Teplice nad Metují

Spectacular rock formations have drawn awed visitors to this northeastern Bohemian town, and to nearby Adršpach, for centuries

I like big rocks and I cannot lie.

Ever since I first laid eyes on the fantastical sandstone pillars of the Canadian Rocky Mountains that are whimsically termed "hoodoos," I've been fascinated by the Sculpture of the Gods, the inexorable workings of wind and water on rock.

Fortunately the Czech Republic has some stones of its own, notably at the Adršpach and Teplice nad Metují skalné města (rock towns) in northeastern Bohemia, neighboring collections of columns and massifs that have drawn awed visitors since at least the early 18th century. If the hoodoos represent natural sculpture's avant-garde, Adršpach and Teplice are exemplars of the figurative school, each contour and protuberance transformed by human fancy into some animal, act or object and titled accordingly.

At Teplice - wilder and less visited than Adršpach and thus perhaps a better venue for enjoying the rocks as both natural and artistic phenomena - these range from the sublime (a neo-Renaissance Madonna and child) to the ridiculous (an indented flat stone dubiously identified as Smetana's Pianoforte) to the sublimely ridiculous (yep, that's a dog trying to lick an ice-cream cone).

In some cases, the proto-marketers who labeled the formations must have had their work cut out for them; the process seems to have involved not a little wishful thinking. Sure, any old finger of stone can be tossed off as the Giant's Toothpick or some such monster of rock, but it can take several minutes of puzzled staring for a particular outcrop to resolve itself into, say, a frog and an elephant. Often, though, Teplice's images pop into focus with astonishing clarity. Even the most hardened rationalist may begin to suspect a hidden hand at work - one with a sense of humor and a fondness for dogs, judging by the series of well-formed canine heads.

Bemused speculation gives way to dramatic spectacle when the woodsy path opens up under the towering obelisks and plunging fissures of the Giant's Garden or the sheer Martin and Temple walls (popular with climbers), or when it squeezes into the cool, dim passages of "Underworld" and "Siberia," overhung with mossy curtains and underlain by a burbling stream.

Less rock, more chill-out, and a stone groove.


Arriving: There are occasional direct trains from Prague's main station, Hlavní nádraží, to Teplice nad Metují Main Station, but the most common route involves catching a bus from Florenc and switching to rail in Náchod or Hronov. From Teplice nad Metují catch a local to Teplice nad Metují-skaly station. The trip takes about two-and-a-half hours by car.

Exploring: Day passes for the Adršpach/Teplice national park run 50 CZK a head. If the Teplice loop trail doesn't get your rocks off sufficiently, it's a 3.5-kilometer hike on the yellow-marked trail through Vlčí rokle (Wolf Gorge) to Adršpach.

Sleeping, Eating, Drinking: Pension Skály (Střmenské podhradí 132) offers a double room and breakfast for 1,000 CZK per night. Hotel Orlík (Střmenské podhradí 181), just outside the Teplice rocks trailhead, charges 200 CZK more but throws in dinner as well. Both have functional rooms and full-service restaurants.

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