Czech Republic: who doesn't love it ?
Czech Republic is an amazing country in many ways.
First of all, this tiny republic of Central Europe (formerly known as "Czechoslovakia" when linked with the sister Slovakia), spared by the throes of the twentieth century, managed to preserve all its old stones and monuments in decent state.
Second, its people are friendly. Everywhere including large cities, the Slavic hospitality is more than verified, and people like to take the time for everything, far from the western rush. And, paradoxically, they manage to be as clean and organized as the Germans !
Third, this country is green and mountainous. No high mountain, but rough terrain on almost all the circumference of the country, bordered on the East by the Carpathians (Western Beskids), North by the Sudetes, West by the Bohemian mountains, and south by the hillets of the sunny Southern Moravia. Which is where this page aims to take us.
But before that, a last one : Czech love sport. Not only they have a brilliant soccer team, but this 15M inhabitants country manages to be present on all fronts, including where we wouldn't expect them, for example rivaling with Canada and Russia in hockey. Outdoor sports aren't outdone: mountains are strewn with nordic skiing tracks. Every single rocky outcrop is visited by rock-climbers during week-ends. And during the season, crowds of people, and not only moneyed-classes from cities, are rushing onto the numerous well-marked cycling tracks. Last but not least, and maybe not random, the present XC Olympic champion is a Czech !
The gate to the South
Czech Republic is in the heart of Europe, and can be seen somehow like a transition between the North and the South.
Southern Moravia, the "door" to the Danube and the Hungarian basin, with all its spicy meals, can fairly pretend to be the south. This is the only place in the country where wine is produced, making the continuity with other famous wine-areas in Austria, Hungary and Slovakia. Since this is the only such region of the country, they are very proud of this tradition and hold it high in their regional culture. And people are like the wine: easygoing and joyful.
Southern Moravia is the "flattest" part of the Czech borders, if we compare it to the rest of the belt of ranges that surround it. But we do find hills and rough terrain, which is what we look for in the background of mountain-biking.
There are two entities woth mention :
- The Podyjí national park, bordered by its counterpart on the Austrian side (Thayatal)
- The Palava Hills natural reserve
Podyjí-Thayatal is an unique area in the region. The Dyje (Thaya in Austria) has dug impressive and winding gorge trough a massif made of metamorphic rocks crossbred with schists, a surprising observation if we refer to the laws of erosion and the supposed toughness of this kind of rock.
Cliffs and rocks overlooking the bed of the river sometimes stand by more than 300m over the bed of the river.
Due to the fact this area was situated almost entirely within the buffer-zone during the cold war (Czechoslovakia was communist and Austria was then the eastermost democratic stronghold), the nature remained untouched, and pimeval forests host exceptional variety of animal and vegetal species. This fragility remained intact till nowadays thanks to both national park who nowadays work in close collaboration.
Paradoxally, this wilderness was not obstructed as well by the existence of world-famous vintages, such as the Šobes vineyard, settled in the heart of the park and on a quasi-circular loop of the river.
The Dyje/Thaya river wasn't a srong border only during the contempory area, but also since long ago through the ages. Numerous fortresses and castles are located on its shore, the three famous of them being Bítov, Vranov and Hardegg. Other ruins of strongholds are found as well along the river, like Nový Hrádek.
When it comes about cities, Znojmo is a medium-sized town close to the national park that owns an incredible amount of monument and old buildings. Wandering in the tiny streets and visiting all keeps you busy for a whole day ! On the Austrian side of the border, Retz, despite smaller, owns a magnificent town square and a famous windmill on its hill.
The Dyje/Thaya is visited on foot as well as by bike. Indeed, except a couple of hiking trails along the shore, places you can access only on foot and not ride are very few. In the worse case, you can still lock your bike temporarily. The river is best seen from downside, or from upside.
From downside, few trails follow the shore of the river :
- On the Czech side, a short piece of road near Bítov (biking and hiking).
- On the Czech side, from Vranov to Vranovské brány (biking and hiking), red-marked. It is named "Cesta Romana Havelky".
- On the Austrian side, from Hardegg to Merkersdorf (hiking only), red and blue-marked.
- On the Czech side, from Znojmo to Visutý most (hiking only), yellow-marked. It is only partly on the shore and its name is "Cesta Jaroslava Krejčího".
