How about taking advantage of your next trip to Prague to explore its surroundings? The Czech capital is surrounded by a crown of little gems to visit without hesitation, especially since they are often accessible by train or bus: from the towns of Kutná Hora and Mělník to the Kokořínsko nature reserve, via the Rückl glassworks or superb castles. To go further, the time of a getaway, to discover the beauties of the Czech Republic ...
Kutná Hora, the majestic
75 km east of the Czech capital, “little Prague” is unmissable: Kutna Hora was for a long time the second city of Bohemia, thanks to its veins of silver, which enabled it to strike the currency of the kingdom: the precious metal was exploited there from 1280 to 1550, on approximately 30 km² and 13 levels of galleries going 600 m under Earth !
At its peak, in 1400, the city had 60 inhabitants, compared to 000 today! Once the operation was over, she transformed into a sleeping beauty, keeping her fabulous heritage, classified in the World Heritage by Unesco. And it must be said that Kutná Hora has something to seduce the traveler ...
To delve into the past, why not start from where it all began, in the silver mines? Under the cobbled streets of the magnificent medieval city center, the tour of just over an hour covers 250 m of galleries and goes up to 30 m deep.
Beforehand, we don the white tunic of the miners (to be spotted in the dark) and a helmet with a headlamp. In the past, workers would only light up with a weak flame and descend, sliding on a thick leather apron, in the guts which sometimes do not exceed 40 cm wide and 1 m high! Equipped with a sledgehammer and a pick, they managed to free, in 20 hours, about 6 cm of wall.
As explained in Czech Silver Museum From where the guided tour starts, the blocks brought to the surface were sorted, washed and crushed, then passed in the oven to melt and recover the raw silver. This was sold not far away, at the Royal Mint, or Court of Italians. The official currency was therefore minted there and it was also the place of residence of the sovereigns of Bohemia passing through the city. An exhibition retraces all this history ...
The underground tourist exploration ends at the level of the imposing Jesuit college which has housed, since 1998, another type of gallery ... of contemporary art, called GASK. Along the main facade, the elegant belvedere overlooking the vineyards is punctuated by 13 statues from the beginning of the 18th century, representing the saints of the Jesuit order, and reminiscent of the Charles Bridge in Prague, the great rival ...
At the end of this cornice stands l & rsquoBarbe, ÉJean-Baptiste was also built over several centuries. Built in the outlying district of Sedlec from 1290, it was destroyed in the 15th century and then rebuilt 300 years later in a very refined spirit, with impressive volumes.
Quite the Priest-Saints, on the contrary, it is the accumulation to the point of discomfort that strikes: from the skeletons of more than 40 people, rearranged in the 000th and 18th centuries, chandeliers, monstrances, chalices and a whole were made. decor as unusual as macabre.
The vines of Mělník
Another ossuary, with around 15 remains, is hidden in the crypt of theSaint Peter's Church and Paul de Melnik, a village about 50 km north of Prague.
Its bulbous bell tower dominates the confluence between the Elbe and the Vltava (or Moldau), the vines on the steep banks and the castle where 23 queens and princesses of Bohemia lived. There still resides one of the most illustrious aristocratic lines in the country, the Lobkowicz.
The architecture, reworked over the centuries, brings together Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque… The many rooms are richly decorated (painting by Paul Véronèse, precious furniture, 17th century maps, old toys, old armor…), well put together. stage and regularly animated by cultural events.
The visit of the cellars reveals the wine-growing activity and the cuvées of the castle, including one dedicated to Saint Ludmila, sovereign from the city who introduced Catholicism in Bohemia and was assassinated in 921. The basements are connected to a series of galleries medieval: a small part is accessible from the tourist office, leading to the 54 m well hidden under the main square. It is bordered by pretty colored houses and harmonious arcades.
Kokořínsko and his strange nature
From Mělník it is easy to get to the Kokořínsko nature reserve, reputed for its astonishing rock formations that can be discovered in particular by following the Cinibulka trail.
It goes through the sites of Prolezovacky and Bludište, the latter meaning labyrinth, a name that is not usurped! The wind and the rain sculpted the limestone into canyons, high columns topped with lids, rocky peaks covered with pines, oaks and birches ...
And even a spur on which the Kokořín castle, since the 14th century. Abandoned for centuries, it was bought in 1895 by Václav Špaček, a great hunting lover, and restored in a neo-romantic spirit. Sparsely furnished, it still has proud ramparts and a 36 m high dungeon, accessible to visitors.
A string of beautiful castles
Eagle nests like Kokořín abound all around Prague. Starting with, 50 km south-east of Prague, the Český Šternberk castle, erected at the beginning of the 13th century and still belonging to the same family… whose descendants continue to live there!
It offers a surprising contrast between its exterior appearance of an impregnable fortress, and the interior, renovated in the 17th century in Baroque style, revealing a sumptuous palace. The fifteen or so rooms visited house many pieces of furniture and objects, sometimes rare, such as the 545 copper engravings retracing the Thirty Years' War or the collection of silver miniatures.
