Domestic bliss

The Prague Post

For a change of pace, try the Czech Republic’s ‘inspirational eight’

You’ve seen everything in Prague. Ditto for Ceský Krumlov and Karlštejn. Heck, you’ve even traipsed to Brno.

It’s time to explore some new cities around the country, which have their own charms to offer. Eight of them have banded together in a group called Czech Inspiration, marketing themselves with the motto, “Do not seek culture only in Prague.”

The eight “inspirational” cities are Hradec Králové, Cheb, Jindrichuv Hradec, Kutná Hora, Litomyšl, Policka, Telc and Trebon. Each one offers something special, according to Daniela Mancáková, the director of Czech Inspiration.

“Hradec Králové is the city of culture and superb experiences; Cheb is the modern town with a 1,000-year history; Kutná Hora is the Gothic jewel, the city of two cathedrals; Jindrichuv Hradec is the town of romantic walks; Litomyšl is the modern historical town; Policka is the town of mysterious nights; Telc is the town of happy loves; and Trebon is the city that will heal your body and soul,” she says.

It’s a good promotional pitch. But what exactly can you experience in these towns that you can’t find elsewhere?

Hradec Králové is the biggest of the bunch, offering a mix of architecture ranging from Gothic to Baroque to Art Deco to Functionalism. It also has the strongest activities calendar, with festivals and other events going on year-round. In Cheb, the must-see is the castle, which harbors a Romanesque Gothic chapel behind its fortified walls. And, in the city’s historic center, check out “Špalícek,” a group of medieval houses dating from the 13th century. Kutná Hora is a popular Prague day trip. Along with the two cathedrals, be sure to explore the town’s silver-mining history with a visit to the mining museum and a tour of one of the medieval mines. And, for a truly unforgettable experience, visit the macabre “bone church” in nearby Sedlec.

In Jindrichuv Hradec, you’ll find the country’s third-largest castle, as well as a historic center and plenty of outdoor recreation at Vajgar Lake. Litomyšl, the birthplace of composer Bedrich Smetana, has a very impressive Renaissance chateau. Policka is the hometown of another famous Czech composer, Bohuslav Martinu. This lesser-known town offers great walking and biking, as well as a well-preserved town wall boasting 19 bastions. You may have to fight off the tour groups in Telc, but a walk around the UNESCO-listed town square is worth it. And in Trebon, you can take a walk “around the world” (really a 12-kilometer path around a pond called “Svet” that offers a natural history of the area), and visit one of the local spas.

Art and recreation

The Czech Inspiration partnership dates back to 1995, when six towns, including Ceský Krumlov, banded together to promote their cultural and tourist offerings. Trebon joined in 1999, prompting the group to adopt “Seven of the Most Beautiful Czech Towns” as its slogan. The number increased to eight when Jindrichuv Hradec was invited to come aboard. Ceský Krumlov subsequently left the organization, and was replaced by Cheb.

Martina Erbsová, tourism coordinator for Hradec Králové, notes that membership in Czech Inspiration works both ways: For tourists, it means foreign-language brochures, Web sites and advertising campaigns. For the member cities, there are advantages in networking and sharing knowledge and resources.

“Also, we highlight the main cultural events in each city and organize exclusive exhibits and other events,” Erbsová says.

Each year, for example, the group puts on a rotating art exhibition. This year it’s “New Discoveries” by Czech photographer Daniel Reynek, which features scenes from around the Czech Republic. It will be in Kutná Hora Sept. 12–Oct. 10 before moving on to Jindrichuv Hradec, Telc and Trebon.

If culture isn’t your thing, there’s plenty to explore outdoors. Each town is in close proximity to forests, a river or lake offering lots of hiking and biking trails. In Cheb, for example, you can bike through the SOOS National Nature Reserve, or climb Bismarck’s observation tower. Policka has a 7–10 kilometer “education path” around the city. If you happen to be in Kutná Hora with a car, you can pop over to the spa town of Podebrady, just 30 kilometers away. And there’s more.

“After a nice walk through the square here, one of the biggest in the Czech Republic, you can relax in the Monastery gardens,” suggests Ivona Líbalová, director of the tourist information center in Litomyšl. “Not only is Litomyšl a historical town, but it is full of modern architecture by well-known architects like Josef Pleskot and Aleš Burian,” she adds.

Modern also defines Hradec Králové, built around a historic center that offers well-maintained examples of medieval architecture. Erbsová recommends a visit to the Renaissance lookout tower in the city center, and a stop at the Museum of Eastern Bohemia, an excellent example of Czech Art Nouveau architecture. The city also has an observatory, planetarium, aquarium and Aquacentre that includes a large spa and swimming pool. Or relax a bit with a sightseeing cruise on a steamboat to see the town landmarks from the river.

It’s secret treasures like these that Czech Inspiration wants to share, along with ongoing events.

“You can be inspired by experiencing some unforgettable moments at musical and theater festivals, dances and interesting exhibitions,” Mancáková says.

There are still plenty of festivals and other fun events happening in these cities throughout the remainder of the summer and fall. But you really don’t need a special reason to visit. Each has enough charm and appeal to make a trip worthwhile any time of year.