Things to Do in Bohemia
Snuggled up against a giant swath of the German border, is the Czech Republic’s Bohemian Switzerland National Park. Though it’s the country’s newest national park, the region has long drawn people — from traders to artists — to cross into its borders. In fact, the park’s curious name was inspired by two 19th-century Swiss artists, who settled here because it fondly reminded them of their homeland.
For most, it will likely recall something that dreams are made of, given the park’s majestic lush landscape, and especially because of the otherworldly sandstone rock formations, including Pravcicka Brana (Europe’s largest sandstone arch, and the symbol of the park). Park visitors relish in navigating Bohemian Switzerland’s various routes (marked by different colors), taking boat rides down the river gorges, and visiting the sweet village of Hřensko, very much the hub of the park, and from which many trails depart.
The austere towers and battlements of 12th-century Gothic Loket Castle stands on a granite headland over a bend in the River Ohře and dominates the Western Bohemian town of Loket close to the peat bogs, pine trees and birch forests of the Slavkov Forest Protected Landscape Area. Originally built as a defensive fortress to protect trade routes from Prague, the castle became the favorite royal retreat of King Charles IV of Bohemia, who came here in the mid 14th century to enjoy hunting in the surrounding forests. Later in its life, Loket was occupied by several noble Czech families and between 1822 and 1948 was used as a prison. Today tours of its imposing interior include the torture chambers in the dungeons, where some extremely graphic instruments of torture can be spotted.
Sitting high on a granite outcrop above the River Sázava between Brno and Prague in Bohemia, Český Šternberk is an imposing Gothic castle that has been much embellished and extended over the centuries. It was founded in the mid 13th century by the aristocratic Sternberg family, whose descendants still live there today – the 20th generation to do so. Reinforcements to the fortified walls came in 1467, when a lookout tower was added, and Baroque upgrades to the living quarters were made after the Thirty Years’ War with Sweden in the late 17th century, when the castle had become a family home rather than a defence tower. Further modernizations in the early 20th century saw Český Šternberk kitted out with electricity, heating and running water, and although the castle was ‘nationalized’ in 1949 by the Communist occupiers of Czechoslovakia, it was restored to the Sternberg family in 1992 following the Velvet Revolution.
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