Freewheeling

The Prague Post

One of the best ways to tour the Czech Republic is on a bicycle

Going green can mean different things to different people: choosing the train over a plane, walking instead of driving, or simply reusing your hotel room towels. For those who truly want to go au naturel, you can have an environmentally conscious holiday filled with history, culture and fresh air by taking a ride on the Czech Greenways.

“Greenways are multipurpose trails developed for various users — cyclists, pedestrians, horseback riders, people in wheelchairs and in winter for cross-country skiers,” says Daniel Mourek of the Czech Environmental Partnership Foundation. “Greenways are more than just trails; they have their own mission for nature and heritage protection, sustainable mobility development and health purposes.”

The Greenways program is sponsored in part by the foundation, a local NGO that supports sustainable development throughout the country. For more than 10 years, Greenways has been developing trails and promoting cycling and cycle tourism. Two of its most well-known bike routes are the Prague-Vienna Greenways and the Moravian Wine Trails. The Prague-Vienna route offers 470 kilometers (292 miles) of connected hiking and biking trails, while the Moravian Wine Trails encompass 10 wine-growing regions and 1,200 kilometers of bike paths.

Greenways also coordinates long-distance group rides. “We are in our fifth year of organizing international rides along the Prague-Vienna Greenways, while we have been organizing events along the Moravian wine trails since 2000,” says Mourek. “The main idea behind these long-distance rides is to show the health benefits of cycling and to promote sustainable forms of tourism and mobility.” Two newer rides include the Dresden-Prague route and the longer Kraków-Moravia-Vienna.

Most of the organized rides are held in spring and late fall, before and after the main tourist cycling season. The number of participants varies from 30 to 1,000, depending on the event. This weekend, the European Cyclists’ Federation (ECF) annual conference will take place in Brno, south Moravia. ECF promotes cycling throughout Europe with more than 50 member organizations in 36 European countries. The conference concludes with a three-day bike trip from Brno to Vienna.

“The tour will highlight typical aspects of south Moravia and Weinviertel regions like wine, history and culture, together with picturesque landscapes,” says Mourek. The ride runs May 18–20 and Mourek says participants will visit the Lednice-Valtice region, traditional wine cellars and protected landscape areas.

Jakub Smolík from Varnsdorf has been biking ever since he can remember and estimates he cycles about 3,000–5,000 kilometers a year. He has participated in three Greenways trips on the Prague-Vienna route, and this year plans to bike the new Dresden-Prague leg and continue on down to Vienna. He appreciates the group rides, which he says have taken him to parts of the country he might not have discovered on his own.

“South Moravia with its wine culture is a totally different world from Bohemia, where I come from,” he says. “Though that part of our country is not too far from Prague, it’s a shame it took me a quarter of a century to really go there and discover it for myself.”

If group rides aren’t your style, it’s easy to take off on your own.

“Guides and maps can be downloaded from the Greenways Web site,” notes Mourek. “With this material, people can learn a lot about the trails. It will tell them what to see and what to expect.”

Another good resource is Cyclists Welcome, a network of bicycle-friendly facilities certified by Greenways. These include restaurants, accommodation (hotels, pensions, campsites, etc.) and tourist sites where cyclists can find bike storage spots, tools for unexpected breakdowns and other cycling services.

Whether you are a cycling novice or your bum is in the shape of a bike seat, Greenways offers trails to fit your skill level.

Something for everyone

“The Prague-Dresden Greenway runs along the Vltava and Labe rivers, so riders don’t have to go uphill hardly at all,” Mourek says. “The Moravian Wine Trails or the Prague-Vienna Greenways are for more experienced riders, though the majority of recreational riders would manage.”

Smolík recommends that novice bikers hook up with more experienced cyclists, and a group ride may be the place to do it.

“Once a beginner gets in shape through day trips, I think he or she will be ready to set out on a few-days trip,” he says. “In some cities, one might even find a cycling club. This is a way to make friends and get easily introduced to cycling.”

One route Mourek recommends is the Prague-Vienna Greenways loop near Prague, which runs through the area where painter Josef Lada lived. A short train ride to Rícany takes you to 70 kilometers of bike-riding pleasure. For those with children, he suggests riding the stretch of the Berounka-Strela Greenway that connects Rakovník, Krivoklát Castle and the Berounka River.

Mourek’s personal favorite is the Prague-Vienna Greenway trail. “I think this set of routes makes for a perfect introduction to the Czech Republic and Central Europe in general, and everyone who does it can learn a lot about this region’s history, people and customs,” he says.

The variety of landscapes and historic towns and cities add to the interest quotient. And when you reach Moravia, you are rewarded with rides through the vineyards.

Mourek’s final tip: “Equip yourself with maps and guide books, and don’t forget the most important thing of all — a good mood!”