Český ráj - Bohemian Paradise
About 90 kms north-east of Prague, the Český ráj is a natural preservation area covering about 180sq kms and stretching from Jičín in the south to Malá Skála in the North. Its name means Bohemian Paradise and was coined by enthusiastic patrons of the mineral water spa at nearby Sedmihorky in the 19th Century.
Paradise is probably a bit far-fetched, but along with the national parks, the Český ráj is certainly one of the most attractive natural areas in Bohemia.
Hiking and cycling trails
A dense network of hiking and cycling trails crisscross thick forests and connect a long series of high, rocky outcrops and ridges, many of which are crowned with medieval cliff top castles that peer across the treetops to the distant plains.
At least ten of those castles still stand and are open to the public today. Some are faithfully restored, historically accurate mediaeval strongholds; others were rebuilt into stately residential chateaus with chandeliers, gold framed portraits and formal gardens and yet others lie mostly in ruins, with only a staircase up to what’s left of the old lookout towers.
Within and very close to the Český ráj are also several towns and villages, the most useful for visitors being Jičín in the south, Turnov in the centre and Malá Skála at the northern end of the preserve.
Jičín - gateway to the Bohemian paradise
Jičín is often referred to as the gateway to the Český ráj, but it’s actually quite a pleasant destination in its own right. The large cobblestoned main square is surrounded by historic buildings including the Valdštejn palace, steeply spired Valdice gate tower and the old gothic church of St Ignatius from the 14th century.
There are plenty of options for accommodation and good restaurants, cafes and bars in Jičín, so if you like some city comforts to accompany ‘the nature’, it’s a good town to use as a base. Jičín is also the closest town to the Prachov rocks (5km).
Turnov - the northern heart
If Jičín is the gateway to the Český ráj, Turnov is its heart. It’s closer to the centre of the Český ráj and is the nearest town to most of the standout attractions of the area, such as Trosky, Valdštejn, Kost and Hrubá Skála castles, the Hrubá Skála rock formations. It’s not as nice a town as Jičín though, so it’s more suited to people who are going to be out hiking and biking all day every day.
Malá Skála, village beside the river
Malá Skála is a much smaller town then either Turnov or Jičín. In fact it’s probably in the grey area where small town and large village overlap. There are several options for accommodation though and at least one really good place to eat out; Boučkův statek, which is the traditional old wooden farmhouse at the eastern end of the river bridge in the middle of town.
There’s also no shortage of things to see and do near Malá Skála. On the western edge of town a neo-gothic chapel looks down from its rocky ledge, marking the Pantheon castle ruins, on the opposite side of town the Suché skály rock formations jut above the trees, and four kilometres to the west are the ruins and lookout tower of Frydštejn castle.
Inexpensive and frequent local trains connect Jičín with Rovensko beneath Trosky, Hrubá Skála and Turnov, and if you’re cycling it’s possible to transport your bike for a small fee, space permitting.
Bohemia's best nature reserve
The main centres of the Český ráj are well connected to the rest of the country by public transport, and the area makes a particularly good stopover between Prague and either Hradec Králové or Liberec. The well developed infrastructure and the many options for hiking, biking, lookout points, castles and ruins make the Český ráj Bohemia’s most accessible and enjoyable natural reserve.