Vienna to Prague: Walking the Czech Greenways

Sierra Club Outings Trip # 15620A, International

Highlights

  • Explore four UNESCO World Heritage sites and two Biosphere Reserves
  • Hike the rolling hills of Moravia and Bohemia in the Czech Republic
  • Visit stately Vienna and magical Prague on guided city tours

Includes

  • Comfortable hotel lodging, most meals, and all gratuities, including local guides and driver
  • On-trip transportation and English-speaking guides
  • Guest speaker in ornithology and botany, guided tours and entrance fees at chateaus, castles, and museums

Details

DatesMay 28–Jun 10, 2015
Price$4,795
Deposit$200
Capacity16
StaffMartha Schultz

Trip Overview

The Trip

The focus of this trip is the Czech Greenways, a network of more than 250 miles of trails and country roads along centuries-old salt, silver, and amber trade routes that were closed off for 40 years behind the Iron Curtain. Traveling along the Greenways is like taking a trip back in time to the days of medieval towns, baroque castles, and renaissance squares, all in an excellent state of preservation.

Our trip will begin in Vienna, the romantic capital of Austria, nestled on the banks of the Danube River. It will end, thirteen days later, in Prague, the “jewel in the crown” of central Europe and widely recognized as one of the most beautiful cities in the world.

On most days we will walk through deciduous forest, over rolling hills, across meadows, and through small towns. We will learn about local history and culture by visiting many of the well-preserved chateaus and castles along the way, as well as an archaeology museum, a wine cellar, and the Bohemian Tapestry Center. We will hike two days with an ornithologist/botanist. We will spend our evenings enjoying the local pubs and the fine Czech beer while talking about various aspects of Czech history and culture with our local contacts.

Itinerary

Key for meals included in the trip price: Breakfast (B), Lunch (L), Dinner (D).

Day 1: (Vienna) Plan to arrive in Vienna by early to mid-afternoon. We will provide instructions for getting from the airport to our Vienna hotel, where your trip leader will be waiting to meet you. At 5 p.m. we will meet for introductions and a brief overview of the trip. We will go out for dinner as a group. Overnight: Vienna. (D)

Day 2: (Vienna) In the morning, we meet our Czech guide who will accompany us for our trip and together we enjoy a city tour led by a local Vienna guide, taking in the impressive buildings of the Ringstrasse: the State Opera, the Burgtheater, and the Hofburg, the imperial palace of the Hapsburgs. In the afternoon, we board the U-bahn (metro) for the short trip to Schönbrunn Palace, the magnificent royal summer residence of the Hapsburgs on the outskirts of Vienna. This palace of nearly 1,500 rooms was completed in the early 18th century as a smaller model of Versailles, and is surrounded by a zoological and botanical park. This evening we enjoy a welcome dinner at a restaurant near our hotel. Overnight: Vienna. (B, L, D)

Day 3: (Vienna-Mikulov) We board our private bus for the trip from Vienna to the Czech Republic and spend the day in the Lednice-Valtice Area, a UNESCO World Heritage site and the former estate of the Liechtenstein family. We tour the Gothic Revival Lednice Chateau and hike five miles through the woods with a local ornithologist. Along the way, we also see unique "follies," romantic structures such as a faux Arc de Triumphe set harmoniously into the surrounding landscape.  In the late afternoon, we visit the wine cellar in Valtice Chateau. Overnight: Mikulov. (B, L, D)

Day 4: We drive to a trailhead below the ruined castle of Divci Hrady. From there we hike four miles with an ornithologist through the historic wine region of Pálava to Dolni Vestonice, home to a museum of archaeology. The ancient Venus of Vestonice, estimated to be 26,000 years old, was discovered near here. Upon our return to Mikulov, our guide takes us on a walking tour of the town, including the crypt of the Dietrichstein family, as well as a synagogue and Jewish cemetery, where the oldest tombstones date to 1605. Overnight: Mikulov. (B, L, D)

Day 5: (Vranov-Podyji National Park) Today we drive to the village of Cizov to see the last remnants of the Iron Curtain, then walk seven-miles to Vranov. Along the way, we stop at an overlook of the Austrian town of Hardegg with its ancient castle and a sweeping view of the River Dyje Valley. Overnight: Vranov nad Dyje. (B, L, D)