Some bridges closed to cars allow crossing the river by bike in many spots:
- Podhradí nad Dyjí
- Vranov dam
- Vranov centre
- Vranov centre
- Vranov relax
- Zadní Hamry lávka
- Lipinská louka, visutý most
- Šobes, visutý most
- Znojomo, dam
- Znojomo, centre
- Znojomo, lávka
From upside, many cul-de-sac trails, linked by a dense network away from the steepness, provide stunning viewpoints to the gorges :
- Near Vranov, north shore (Czech): Ledové sluje
- Near Vranov, south shore (Austria): Heimatkreuz
- Near Hardegg, north shore (Czech): Hardeggská vyhlídka
- Near Hardegg, south shore (Austria): at the junction of the red trails on the Umlauf loop
- Near Podmolí, north shore (Czech): Nový Hrádek
- Near Hnanice, north shore (Czech): On the Šobes wineyard
- Near Popice, south shore (Czech): Sealsfieldův kámen
- Near Mašovice, north shore (Czech): Králův stolec
- In Znojomo, north shore (Czech): Hradišťské terasy
This interactive map on the Cykloserver map portal indicates well the location of all these viewpoints, and bike-trails are marked in violet. Check also Liba's excellent page on Summitpost.
More east, not far from the main road that leads to Vienna, just next to the border, our attention is focused by intriguing and sudden hills that stand over the surrounding undulating plains.
Unlike the previous area, the Palava hills are made of a brittle limestone. Made of rugged outcrops that sometimes overlook quite vertical cliffs and drops, the nature of the terrain remainds a bit of the Polish Jura. They are not a national park but subject to a classification as a natural reserve.
They extend from the town of Mikulov, on the south, to the large dam-reservoir "Vodní dílo Nové Mlýny", which retains the waters of the Dyje, the same river than mentioned in the above chapter of Podyjí.
From the cultural point of view, in the same way than Znojmo for Podyjí, Mikulov is an absolutely magnificent town one must visit. The royal palace that stand on a butte in the centre of the town is the first edifice we notice, but all streets are packed with old houses and monuments. On other hills that surround the town, one will notice an old defense tower (Kozí Hrádek, Goat Tower), and a calvary (St. Sebastian Chapel on the Holy Hill). Countless of other ruins and castles are found in the surroundings. Two famous palaces are located a bit more East, near Břeclav: Valtice and Lednice. Břeclav itself is another medium-sized town worth seeing.
Ruins of medieval castles, like Děvín, Dívčí Hrad, Sirotčí Hrádek or Orphanus ruins, are located in the Pálava hills. Made of the local limestone, their bright colour blends into the natural rocky landscape.
In theory, the trails running on the Pálava hills, well-marked with colours, are not suitable for cycling, but fit bikers might find it challenging to bag the highest tops such as Děvín (549m), Stolová hora (458m), Turold (395m) or Pritucká hora (219m). Less hilly, the forests covering the area east from the hills, as well as the Valtice forest, are strewn with tracks that are proper for biking.
Marked trails for cycling mostly follow minor local roads, but they provide excellent cyclotouring excursions with many cultural places to see on the way.
On the Austrian side, Falkenstein, near Poysdorf, owns a castle perched on a hill whose nature is similar to the Pálava hills on the Czech side.
This interactive map on the Cykloserver map portal indicates well the location of all these viewpoints, and bike-trails are marked in violet. Again, check also Liba's excellent page on Summitpost.
Brno, second largest city of Czech Republic, is the gateway to Southern Moravia. Until half-way in the direction of the Austrian border, the road is a dual carriageway that looks like a motorway (despite it is not one; the motorway vignette isn't needed on this portion). It stops just before the junction of the roads that lead respectively to Mikulov or Znojmo.
Mikulov is reached equally easily from Vienna, where a brand new motorway leaves the city north and leads almost to the Czech border (Poysdorf). The rest of the road is fast too. Znojmo, from Vienna, is served by another motorway leading to Hollabrunn (almost the border too).
Wyświetl większą mapę
A lot of portals summarize all accomodations on internet, but unfortunately rarely in English or foreign languages. Since an inventary of all of them would be too much work, and the data is changing constantly, here are only a couple of tips to help to sort it out.
Here is a small lexicon:
- Accomodation = Unterkunft (AU), Ubytovanie (CZ)
- Hotel = Hotel/Hotel. "Hostels" often designate Youth hostels or motels.
- Green lodge = Ferienbauernhof (AU), Agroturistika (CZ)
- Guesthouse = Pension (AU), Penzión (CZ/SK)
- Summer residence = Sommerhaus (AU), Chalupa (CZ)
- Flat for rent = Privatzimmer (AU), Privat (CZ)
- Mountain hut = Berghütte (AU), Chata/Horsky Hotel (CZ)
- Restaurant = Restaurant (AU), Restaurace (CZ)
- Campsite = Campingplatz(AU), or Kemp/Tábořiště/ATM (CZ)