Time also seems to have stopped at Konopiště, luxurious residence of François-Ferdinand, heir to the throne of the Austro-Hungarian Empire whose assassination in Sarajevo, in June 1914, started the First World War. The sovereign acquired it in 1887 to settle there with his family and had it transformed to his liking.
By modern installations (electricity, central heating, hydraulic lift, etc.) and with the exhibition of his compulsive passions: works representing Saint George slaying the dragon Ferdinand killed more than 275 pieces of game!
Another imperial castle, that of Karlštejn, located 30 km southwest of Prague. It was founded in 1348 by the Germanic Roman Emperor Charles IV to deposit the crown jewels and sacred relics there. They were locked in the Chapel of the Holy Cross, with the fabulous decoration of 129 painted portraits from the 14th century. They represent an army symbolically watching over this treasure, made up of saints, apostles, kings, knights, bishops… who were sometimes accompanied by their relics, as if to reinforce their presence.
Located on the 2nd floor of the keep, in the highest part of the castle, this place was very protected. In the tower below, the Church of the Virgin Mary also has 14th century frescoes. Dating from the same period, the sublime Sainte-Catherine chapel, just behind, is even better preserved: it is a little gem with walls encrusted with colored stones.
Likewise, the most beautiful room in the fortress of Křivoklát is a chapel. Dedicated to the Holy Trinity, it dates from the 13th century, like the castle which has been altered many times. Rebuilt at the end of the 15th century in late Gothic style, it has a beautiful polychrome wooden altar.
Impressive also, the royal hall with the pointed ceiling intended for audiences and banquets, the library, with its reserve of 53 books, and the prison, where various instruments of torture are exposed, which are cold in the back ...
Please note, between the beginning of November and the end of March, access to the castles is sometimes restricted to much shorter hours, so it is better to inquire before setting out to explore the surroundings of Prague ...
The art of Bohemian crystal
In the valley of the Berounka river, between Karlštejn and Křivoklát, lies the village of Nižbor and his famous glassware Rückl. It is the only one to make black crystal and pink. It exports 80% of its production and specializes in trophies for sport, music, cinema and even the Miss Universe contest!
Still in operation, it organizes guided tours of 45 minutes to admire the incredible craftsmanship of the 150 employees of the factory.
The process which transforms into glass a mixture of potash, saltpeter, vitrifiable sand, soda, minium and borax brought to 1 ° C seems almost magical. And the know-how of blowers and engravers fascinates with its precision. Great art!
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Consult our Czech Republic online guide
Czech Republic Tourist Board website
How to get there ?
Air France and Czech Airlines offer daily round trips between Paris-Charles de Gaulle and Prague. Find your plane ticket
Where to sleep ?
- U Kata: Štefánikova 92, in Kutná Hora. Slightly out of the way, the 43-room hotel in a very classic style has the double advantage of being comfortable and practical, with its free parking. As a bonus, it has a spa with sauna, jacuzzi and beer bath, a Czech specialty… Perfect for relaxing after an intense day of sightseeing! Double room from 67 € with breakfast.
- Penzion U Zámku Mělník: Svatováclavská 24, in Mělník. The charming French-speaking owner accommodates her guests in 10 rooms spread over two buildings, in the heart of the city and close to the castle. Each is decorated according to a theme, all are functional and cozy. Double room from 51 € with breakfast.
- Křivoklát Castle: Apartments in the castle. On condition of booking in advance, it is possible to sleep within the grounds of the castle, where two apartments have been fitted out, each with bathroom and kitchen area: one for three people and the other with two bedrooms. doubles. In a nearby outbuilding, a third accommodation, also well equipped, can accommodate 3 guests. Night from 8 € per person, without breakfast.
Where to eat ?
- V Ruthardce: Dačického náměstí 15, in Kutná Hora. Daily noon and evening. Mains: 4,30-10 €. In the city center, the restaurant has several rustic rooms, where wood dominates. On the benches of the long tables d'hôtes, the guests order tasty and hearty dishes, from beef tartare to trout fillet, through pork shoulder with red cabbage or grilled mushrooms with parsley with mashed potatoes. Earth.
- Na Hradbách: Nnáměstí Míru 10, in Mělník. Daily noon and evening. Mains: 5-17 €. Hidden under the arcades of the main square, the restaurant called "the ramparts" pays homage to its location, in a pretty paved and flowery courtyard, topped by a small watchtower, a vestige of the fortifications that surrounded the city. On the terrace or in the medieval house, invigorating Czech specialties are served: roast pork with cabbage, beef tongue with kohlrabi and potato stew, etc.
- Restaurant Zastávka: Knádraží 379, in Nižbor. Daily noon and evening. Mains: 6-9 €. A stone's throw from the Rückl glassworks, on the other side of the railway line, the restaurant next to the station has taken over a wooden building, a few wagons and a terrace above the rails. In a retro decor, inspired by the railway world, a short but varied menu is offered: soup of the day, mushroom and parmesan risotto or chicken cutlet and potato salad.