Day 6: (Telc) In the morning, we tour a Baroque castle perched on a rock 230 feet above the river Dyji in Vranov and then drive to the Renaissance town of Telc, a UNESCO World Heritage site. After lunch, we meet with a representative of the Phoenix Society, the nonprofit organization that protects the heritage of the Telc area. She leads us on a two-mile trail established as a memorial to Jewish painter Frantisek Nagl. Overnight: Telc. (B, L, D)

Day 7: (Telc) This morning we tour the Telc Chateau and the town of Telc. The afternoon will be free for relaxing and enjoying the Telc square, one of the largest in the Czech countryside. For those with energy to spare, the leader will offer an optional seven-mile walk through the Moravian Highlands to Castle Rostejn. Overnight: Telc. (B, L)

Day 8: (Slavonice-Landstejn-Jindrichuv Hradec) We transfer by bus to the town of Slavonice, founded in the 12th century and famous for its sgraffito facades and local pottery workshop. Sgraffito is a Renaissance technique that uses two layers of plaster of contrasting color applied on the wall. While still wet, the top layer is partially scraped off to create various designs. We hike six miles from Slavonice to the ruins of Castle Landstejn. Our bus then takes us to Nova Bystrice, where we board a train on a narrow-gauge railroad to Jindrichuv Hradec, home of the third-largest castle complex in the Czech Republic. Overnight: Jindrichuv Hradec. (B, L, D)

Day 9: (Jindrichuv Hradec-Trebon) In the morning, we tour the historic town and castle of Jindrichuv Hradec and visit the Regional Museum, home of the largest mechanical crèche in the world with several thousand figures. It's quite spectacular and beautiful! Later in the morning, we drive to Kojakovice, where we visit the Village Museum, which highlights the history of common people in the area and traces emigration routes to North America. We walk four miles around the man-made lake of Svet, an engineering wonder of the 16th century, to Trebon, a fortified 13th-century medieval town and a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. Overnight: Trebon. (B, L, D)

Day 10: (Cesky Krumlov) Our bus takes us to Cesky Krumlov, a UNESCO World Heritage site and the "jewel of South Bohemia," with the second-largest castle complex in the Czech Republic. After a walk around the town, we can enjoy an optional activity, an eight-mile rafting trip from Cesky Krumlov to Zlata Koruna, or spend the afternoon on our own. Overnight: Cesky Krumlov. (B, L, D)

Day 11: (Cesky Krumlov) We begin by touring the town, then the unique Baroque Theater in the Castle in Cesky Krumlov. Then our bus takes us to the base of Klet, the tallest peak in the region (3,200 feet). We take a chair-lift to the top of Klet, enjoy a local lunch at the top, and take in the great vistas before hiking five miles back to Cesky Krumlov. Overnight: Cesky Krumlov. (B, L)

Day 12: (Kamenný-Privoz-Prague) After driving north to Kamenný-Privoz, we hike seven miles through the Sazava River Valley past vacation cottages owned by people from Prague who are escaping the summer heat and indulging their “Wild West” fantasies. After our hike, we drive on to Prague. Overnight: Prague. (B, L)

Day 13: (Prague) We begin the day with a city tour and a walk through the historic center of Prague, known as the Old Town. We visit the Prague Castle, Old Town Square, the Town Hall, and the Jewish Quarter. Our afternoon is free to enjoy the many other sites of Prague. We meet at the end of this day for a farewell dinner to celebrate the successful completion of our journey. Overnight: Prague. (B, L, D)

Day 14: (Prague-Departure) Participants will depart individually. The leader will provide instructions for getting from the hotel to the airport. (B)

Photos

Details

Getting There

The trip begins in Vienna and ends in Prague. Many major international airlines serve both cities, so it is possible to purchase an "open-jaw" ticket. Or you may prefer to fly in and out of Vienna and take the train from Prague back to Vienna at the end of the trip. Your leader will provide information and recommendations.

Accommodations and Food

We will be staying at small, centrally located hotels within walking distance of many major attractions. All rooms will have their own bathrooms, but many do not have telephones, televisions, or air-conditioning. Rooms are double-occupancy, with a roommate provided for those traveling alone.

