Krkonoše in Summertime

Best known for its skiing, The Czech Republic's highest mountain range - where East Bohemia borders Poland - is also an attractive summer retreat

On a clear day you can see for miles from Sněžka's summit. This was not a clear day.

At least, not on the fog-veiled Polish side of this border-hugging peak, the Czech Republic's highest mountain. On the Czech side we could scope far along the Krkonoše, or Giant Mountains, peering across the valleys at distant cottages, trying to spot the one where we'd spent the previous evening, sipping wine and admiring the opposite view.

Then, we'd sat wrapped in a blanket in the chilly June dusk on a log-hewn bench, facing 1,602-meter Sněžka and the snow-filled saddle of neighboring Kotel. Pension Světýlko had been a lucky online find, a beautifully rehabbed house a few kilometers from the town of Pec pod Sněžkou. Petr Piskač, a Pardubice body-shop owner, bought the property in 1996 and turned a broken-down chata (country cottage) into a comfortably homey set of holiday flats with wood floors, rehabbed bathrooms and private kitchens. For cooler weather there's a sauna, and a big outdoor fireplace facing the peaks.

Most folks come to Pec pod Sněžkou to ski, but this 500-year-old former mining town does have a brief summer season, when hikers and mountain bikers ascend. Tourist authorities offer route maps, a local bus is outfitted for bikes and some lifts take riders uphill. Smaller and less crowded than nearby Špindlerův Mlýn, Pec is accordingly more attractive, though not in the usual Bohemian castle-and-Baroque-square fashion; the terrain is too vertical for that. Neatly kept, Bavarian-style timbered chalets, festooned with geraniums and phlox, line the main drag and cling to the hillsides.

From the village there are three ways up Sněžka: a 5.5-kilometer yellow-marked trail, steep but direct; a longer but more scenic blue-blazed trail along a glacial corrie; and a 20-minute chairlift ride. Legs already sore from the steep walk down from Světýlko, we took the lift, gliding above tundra ecologically more akin to the Alps than the closer White Carpathian and Jeseník ranges.

Unfortunately, with its crowded snack bars and trinket shops, the country's high point is perhaps better appreciated from a distance. Underdressed for the frigid summit (3 degrees Celsius in June), we lingered only briefly to take in a hot drink and the vertiginous views along the east and west ridges of the Krkonoše and the ice-carved valleys below. We walked down, passing from the peak's rocky moonscape through the tundra to a trail through pine forest that parted occasionally to once again show off the Giants at their best.


Arriving: Buses depart daily for Pec pod Sněžkou from Černý Most, most frequently on Saturday. The trip takes a little over three hours. It's about a two-hour ride by car.

Exploring: Tiny Pec has no fewer than three tourist centers offering trail maps and other assistance. Links to all of them plus a wealth of regional info can be found at the multilingual Reisengebirge Krkonoše website.

Sleeping, Eating, Drinking: Světýlko (Pec pod Sněžkou 73; has comfy rooms, cheerful hosts, good cooking and a great view with prices starting at around 800 CZK for two, including breakfast (dinner is extra). For options in Pec proper, check the listings at The restaurant at Hotel Hořec (Pec pod Sněžkou 145) offers a relatively eclectic menu at local-standard prices. Timbered, two-century-old Hospoda na Peci (Pec pod Sněžkou 142) is tops for a post-hike beer.

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