Krkonoše Mountains, The Czech Republic
Mountains, Hiking & Beer, Oh My!
When I moved to the Czech Republic, I was very naive about what it had to offer. In my mind there was Prague, and well...Prague. I was vaguely aware of the 2 main regions (Bohemia and Moravia) and had little to no knowledge of the nation's history, natural landmarks or any other prominent cities or towns scattered across the abundant countryside.
During the past 14 months, I've been lucky to have the opportunity to travel throughout "Czechia" and uncover some of it's hidden, and not-so-hidden gems. This past weekend I ventured to Krkonoše National Park, located in Northern Bohemia, and home to the country's highest mountain range. Snuggled up against the Polish border, the Krkonoše mountains abruptly rise up from the rolling green hills like towering giants- probably why Krkonoše translates to the Giant Mountains.
After a quick 2.5-hour bus ride from Prague, I arrived in the picturesque, little ski-town, Špindlerův Mlýn. And no, don't ask me to pronounce that.
Fun Fact: Literally translated as Špindler's Mill, the town received its name after a mill belonging to Spindler's family. Today it is one of the best-known mountain resorts in the Czech Republic.
After meeting up with my boyfriend, and unofficial Czech translator, Kuba, we checked in to our accommodation and wasted no time before hitting the trails. Our first destination was the popular ski hill, Medvědín. The hike was quick and painless, only taking about 40 minutes. Bikers and hikers alike followed trails to the top and rested for a quick drink or bite to eat. Or a quick snooze.
Krkonoše National Park is a biker's paradise. Unfortunately, we did not bike during our trip, but I highly recommend bringing your own or renting one during your stay. Easily marked trails and rugged paths criss-cross throughout the landscape and the roads are dominated by cyclists.
Making it back to our hotel just in time for dinner, Kuba and I helped ourselves to a classic all you can eat Czech buffet of bread rolls, potatoes, meat, and salad. In keeping with tradition, after dinner, we relaxed on the terrace for a cold Pilsner beer and soaked in the view.
Fueling up on a breakfast of cereal, yogurt, ham, cheese and toast (and hot chocolate), we packed up and hit the road toward the Czech Republics highest mountain, Sněžka. At 1,603 meters (5,259 ft), its summit is the highest point in the Czech Republic and in the Krkonoše mountain range. There are several trails that lead to the top, as well as a cable car. Kuba and I started our trek in the last Czech village before the Polish border, 7km (about 5 miles) from the top.
The beginning of the trail was rather gradual, but as our elevation increased so did the incline. Our previous day's hike quickly started to feel like a warm-up. At about 2km, we encountered our first Czech-Polish border marker. For the rest of the hike, we would walk alongside these tiny cement blocks, some of which were situated in the middle of the trail. I found this very amusing!
Around the halfway point, in true Czech fashion, was a small restaurant and pub, pouring pints of fresh "mountain" beer- which I assumed flowed naturally from a spring somewhere. Luckily I had already come prepared- hydration is important!
After a quick rest, we started the second, and final leg of the trail. The steep, narrow mountain trails were extremely well maintained, but after a certain altitude, the lush greenery turned into rough alpine terrain. Much more demanding than the first half. At times the summit felt like an optical illusion- the closer we got the further away it seemed. However, eventually, after only some minor bitching on my part, we made it!
When we arrived, all of the other trails converged, and it felt more like being in Time Square than on top of an isolated mountain. On the Polish side of the summit is a disc-shaped observatory, restaurant, weather station and small chapel. On the Czech side are the remains of a Bohemian hut, a post office, and cable car station. After a coffee, a few photo ops, and our fill of panoramic views, we started our journey back down.
All in all, the 14km (9 miles) hike took us about 5 hours. I highly recommend it to anyone visiting the area, but do stress that it is a hike, so be prepared to make a day out of it. Also, the hike itself provides as many spectacular views as the summit, so take your time and enjoy!
When we got back to the hotel we were exhausted. And hungry! After chowing down on Czech dinner #2, Kuba and I relaxed again at the terrace pub, resting our sore legs and easing the pain with a glass of wine, and some ice cream...because why not.
Since returning to Prague, I can honestly say that Krkonoše National Park and Špindlerův Mlýn are among my top favorite places I've visited in the Czech Republic, and in Central Europe thus far. Anyone who lives the city life knows how important it is to get away from the grind sometimes, sneak in a weekend away and get right with your soul. For a Pennsylvania girl, this trip gave me just the right dose of mountains and fresh air I needed.