The cuisines of Austria and the Czech Republic are heavy on meat and potatoes, though fish dishes are available at most dinners. In addition, various types of salads are usually available, and it is becoming easier to accommodate vegetarians.  Participants should discuss any dietary restrictions with the trip leader.

All meals, with the exception of three dinners, are included in the trip price.  Breakfasts will be provided in our hotels, and dinners will be at local restaurants and pubs.  Lunches will be packed picnics or stops at local cafes. Evening meals will be leisurely, with opportunities to engage in discussions with our local guide on such topics as the Iron Curtain and the Cold War, fish ponds and fish farming, and the Czech culture. You will be responsible for purchasing your own alcoholic beverages.

Trip Difficulty

This trip is designed for hikers in good health who are used to walking up to seven miles a day for several consecutive days. The terrain is moderate, with trails consisting mostly of well-groomed dirt tracks winding through forests or open meadows, country roads, or occasionally on town streets. Elevations are also moderate and changes in elevation are insignificant. The highest peak in the area, Klet, rises 3,200 feet, and we will be taking a chairlift to the top and walking down. Our support bus will carry our luggage and be available in case of illness, exhaustion, or injury. The length of any day's hike may vary from the itinerary, depending on the route selected, the weather, and group safety considerations.

Austria and the Czech Republic are modern countries, but they do some things differently than we do. Critical to your enjoyment of this trip is a relaxed attitude and a willingness to accept the inevitable surprises that travel has in store for us.

Equipment and Clothing

Sturdy walking shoes, rain gear, and a daypack are essential; otherwise, your normal travel gear will do. The early-June weather in Central Europe is variable; we may encounter heat, chilly rain, and dramatic thunderstorms all in one day, so you will need to be prepared with layers and waterproof raingear. A complete list of equipment will be provided prior to the trip.

A valid passport is required for travel to Austria and the Czech Republic, but U.S. citizens do not need visas. Citizens of other countries should check with their embassies or consulates. 

References

  • Agnew, Hugh, The Czechs and the Lands of the Bohemian Crown, 2004.
  • Capek, Karel, Tales from Two Pockets, The War with the Newts, Catbird Press, 1994.
  • Any books, plays, articles by Václav Havel, the Czech writer, philosopher, and dissident who was imprisoned during the Soviet era and who later became the first president of Czechoslovakia after the fall of the Iron Curtain. 
  • Czech Phrasebook, Lonely Planet, 3rd Edition, 2013.
  • Ash, Timothy Garton, We The People: Revolution of '89 Witnessed in Warsaw, Budapest, Berlin and Prague, Granta Paperbacks, 1990.
  • Steves, Rick, Rick Steves' Prague and the Czech Republic, 2012.

Conservation

The Sierra Club is an environmentally focused entity. We are concerned about conservation and sustainability of resources, both locally and globally. Our work is accomplished by volunteers, aided by a salaried staff, and encourages grassroots involvement. Our outings seek to empower participants in understanding the parallels between environmental concerns at home and abroad.

The modern Greenways were created by a group of preservation enthusiasts -- Czechs and Americans -- after the 1989 "Velvet Revolution."  This Greenways group realized that under the new free market economy, with its rapid and environmentally careless economic development, architectural monuments and the surrounding countryside of the region were in need of protection.  They formed a nonprofit civic organization, Greenways-Zelene stezky, in 1992.  Following the model of the Hudson River Valley Greenway, they created a partnership of 12 mayors and their towns, and inspired and supported grassroots initiatives.  Greenways-Zelene stezky is a member of the Environmental Partnership for Sustainable Development (Nadace Partnerstvi), which is working to promote sustainable regional development through projects that preserve the natural and cultural heritage that makes each community unique.  We will have the opportunity to visit some of these projects.

Staff

Leader:

Growing up in a remote Sierra Nevada village in California, Martha’s love of wilderness was nurtured from an early age. She is an avid hiker, cross-country skier, and sea kayaker. Over the past 30 years, she has led several sea kayaking trips in Alaska and backpacking trips in California for the Sierra Club. She especially likes to combine traveling with outdoor adventure—trekking in Nepal, “hut-hopping” in the Alps or kayaking in New Zealand. This will be her fourth Sierra Club trip to the Czech Republic.

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