Hiking in Český Ráj

Only an hour from Prague, "Bohemian Paradise" offers imposing castles, tranquil forests, and a series of well-marked walking trails

With spring here -- officially, at least -- why not take a trip out to "Bohemian Paradise"?

About an hour from Prague by bus, Český ráj is host to a range of sights both natural and historical.

Český ráj is the region bordered by Mnichovo Hradiště in the east, Železný brod in the north, Lomnice nad Popelkou in the west and Sobotka in the south.

The closest towns to Prague are Mnichovo Hradiště and Sobotka, both about 75 kilometers away.

Bus and trains run to all these towns. For online schedules, see the IDOS website.

The towns make a handy starting point or final destination for a day’s exploration.

Each is a relatively short walk from forests of beech and birch, broken by ancient smoothed rocks, quaint farms and several castles. It's just a matter of following the right color-coded path.

Because of its color-coded tracks, Český ráj is very hiker-friendly.

Each route is marked by a series of white squares with a coloured horizontal line through the center -- the colour of the horizontal line corresponds to the colour of that particular route.

They can usually be found on trees, fence posts, walls and cottages. Finding the markers can be something of a sport for first-time hikers in the area.

The marks correspond to paths in hiking maps printed by either the Klub Českých turistů (Czech Tourist Club) or GeoClub. Both are available from Czech bookstores.

Below is a list of personal favourites. All are possible day trips or, if you fancy something more demanding, can be used as points along the route of a three- or four-day hiking trip.

Drábské světničky
This rock castle (skalní hrad) is a good destination for less experienced hikers. Though uphill, it’s a short walk from the village Březina, and the view is worth it.

Drábské světničky is comprised of rooms that were carved into the rock in the 13th century, though the place feels much more primordial. Legend has it that it was once the hideout of bandits.

How to Get There
Short route: Train to Turnov and then to Březina. Follow the yellow path then switch to the red.

Long route: Bus to Mnichovo Hradiště. Follow the red path to Zásaldka. Change to the blue.

Open all year. In the winter expect snow on the paths.

Hrubá skála
This renaissance château takes its name from the surrounding geological features. Hrubá skála literally means “rough rock”. It is a popular destination or stopping point for hikers and cyclists.

A lookout on the rock affords a spectacular view of the château and the iconic ruins of the Trosky castle The château also serves as a hotel, offering standard food and board in cozy rooms. It is not really suitable for more secluded getaways as the hotel is popular with weddings and conferences.

How to Get There
Short Route: Bus or train to Turnov then train to Hrubá skála. Follow the blue path.
Longer Route: Bus or train to Turnov. Follow the red path to the château. On the way back to Turnov take a detour on the yellow path which joins up with the red or continue along the red to Trosky. Take the green path to Ktová where there is a train back to Turnov.

Open all year, though the refreshment stand is closed in the winter.

Hrubá skála Website

This (very) ruined castle consists of two towers, the taller Panna ("maiden" or "virgin") and the shorter Baba ("old woman" or "hag").

The castle lends the area its romance, especially when glimpsed on a misty morning.

How to Get There
Short Route: Bus to Sobotka then train to Ktová. From Ktová take the green path.

Long Route: See Hrubá skála above.

May to October

This Gothic castle, whose name means "bone", evokes images of an even earlier era at first glance. Tours, available in English, include a visit to the "black kitchen", torture chambers and a gallery of portraits of the Kinský family, the original owners.

Alternatively, join the many other hikers and cyclists relaxing in the outdoor beer garden.

For those who prefer more natural settings there is also the poetically named údolí Plakánek ("Valley of Tears"), not far from Kost.

How to Get There
Short Route: Bus or train to Sobotka. You will probably have to change in Mladá Boleslav. From Sobotka take a train to Libošovice. Follow the yellow path.

Long Route: This I suggest for the keen hiker. A map is essential is this is your fist time. Take a bus to Mnichovo Hradiště. Follow the red path to Valečov. Switch to the green path. Follow the green path to red path. Follow the red path in the direction of Kost and Sobotka. From Kost continue along the red to Sobotka. From Sobotka you should be able to get a bus back to Mladá Boleslav and then to Prague.

These trips are only meant as suggestions. Once you've been to Český ráj a few times, you’ll discover many more interesting routes and sights for yourself.

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