We always like border crossings like the one into Czech. There are no hassle or queues, although that’s not why we like it. What we like is the sudden change in the architecture, the people and the road signs. You know you’re in a different country straight away and it gives you that real travelling feeling.
The roads feel quieter and we relax into the driving style which is much slower than it’s German neighbour. We are heading to Karlovy Vary a Spa town situated in a forested valley not far from the German border.
Spa towns can be disappointing at times. The natural phenomenon that is thermal springs are often saved for only the guests of certain hotels; this is not the case in Karlovy Vary. The town has 15 springs and all are housed in or around Colonnades (Pretty wooden structures reminiscent of victorian band stands although much grander). Here locals and visitors can drink, bottle and taste the springs as they wish. The springs vary in temperature and each one has it’s own medicinal benefits. The town has a ‘well to do’ feel about it, while still feeling slightly touristy. We were here at the end of June and it felt like we had the place to ourselves.
Karlovy Vary Vanlife
We were excited about our first van experience in Czech. Sadly it was not meant to be. The nearest autocamp was closed, which in some ways was a blessing as it looked like someone’s front garden and/or rubbish tip. There was a hand written sign saying closed, some pretty ropey looking facilities in shacks, and a fat man sitting in a deck chair drinking a Pivo. You had to see it to believe it. The joy about having a van the size of ours is that we can pretty much take it anywhere. With it getting late and us only allowing one night in this town we decided to grab a hotel room. It needed to be cheap and with safe parking. We made a quick search online and within 10 minutes we were parking up the van at a hotel and getting ready to explore the town. The hotel, Hotel Smetana-Vyšehrad, was a pleasant surprise, especially for £58, tons of victorian character, spa facilities, in a lovely leafy area, but walkable to town, with secure parking with cameras, breakfast inc.
We left Karlovy Vary feeling refreshed having taken full advantage of our hotels breakfast and of course spa facilities. We were heading to Prague the capital of Czech. Prague is beautiful, there is no doubt about it. The river, the bridges and the architecture ooze charm. The tiny streets weave around to reveal secrets around every corner.
We had made the mistake of hitting Prague on a weekend. This meant the unmissable sound of drunk Brits on hen/stag doo’s could be heard above… well everything really. The town was heaving and it did make sightseeing a little tedious. We found escaping over to the castle side was the sensible thing to do as it it was just quieter, and there were lots of great places to eat and drink there. The castle itself is beautiful and the grounds are open late (until 11pm).
We stayed at the Caravan Camping Císařská Louka campsite, which sits alongside the river. The facilities were clean although the showers were communal (not good for reserved brits). The best part of the site though was the location: a quick ferry ride and you were in town. Once the evening hits though you have to use a tram. Trams require you to have bought a ticket beforehand, which you can get from the campsite reception, the yellow machines (if you can find one) or newsagents/shops etc.
Two nights was enough hustle and bustle for us. We headed for our next stop Cesky Krumlow named: The most beautiful town in Central Europe.
Cesky Krumlow, another UNESCO world heritage site, sits on a few bends on the River Vltava. The river is very shallow here (shallow enough to wade in) and you can raft/kayak down some man made rapids if you wish. It is everything a medieval town should be. It has a castle, maze like streets, medieval pubs and stunning architecture. Two things we weren’t expecting: 1, some of the ‘brickwork’ is painted on around the courtyards and 2, they keep a bear in the moat near the entrance of the castle. Not sure how we felt about that.
Cesky Krumlow Vanlife
We stayed at Camping Chvalšiny, a dutch run site which boasts terraced pitches, it’s own lake and a naturally filtered swimming pool. Being dutch run the site was immaculate and the service was first class. The site is very relaxing while being great for outdoor activity. We did some mountain biking in the forests above the campsite and road into Cesky Krumlow (above 8 miles away).
We chose Brno as a location: 1, because it was in our lonely planet guide to Europe and 2, because we had a use-it map for it. If you haven’t heard of use-it maps we suggest you check them out. They have maps for many cities across Europe and are great for finding the local-only haunts tourists only dream about. Brno was a massive and pleasant surprise. The main city is easily walkable by foot and is full of quirky little Pivo bars, food joints and cocktail bars. We’d recommend ‘the bar with no name’ and Restaurant Pavilion if you fancy treating yourself. Our fantastic new Brno friend Nela recommended: Super Panda Circus which is down by the castle. The castle itself sits on top of a hill dominating the town. You can walk up there whenever you want, although there was a music festival going on when we tried.
We stayed at Camping Hana. The site sits on a river and you can get a boat or bus/tram into central Brno. The site itself was simple but clean and useable and Hana herself is very accommodating. The river location was great and we even managed to get the kayak out. If you’re keen on exploring Brno in the evening though the distance from the city is an issue. public transport in Czech is good but navigating around closures etc when you don’t know the language is difficult.
Mountain Biking at Moravsky Kras (Near Brno)
We found this place on the MTBR forums: SINGLETRAIL Moravský kras. It’s a mountain bike trail centre based at the edge of a lake. There are 3 trails: 1, 2 or 3 (an optional harder section). 1 and 2 are short, extremely fast, flowy and fun! I’d describe the tracks as fun cross country rather than downhill. The trail centre below had a real ‘apres bike’ feel about it. With people coming down to have a beer and then going straight back out on the trails. The best thing about the place was the auto camping next door to the trail head. We could literally fall into our van afterwards – perfect.
CZECH REPUBLIC TRIP NOTES
We found driving in Czech stress free and almost relaxing. There are less cars on the road than there are in the UK or Germany and you feel it. The driving style was mostly of a good standard; except for the odd impatient overtaking manoeuvres from time to time. Food is cheap in Czech, so our advice is treat yourselves. The traditional duck or goose dishes are good but very filling. Speaking of filling, get use to dumplings; even for desserts (surprisingly good)!
Apart from the beauty of the place the thing we liked most was the people. We met some really friendly locals who wanted nothing more than to talk to us and show us their beautiful country. We will definitely be returning to take advantage of the mountain biking here and… oh yeah, the Pivo spa at Karlovy Vary. DAM we missed that one!
CZECH REPUBLIC VANLIFE
We had read that wild camping in Czech is not legal and to be avoided, we therefore stayed in campsites. The costs are less than western Europe, expect to pay between 12 – 18 Euros. Facilities were generally well kept and clean, some were old at times and separate shower cubicles aren’t always available.