In central Bohemia just South of Prague is an area of large rolling hills covered by farms and forests. Nestled throughout the valleys formed by the hills are small towns and smaller villages. The towns and many of the villages display tall church steeples visible from the surrounding countryside. The villages also usually feature a pond or a small lake. This area offers an endless variety of possible hiking routes through rolling farmlands, forests, picturesque villages, and across dramatic panoramas.
My two week stay in the area was based near the town of Votice (population about 4500). Votice (I heard it pronounced something like “voTEEsee”) is in a nice location, about 60 kilometers (37 miles) south of Prague on the main highway connecting Prague with České Budějovice. It is also on the train line and bus route. Prague is an easy day trip and České Budějovice and Český Krumlov to the south are a bit longer day trip. There a a bunch of other interesting day trip possibilities as well. It is situated in a scenic valley where three huge hills tower above. The recorded history goes back to the 1200’s. Typical of Bohemian towns I visited, Votice has a huge central square ringed with what looked to be mostly small businesses — a bakery, a butcher, a second-hand clothing store, a wine shop, an appliance store, a hardware store, several dining and treat places. There is also a town hall with a tourist information counter. The young lady attending to the counter was eager to help, and her English got us by to tell me a bit about the hikes in the area and places for lunch and dinner. ……..
This is not a tourist town, but rather a working farm-market town. This has its advantages and its disadvantages. For me, the advantages ruled. Rather than being one of a zillion tourists observing each other (which I found to be the experience in Prague and Ceske Krumlov) I felt like I was something of a strange, unknown quantity. I think that people’s first reaction was less, “yeah,yeah, yeah, another tourist to process …” and more, “this is something strange — what is this guy about?” I admit … that could all be my imagination … but you certainly won’t be part of a horde of tourists in Votice. People that you encounter are going about normal, everyday living in a small community. Some of them you even see more than once as you go about your visit. After a couple weeks, I know that I was not leaving with any in-depth understanding of anything, but at least I had the feeling that I had scratched through a bit of the veneer. You do have to work a bit harder here to find what you are looking for, but I find that interesting as well.
The Prague-Vienna Greenway passes on a north-south route just to the west of Votice. This long distance biking and hiking route is an interesting initiative that connects the two venerable cities. The Greenways route/network is about 400 kilometers (250 miles) and I’ve read that it can be completed by bikers in five days and hikers in 30 days. I was told that this route is more popular with bicyclists than hikers, but that it is a great resource waiting to be discovered by more hikers and walkers. There is a Prague to Prcice walk on the third Saturday each May that draws thousands of “marchers”. Most people probably do it in little pieces over time though — I did just some short segments in the Votice area and I encountered other segments as I traveled around on day trips. Friends of Czech Greenways has a nice website in English for more info.
The hikes were exhilarating, the scenery beautiful, and the visits through villages were very interesting to say the least. I was able to do three nice loop routes (interactive maps above) as well as a number of shorter hikes from outlying villages. Mapy.cz is a website and smartphone app that the Greenways folks made me aware of that proved to be invaluable. With the app, I had offline maps that showed both established hiking routes as well as other roads and trails that I used to improvise routes. The following images (captions are above the images) try to give you a sense for the area:
Votice is a pleasant town with a couple of groceries, bakery, butcher shop, and several pubs and restaurants. My favorite place for a pivo was a place called the Blue Cat — nice beer garden and friendly staff.
Hiking routes use a combination of trails, farm roads, forest roads, and country roads – here is a sampling along with some scenery along the way
Once I came upon a family who were (successfully) mushroom hunting
More than once I came across “Speedo Men” — guys doing yardwork in just their Speedos
The unforgettable bungie dog