Bohemian rhapsody

Just 45 minutes into the drive away from the tourist-infested city of Prague, I was already feeling the seduction of this mysterious region known as Czech Paradise.

It took us many intricate turns and loops on deserted, gravel roads as we snaked through quiet villages and wide, open expanses of green forest to finally get there.

For a taste of the very best traditional Czech food, Restaurace Na Pekárn came highly recommended by our friends, Czech food critics Jan Valenta and Zuzi Dankova, who also run Taste of Prague, a food consultancy that conducts culinary tours in the region.

On stepping inside, we were greeted by Václav Fric, the portly, multi-award winning owner who used to be an executive chef at the Prague Culinary Institute before he left the industry to start this cosy eatery that serves Czech comfort food.

Our waiter ushered us to a table, casually pulled up a chair and leaned in close to whisper almost conspiratorially that we might like to try a duck confit with red cabbage for lunch.

There is no menu, and the kitchen uses seasonal, fresh produce and what local farmers have to offer for the day. The waiters present the food and make suggestions.

Czech food is indisputably rich and heavy, characterised by loads of meat, potatoes and dumplings, often cooked in duck fat, lard and creamy sauces.

The richness and simplicity of traditional Czech food is perhaps a product of the region from which it originates.

ˇCakoviˇcky, the village where the restaurant is located, is near the entrance of Bohemian Paradise, a beautiful, hilly and forested nature reserve in the northern region of the Czech Republic.

Wild beauty

The country's capital, Prague, has seen an influx of visitors in recent years. Bavaria, a neighbouring region in Germany known for its mountainous landscapes and well-preserved castles, is only a few hours away by train and also receives busloads of tourists.

Yet the rugged, untamed lands of Bohemian Paradise remain largely untouched. Cesky Raj, Czech for Bohemian Paradise, is replete with old castle ruins, remnants of abandoned forts and other medieval structures which dot open farmlands, and dipping valleys and gentle hills.

Its natural beauty is a sight to behold: The region is awash with all kinds of mystical stone formations such as hidden caves to explore and rocks cliffs to climb.

Prachov Rock Formations is a good area to start. For just CZK 60 (S$3.50) a person, you get admission to the park and a trail map. Trails are well marked, according to different ability levels.

It was easy to spend an entire day exploring the cliffs and caves at Prachov. The area was expansive and there were numerous vistas where we could stop for a small picnic and enjoy the surrounding view.

Ancient ruins

Many of the region's castle and fort ruins can be spotted from a good distance away, during a random drive along the narrow roads of the countryside.

They look like mysterious structures perched precariously on a hill, and when we headed in their direction, road signs guided us the rest of the way.

We found the Trosky and Kost castles in this manner. It was hard to miss Trosky Castle, with its twin towers jutting out distinctly from the top of a hill.

It took a bit of a climb to reach the peaks, but the effort was well worth it, with unobstructed views as far as the eye could see. The entry fee was reasonable: only CZK 60 per person.

At Kost Castle, it was a different experience. Here, you can join a variety of guided tours, with the most basic serving as an introduction to the history of the castle and the noble family who built it.

But there's one that provides a better understanding of the medieval torture chamber within the castle walls.

It is said that the guillotine from here was used in the filming of 2005's Hannibal. Fascinating stuff for history buffs. We did this tour for CZK 120 (S$7).

Perhaps because the region has not yet been discovered by commercial tourism, costs remain low.

Cost, and ancient ruins aside, it is the obscurity of Bohemian Paradise that makes this region such a joy to explore.

This article was published by the Special Projects Unit, Marketing Division, SPH.


This article was first published on Nov 18, 2014.
Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.

More about

czech republic
Purchase this article for republication.

SERVICES