Czech Republic’s Northern Bohemia Region
By Ricky Ghosh Dastidar
Usti Nad Labem
A good base for exploring the sights of Czech Republic’s Northern Bohemia region is the picturesque city of Usti Nad Labem. Situated along the River Elbe, Usti Nad Labem is just over an hour away from the capital city of Prague and even closer to Dresden in Germany. The two must-see attractions of the city are Střekov Castle, built in the 14th century above a high rocky cliff and the Větruše Hotel and Restaurant, which now forms part of a chateau originally built at the end of the 19th century. Both of these sights offer an important insight into the history of the city and unparalleled views of the River Elbe below. The food at the Větruše Restaurant comes highly recommended and the chateau provides an ideal setting for a romantic dinner. More information about the Větruše Hotel and Restaurant can be found on the following website: http://www.hotelvetruse.cz/en.
Usti Nad Labem is a city well known for its technical achievements and the most popular of these is the Masaryk Water Locks. This is a unique water project that has been serving the River Elbe for the past 80 years. Another important monument is Mariansky Bridge, which was recently ranked in the top 10 for ‘most interesting structures in the world built over the last decade’ by the Structural Engineering International Journal.
A good place to stay in Usti Nad Labem is the Clarion Congress Hotel, situated in the heart of the city. This comfortable four-star hotel comes complete with a restaurant that is open every day and offers both Czech and international cuisine with a modern twist. More information about this hotel can be found at: http://www.clarioncongresshotelustinadlabem.com/en.
Ceske Svycarsko (Bohemian Switzerland)
The most naturally appealing part of Northern Bohemia is undoubtedly Ceske Svycarsko, loosely translated as Bohemian Switzerland. Lying alongside the River Elbe, Bohemian Switzerland is a national park offering a rugged landscape full of sandstone rocks, deep gorges and lookout points ideal for cyclists and hikers. The park’s appearance was shaped by volcanic rock which thrust its way onto the surface, creating fissures and cracks that later widened. Adding to the park’s beauty are springs of crystal clear water that bubble up from underground lakes.
The structure that all tourists to the region flock to see is the monumental sandstone arch known as Pravčická Gate. As well as being a symbol of the park, the gate is also the largest natural rock arch to be found in Europe. Although Bohemian Switzerland is a hiker’s paradise, tourists are advised to carry a good map with them at all times to avoid getting lost amongst its dense forests.
For history enthusiasts, Terezin is arguably the most important place to visit in Northern Bohemia. This small town, situated next to the more hospitable city of Litoměřice was built in the 1780s by the Habsburg dynasty as a defence against the Prussians, and was once capable of accommodating over 14,000 soldiers. However, in 1941, the inhabitants were moved and the town was transformed into a Jewish ghetto. Subsequently, Terezin became a half-way house for Jews on their way to Auschwitz to face extermination. Visitors can pay their respects to those that perished at the Ghetto Museum which was opened in 1991, on the 50th anniversary of the first arrivals. In total, 140,000 Jews were thought to have passed through Terezin by the end of the war. More information about the memorial can be found at the following website: http://www.pamatnik-terezin.cz/
Just 3 kilometres north of Terezin, alongside the River Elbe sits the historical city of Litoměřice. Its main square is the second largest in the country and the city centre is a labyrinth of Gothic and Renaissance cellars. The best view of this attractive city can be appreciated from the top of the viewing tower at the Cathedral of St. Stephen. Another must-see sight is the Gothic Castle, which houses a unique exhibition on winemaking. Here, you can learn about the history of Czech wine and even taste the most famous wines of the Litoměřice region. The city is said to be even more attractive when seen from the River Elbe and this can be experienced by taking a trip on the tourist boat, Porta Bohemica.
Litoměřice is also notable for being the birthplace of the 17th century architect Octavio Broggio, who along with his father redesigned many of the city’s churches after the arrival of the Jesuits and the re-Catholization of the area. The entire city has been described as a virtual museum to his life and work.
Chateau Ploskovice, located just 6 kilometers from Litoměřice is a Baroque country house which was completed in 1725. In the 19th century, it became a favourite visiting place of the Habsburg Emperor Ferdinand I, after his abdication in 1848. The beautifully walled property, complete with gardens and fountains is highly recommended and English-speaking tours can be booked for approximately £5. More information about the chateau can be found on the following website: http://www.zamek-ploskovice.cz/en/
With so much to offer, this often overlooked part of the Czech Republic is especially rewarding for those with a keen eye for nature and an interest in history. The towns and cities along the River Elbe, as well as the Bohemian Switzerland National Park provide plenty of things for visitors to see and do and for these reasons; Northern Bohemia is well worth a visit in the near future.
Usti Nad Labem is easily accessible from Prague by train or car and to get the most out of your Northern Bohemian experience, car-hire is recommended.