Gazing up through enormous sandstone walls carved into fluid waves, at the distant branches of enormous trees, it feels as if you’re in another world. A world where dryads, trolls, nymphs, dwarves and elves move unseen yet seeing, observing you from afar, luring you deeper into their universe, where who knows what may happen …
Bohemian Paradise, Czech Republic
I’m in Hruboskalske ‘Rock Town’, a sandstone mesa deep within a forested ridge between Hrubá Skála and the town of Turnov, in the Bohemian Paradise (Czeský Ráj). I’m being shown round by Andrew and Linda Philips and their two daughters, who have a holiday home for rent in this beautiful part of the Czech Republic. Within a short drive of ‘Peace of Eden‘, their traditional wood-clad Czech house, is this unique fairy-tale area of impressive rock formations, fortified towers and ancient castles, quaint villages and tranquil countryside.
We’d already been to The Old Woman and the Maiden. Trosky Castle, the most significant landmark of this region, is actually two towers, built in the 14th c on twin volcanic peaks which can be seen from far away across the Bohemian Paradise (aka Czech Eden). It’s one of the most popular castles in the Czech Republic and sums up this area’s attraction; historic, imposing, picturesque and yes, most definitely quirky.
Before we’d gone into ‘rock town’ we’d had a quick look round Hrubá Skála, an attractive chateau that’s been remodelled over the centuries and has an eclectic regal appearance.
Standing on a look-out platform in the castle courtyard, we got a splendid view of the surrounding countryside, with forests, farms and tiny hamlets scattered all about and Trosky Castle in the distance. We spent a fascinating half hour in a gem-stone shop; the owner’s wife makes jewellery from local semi-precious stones. He took great delight in showing us a photo of Sophie, Countess of Wessex, wearing one of their brooches at a Duke Of Edinburgh Awards ceremony in the Czech Republic.
We entered the ‘Rock Town’ down a flight of narrow steps between sandstone pillars, into a tranquil place of ‘towers’ reaching 55 metres high and straggling trees stretching up to grasp the sunlight above. The sandstone crumbles as you brush past and there are a number of caves, some of which used to be lived in. There is a very poignant memorial to a young boy who was killed falling down into this cavernous world. Emerging from its bosky depths, we followed the main road back to the chateau, passing many Czech families out on bikes and hiking in this popular walking area.
What’s great about staying in Peace of Eden is that you get all the comforts of home after a busy day out; in fact, much greater comfort than my home for sure! Set in over 3 acres of attractive grounds, including a pond and fruit trees, the house has four bedrooms, sleeping up to eight people in cosy comfort.
The kitchen- dining area is luxuriously fitted out with high-spec equipment, utensils and crockery with a traditional wood-burning oven at its heart. The large lounge has deep sofas and armchairs around a wood-burner, beneath an elegant brick-vaulted ceiling. It’s been renovated most sympathetically, keeping as many original features as possible whilst creating a contemporary feel. My bedroom had a king-size bed and luxurious en-suite bathroom and looked out over the garden and surrounding countryside. There is wifi throughout the house.
You can order fresh bakes and preserves from a neighbouring farmer and in nearby Turnov there is a Lidl supermarket for most other shopping needs.
You need a spirit of adventure to make the most of your stay in the Bohemian Paradise. Tourism is in its infancy here and this part of the Czech Republic gets fewer overseas visitors than Prague (only 1.5 hours away). A car is necessary; with a SatNav it’s fairly easy to get about. Many signs, directions, menus etc are only in Czech so bring along a dictionary/phrase book and you shouldn’t have a problem. We had lunch one day in quaint Restaurant Bouckuv in Mala Skala; Andrew had got the menu translated for us so it was easy to order. I can highly recommend the venison goulash …
Our final excursion was to imposing Kost, one of the best-preserved Gothic castles in Bohemia, surrounded by ponds which acted as defensive protection in the 14th c. Unfortunately, it was closed on the day we visited so we had to make do with admiring it from the outside. Aparently it has a macabre medieval torture chamber and an impressive collection of weaponry. Beside the castle is a footpath which leads into the Plakánek Trail, lined with massive sandstone rocks and home to a variety of birds and other wildlife. (Plakánek means ‘The Weeper’ and there are many legends about why is it called that, but according to the excellent Czeský Ráj information booklet, it was actually because charcoal burners got an eye-disease caused by the smoke from their fires.)
As we wandered along the valley, autumn sun filtered in and out of the clouds, lighting up the myriad of coloured leaves, shading from green to gold, amber to crimson, orange to yellow. The girls found a large frog croaking its way into the leaf litter and birds carolled through the canyon.
This is the Bohemian Paradise Protected Region, due to its unique natural beauty and historical sights. You may not have heard of it before, but now that you have, I hope you get to visit one day. There are very many other cultural attractions and excellent for mountain biking, hiking and other outdoor pursuits. It is a very special part of Europe with an unspoilt character that invites exploration at your leisure.
Many thanks to the Philips family for their generous hospitality and for giving me a glimpse of this romantic region of the Czech Republic. Find out more about Peace of Eden holiday home and booking availability here. Follow them on Twitter @peaceofedencz and on Facebook PeaceofEdenCZ.