worry as I stepped off the train, but this is where I needed to be, so I waved him off and the one-car train departed, leaving me alone in the countryside.
I just started walking, following the GPS coordinates and finding trails through the heart of the forest. Having no alternative but to walk to my hotel from the train was initially very aggravating. The annoyance quickly dissipated as I headed through the beautiful trees, breathing in the moist forest air and finding my way through a maze of towering rock pillars which ranged from just a few feet in height to hundreds of feet tall. Also along the way I started seeing woodcarvings. Signs, benches, children’s playground swings, marry-go-rounds and see-saws. The woodwork incorporated animals into the designs and I wondered who in the world had time to make all of this? Village after village I passed through had more examples of these beautiful crafts and it was quite impressive.
About 2 hours into my journey, at the bottom of a valley, the path made its way to an abandoned mill that looked like something directly out of a fairy tale. I wandered through the ruins for about an hour, occasionally being joined by local Czech tourists that explored the site with me.
I learned that this abandoned mill, named Dolský mlýn, is one of the main attractions in the National Forest. Even so, the feeling of discovering this place after a 2-hour hike through the forest made the moment quite magical. For the brief period of time I had the ruins to myself, I imagined what life at the mill must have been like back in the 1500s. As the clouds grew darker overhead and the sound of distant thunder grew closer, I knew I needed to make a move and set off again through the towering rocks.
Since I had booked myself 20 miles into the middle of the National Forest, it meant that I had even more area to explore than if I had booked myself in Hřensko, which sits on the edge of the park.
On my first day, I went on a 6-hour hike, heading even further east into the forest to visit Mariina Skala, a small wooden hut that sits precariously on the very top of a massive stone column. It has been quite the local attraction for over a hundred years. Again, as I approached the site, the weather started to change and it looked like rain was definitely on the way. So I ran all the way up the mountain, a 45-minute cardio workout that had my heart beating wildly. As soon as I reached the small wooden cabin at the top, the heavens opened.
So it was raining, I couldn’t even see 20 feet and there was no way to take any photos of the view. Everything again seems to be going wrong, but then after 20 minutes the clouds started breaking. The rain turned to hail and as rays of light began to reach the ground, they unveiled one of the most beautiful landscapes I have ever seen. The clouds worked their way over the mountains and slowing began filtering through the dense forest trees on the surrounding hilltops. Part of the sky was still filled with black clouds, but white rays of sun streaked across the sky and on the horizon the setting sun added a bit of amber and red. I alternated between gasping at the beauty of it all and taking as many photos as I could. This lasted for almost half an hour until lightning struck nearby, and though it hadn’t stopped raining completely, I thought it would be best to get off the top of this mountain.
I walked home in the rain, through the forest, and down country roads, taking more photos and absolutely in love with the views all around me.
I got back to my pension that night and went next door to the restaurant to eat. While going through my photos and writing, some of the locals started to tease me that I work too much. So I joined them at their table and they told me stories about the area I was visiting, and I told them some stories from my adventures. They invited me to join them the next day at their wooden cabin in the valley, quite close to the mill ruins.
I began the next day on a mission to get to Pravčická brána, the largest natural arch in Europe. The lady at my pension said it was a 4-hour, round-trip hike. For some reason (taking too many photos and climbing too many rocks) it took me almost 6 hours to complete only the first half of the journey. I completely missed my opportunity to have drinks and dinner at my new friends’ cabin in the woods, as I had completely blown my schedule.
After visiting the natural arch, I visited the town of Hřensko, the town that was suggested to be the launch pad for all local trekking adventures. Although there are many more restaurants to choose from, the streets are also lined with tourists, and shops along the main street are selling every imaginable Made-in-China peace of crap possible, putting a big damper on the charm of the area.
At this point I was absolutely exhausted, and I was very far from home. After a bit of research, I found small boats that take passengers through narrow gorges, and that they would take me pretty much all the way home. This was an unexpected and perfect way to end these excellent adventures in Bohemian Switzerland.
Everything that I thought had gone wrong about this trip had turned out to be the best thing that could have actually happened.
– Booking my hotel in the wrong village had actually opened up much more of the area for me to explore.
– Getting dropped off in the middle of nowhere actually forced me to make my way through a beautiful forest of towering rocks and I got to ‘discover’ an abandoned mill along the way.
– Getting rained on during the middle of the hike had actually resulted in seeing one of the most beautiful panorama views I had ever seen in my life.
– Taking too long to get to my destination on the last day forced me to look for options on how to get home, and I discovered an amazing boat trip through some deep and narrow mountain gorges.
This wasn’t making lemons into lemonade. This was simply discovering that I never really had lemons to begin with, and I just had to go with the flow until the magic of each situation became clear.
I still regret not visiting that cabin in the woods, but my friends ended their conversation with me I would visit their home ‘next time.’
Am I walking too slow?
Am I stopping every 5 seconds to take too many photos?
Yes, and yes.
Completely exhausted, but what a great time exploring Bohemian Switzerland. Absolutely unspoiled Czech countryside. I’m filthy, bruised and everything I own needs a good wash, and that will all happen soon, as I move on to the village of Turnov and I will have 4 full days to explore a multitude of mountains, castles, castle ruins, and more crazy rock formations.
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