Take me to the River

Micah Jayne scours the countryside for good food, the ghost of a nazi hermit and a place to take a dip

A car often seems an unnecessary luxury in Prague, but just South of the city, past the Barrandov cloverleaf and the last neon-lit filling station you can roll down the windows, poke your head out and start to love the open road again. Hang a right and follow the Berounka river as it winds through a lazy maze of sand loading lots and empty warehouses along road 172. The Berounka, a smaller, cleaner and faster running tributary of the Vltava, is the river of choice for swimming, and the region it passes through is rich with a weird blend of history and legend.

Where are we going? Swimming, of course, but how about a little bit of that history first? For starters, you’re rolling along the same route Charles the Fourth used to take to his comfortable little summer house at Karlštejn. Don’t worry, the back way is off limits to the enormous troop transporters used to haul the folks from Old Town Square; they’re no doubt enjoying a 50 Kč coca-cola, watching the signs fly by on the highway.

Old Charles loved the high road for a reason too – the land itself is protected by UNESCO because of its gentle, green-tinted beauty and it is illegal to build on much of it. About 15 kilometers from Smíchov the road winds up into the hills,dotted with little towns like Černošice and Dobřichovice, which are quickly reclaiming their original functionality as summer-time getaways for Prague’s up and coming. Černošice is the first real swimming stop along the route. Most summer days people start gathering at the Hospoda u nádraží just before noon to gather some friends and get some alcohol into the blood (legend has it that a healthy 0.2% blood alcohol level dissuades the infamous Berounka mosquitoes...). Follow the people around to the right of the train station and down the hill to the river.

Dobřichovice is the second, and more pleasant stop, located a few more kilometers on down the line. The locals got fed up with trickle-down economics a few years back and threw down to build their own bridge across the river to facilitate access to a few scattered cottages and smooth,grassy banks opposite the town. Some unlucky fool broils away in a tiny toll booth all summer long collecting coins from Pražáci, within shouting distance of people splashing around the gentle falls where the water is deep and the river bottom is soft and muddy. Just over the toll bridge to the right you can rent a cabin for the night for less than 100 Kč, or just throw up a tent in the field. Swimming isn’t the only thing to love in this tiny burg; a new mini-mall offers hours of questionably entertaining diversion, a role assumed by the campsite bar “U Jezu” after dark. The local expert warns that residents often have the opportunity to swim just meters from their own doors a few times a year, as a large part of the town is built on a floodplain, so don’t pass out too close to the shore.

If you have it in you, hop back in the sweltering car–the best is yet to come. Just beyond the next town, a tiny little cluster of quaintly dilapidated buildings known as Mořina, the hillside a series of flooded quarries known as Amerika, Malá Amerika and Mexiko. The names were bequeathed by Czech trampers of the early 30’s, who camped out along the crystalline lakes for weeks at a time. The empty quarries, which produced limestone for Prague’s early 20th century building boom, were soon taken over by a mysterious company which, according to some reports, used them as a development site for some secret Nazi weapon. To complete the Indiana Jones mystique, the Nazis moved in full-scale when they marched into Prague, and used the vast tunnel complex connecting the three quarries to store the lost ark of the covenant. Legend has it that a German soldier called Hagen emerged from the tunnels some fifteen years after the war, only to find that Amerika was reclaimed “for the people”.

The newly liberated proceeded to abuse their privilege by hanging out naked and mimicking freedom. The authorities used to line the rim of the quarry on nice days then send their best men in to collect identification cards and march the hippies up the hill to face the music as God intended. Recently, efforts have also been made to stop people from visiting the spot, but they have been thankfully ineffective thus far. The most serious deterrent has always been the treacherous descent into the quarry, however. The odd arrangements of stones on the quarry floor are monuments to the many people who have fallen to their deaths trying to climb into or out of the place, so be warned.

Let’s imagine a long Scandinavian day, a day long enough to see you climb back out of Amerika and back into your car with enough energy left to continue the trip. In this perfect, summertime world you would backtrack through the town of Mořina and up into the wooded slopes surrounding Karlštejn. Huge elms covering the Dračí skála, or dragon’s rock, shade the road and make the approach to Karlštejn that much more dra-matic. Just before entering the town proper you’ll see the Restaurant and Pension “Pod dračí skálou" on your left. Check the Dish for a review of this nice little game restau- rant, then check into a room for the night. If you feel antsy after dinner, there’s always a chance for one more midnight dip in the Berounka – but walk down through the old town this time, cars are forbidden.

Dobřichovice campsite
Open: 15.5.–30.9.
Tyršova 398, CZ-252 29,
tel: 02/9912181

–Micah Jayne can be reached at [email protected]

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