From Sušice to Velhartice

A walking weekend on the outskirts of the Šumava national park

Got to get out of Prague for the weekend?

One option is to look south, to the edges of the Šumava national park.

Although a weekend isn't really enough time to enjoy the beauty of the park itself - busses and trains to the area are agonizingly slow - the outskirts offer both a glimpse of its splendor and some great hiking opportunities.

One option is to follow the Sušice–Velhartice route.

Although Sušice lies just 146 kilometers from Prague, the non-stop bus ride still lasts two hours and 23 minutes. (The train journey lasts even longer - three hours, 14 minutes - and involves several changes.)

Sušice is a small town surrounded by rolling hills and pine forests.

It was once the matchstick-making capital of Central Europe. Those factories have long since shut down, however, another victim of globalization.

Sušice is a pretty enough little town, with ample accommodation, but if you're looking for good hiking and historical sights, you'd be well advised just to grab a refreshment in the main square then head out of town.

There are three main directions to choose from. To the north lies Rabí; to the south lies Kašperk; and Velhartice is to the west.

Built in the 1400s, Rabí is the largest castle ruin in Bohemia and was sacked by the Hussites in 1421.

Kašperk was built in 1356 by Charles IV and used as an administration center for the border regions.

The 14th-century Velhartice fortress, meanwhile, was used to store the Bohemian Crown Jewels when Karlštejn Castle was being besieged.

Whichever journey you choose we recommend hiking out of Sušice for a few hours and finding a pension or bed-and-breakfast along the way. (If you don't fancy the trek, buses are also available.)

During high season (May to September), it's advisable to reserve a room ahead of time. (See the official Sušice website for a list of accommodation options.

You can pick up maps and other information on the local area at Sušice's tourist office (open 9pm-4pm on weekdays, 9am-2pm on Saturdays). If the tourist office is closed you can buy trail maps at any of the tobacconists (tabak, in Czech ) on the main square.

Turistika mapa 2021: Sumava – Železnorudsko, which costs 79 CZK, is a particularly useful map, showing all the local area's hiking trails. Cyclists, meanwhile should consider the Cyklomapa of the same area.

The Velhartice trip begins by heading southwest out of the main square and taking the green trail. Once well out of town the trail hooks behind some panelák apartment buildings and off into the hills.

As the trail winds through meadows offering views of the surrounding hills, you get an immediate feel of the surrounding countryside. The trail leads from Sušice, through Horní Dvorce, to Volsovy. When you reach Volsovy, cut west along the main road for about two kilometers to Dolní Staňkov.

We decided to stay at U Fanouše, a pleasant and affordable pension. One pleasant and affordable pension option is U Fanouše. The staff are friendly, the prices very affordable, and the rooms quiet and cozy.

(Be warned, though, that this place is right on the main two-lane highway - if you're looking for total tranquility, this isn't the place for you.)

If you're planning a couple of day trips, or if this is your first stop on a longer journey, U Fanouše is pretty much ideal.

Dinner isn't available but the staff sometimes grills in the summer and breakfast is available on request (50 CZK per person). There's also a small pub nearby that serves 16 CZK Gambrinus beer and standard Czech fare for 75-100 CZK.

From U Fanouše the most attractive excursion to take is to Velhartice - a round trip of around 25 kilometers. The trip involves a lot of uphill walking, across varied terrain, so pack light and wear good hiking shoes.

From Dolní Staňkov, follow highway 171 for around a kilometer to Petrovice u Sušice, then turn north up the cycle path towards Svojšice. At Svojšice you finally leave the paved road and take the red trail, due northwest, in the direction of Velhartice.

The trail winds through forests and meadows here, with several small refueling points along the way, in Cihelna and Horní Staňkov, if you need them. (Frankly, we recommend continuing on to Velhartice, where your patience will be amply rewarded.)

As you continue, downhill, to the lower side of 859-meter-high Borek mountain, one unpleasant thought sticks in your mind almost as much as the pine needles along the trail stick in your clothes: "I must go back the way I came," you think.

As you spill out of the forest and into the sheep-filled fields, a great view of the town of Velhartice greets you. The town retains much of its original charm, and the museum offers a glimpse of how people lived a couple of hundred years ago.

Carry on up the hill and you'll find a fortress with thick stone walls and a massive stone bridge. You can tour the castle's interior for 30 CZK or walk around the grounds for 20 CZK.

After leaving the castle, return to the museum for your reward. Hospůdka Na kovárně is a typical Czech pub, with outdoor seating, serving traditional Bohemian cuisine and beer for a fraction of the price of Prague restaurants.

The Moravský Vrabec ("Moravian Sparrow" - a pork dish not for those on a diet) and the Šunka od kostí ("Ham on the bone") are both highly recommended.

Diehard meat-lovers, meanwhile, should ask for the uzená domácí klobása ("smoked homemade sausage"), smoked in a shed in the garden.

One of the restaurant's home-brewed plum, apricot or raspberry liquors provides a good energy boost ahead of the long walk back.

The return trip is almost always more difficult but the ascent of Borek mountain makes it particularly demanding. The good news is that once you reach the top most of the rest of the journey is downhill.

This hike to Velhartice and back should take up a full day and is a great way of catching a glimpse of the area.

If you have enough energy left over the following day, you can take a short but very steep two-kilometer hike to the top of Svatobor (845-meters high). On a fine day, the lookout point offers views of all the major landmarks in the area.

There's also a bar/restaurant in the area, serving cheap Czech food and drinks, plus some budget accommodation. Svatabor makes a perfect half-day trip before you head back to Prague.

There's a 5pm bus back to Prague on Sundays, giving you enough time to unwind before you head back to the daily grind.

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