The beauty of Bohemia is two-fold: exquisite towns and villages, and countryside as beguiling as any in Central Europe. In its southernmost reaches low-lying pastures give way to the foothills of the Šumava mountains on the Austrian border. Walking here delves deep into a gentle landscape, much of it farmland, predominantly arable, even more of it woodland and coniferous forest. Water is a constant with innumerable man-made lakes dating from the Middle Ages and the mighty River Vltava.
There are no mountain peaks to scale or deep valleys to traverse. Some views are panoramic, others are snatched in forest clearings, some stretches are enclosed with no vistas at all. Nevertheless, walking here offers an intense experience with its own set of charms.
Firstly, solitude: a careful construction of waymarked paths is woefully neglected by walkers, with just the occasional cyclist or mushroom-picker to sidestep. Then there is ever-changing texture and colour, through dry and practically alpine forest to low-lying, damp, dark woods; across maize and wheat farmland to fallow fields and meadows: a paint chart of greens, soft and musty or intense and clean.
Finally, the chief focus of the tour: walks into (or away from) buildings and built environments of beauty, charm or magnificence, a sequence of country houses, monasteries, town palaces and castles. The tour is co-led by an art historian and a Czech guide who talks about the recent past.
For much of its history, but especially in the sixteenth century, Bohemia was one of the most prosperous regions in Europe. Many of the great magnates of the Habsburg Empire established summer residences here, constantly rebuilding, extending and refurbishing. Reception of Italian Renaissance architecture was precocious, and in the era of Baroque there was a veritable mania for building. Many parks and gardens later succumbed to the fashion for the English landscaped style, and also partly of British inspiration was the nineteenth-century Gothic Revival.
Hluboká. Fly at c. 9.45am from London Heathrow to Prague. Drive southwards to the Gothic Revival castle at Hluboká, summer home of the Schwarzenbergs, wealthiest landowners in South Bohemia, and richly furnished and decorated. Continue to our neighbouring hotel for the first of three nights.
Staré Město pod Landštejnem, Slavonice, Samosoly, Červená Lhota. Walk: Staré Město to Slavonice, 8 km. Ascent: 88m, descent: 181m. The walk begins with wonderful views of unspoiled, hilly countryside marking the boundary of the Czech Republic and Austria. Continue through forests of fir and pine, passing defences which the Czech army was obliged to relinquish as a consequence of Chamberlain’s acquiescence to Hitler’s demands in 1938. Lunch in the beautiful little town of Slavonice, its two squares lined with 16th-century houses, arcaded and gabled. Drive to Samosoly for a short afternoon walk to the raspberry-pink castle of Cervena Lhota set in the middle of a lake and surrounded by a landscaped park, 3 km. Ascent: 38m, descent: 37m.
Jindřichův Hradec, Spolí, Třeboň. Morning visit to Jindřichův Hradec castle with arcades and an exquisite Renaissance rotunda. Afternoon walk: Spolí to Lake Svet, 7 km. Ascent: 52m, descent: 60m. From the village of Spolí we ascend gently, affording views of the surrounding diverse landscape before entering a pine tree forest to Lake Svet. Visit the Schwarzenberg mausoleum on the edge of the delightful small town of Třeboň and remain here for dinner before returning to Hluboká.
Krtely, Kratochvíle, Kladné, Český Krumlov. Walk: Krtely to Kratochvíle, 3 km. Ascent: 38m, descent: 100m. A gentle walk through meadows and forest until the Renaissance castle of Kratochvíle gradually appears in the distance. After a visit and lunch, drive to Kladné for the afternoon walk into Český Krumlov: 6 km. Ascent: 154m, descent: 198m. This is a varied and picturesque walk of forested hills, carpeted with blueberries and hayfields, through the decaying remains of a Baroque estate into the formal gardens of the castle, from where we capture a first and glorious view of this exceedingly pretty town. First of two nights in Český Krumlov.
Český Krumlov, Vyssí Brod. Return to the castle on a hilltop above Cesky Krumlov, Mediaeval in origin, with Renaissance and Baroque additions. See the hall, painted with a masked ball. Drive to Vyssí Brod, once a major Cistercian monastery with a 13th-century church. Circular walk from Vyssí Brod: 6 km. Ascent: 214m, descent: 201m. Skirting the monastery complex, we follow an extremely scenic route via the waterfalls of Menší Vltavice and a neo-Romanesque chapel with lovely views of the Šumava foothills.
Český Krumlov, Prague. Morning visit of Český Krumlov’s castle theatre, one of the few intact 18th-century theatres to have survived, and the Gothic church of St Vitus. Drive to Prague for the afternoon flight arriving at London Heathrow at c. 7.30pm.
Participants combining this tour with A Festival of Music in Prague are taken to their chosen hotel this afternoon. On the final day of the festival return to London Heathrow on flight option 4, arriving at c. 2.50pm.
Some of the places on this itinerary require special permission to visit. The order may therefore vary a little from the description above.
Dr Jana Gajdošová
Art historian, and lecturer at the University of Cambridge and at Christie’s Education. She obtained her MA at the Courtauld Institute, and her PhD at Birkbeck College. Her research interests include late medieval art and architecture, especially in Central Europe, England, Germany and Italy.
Price, per person
Two sharing: £2,260 or £2,050 without flights. Single occupancy: £2,410 or £2,200 without flights.
Combining with A Festival of Music in Prague: participants pay the ‘no flights’ price for this tour as flights are included in the festival package.
Included: flights (Euro Traveller) with British Airways (Airbus 320); travel by private coach; hotel accommodation as described below; breakfasts; 4 lunches (including 1 packed lunch) and 5 dinners with wine, water, coffee; all admissions; all tips; all taxes; the services of the lecturer and local guide.
Hotel Štekl, Hluboká nad Vltavou: a 4-star hotel converted from an auxiliary building belonging to the neighbouring mansion. Hotel Latrán, Český Krumlov: a small, 4-star hotel near the castle. Single rooms throughout are doubles for sole use.
This is a walking tour: it is essential for participants to be in good physical condition and to be used to country walking, including hill walking. Average distance by coach per day: 82 miles.
Between 10 and 22 participants.
Before booking, please refer to the FCO website to ensure you are happy with the travel advice for the destination(s) you are visiting: www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice.
'First rate. A well planned week of good hikes and interesting sites.'
'From the very beginning everything was very efficient and well organised.'
'All visits seemed to work seamlessly.'