Very few landscapes in the world bear comparison with that of the České středohoří (Central Bohemian Uplands).
Igneous volcanic cones rising from the peaceful lowlands around the River Elbe (Labe), villages nestled in deep valleys, colourful meadows, yellow flowering fields, fruit orchards, hilltops crowned with the ruins of medieval castles.
All this capped by radiant clouds floating low above the horizon, connecting earth and heaven in one expressively chromatic picture. The oddly surreal tension between a sky constantly charged with electricity, the fossilized energy of ancient elements, and tranquillity from a landscape that has been carefully cultivated for centuries has always attracted the greatest Romantic artists in search of new inspiration. Johann Wolfgang Goethe, Friedrich Schiller and Richard Wagner all came here to find their muse. The brilliant landscape has also cast a lifelong spell on many painters.
Since the 19th century, the majestic ruin of a medieval castle has attracted romantic artists like a magnet. Eyewitness accounts from 1842 describe a white figure moving along the Střekov town walls in the moonlight, heading to the nearby hilltop of Vysoký Ostrý. That figure was the famous composer Richard Wagner, who, wrapped in a white bedsheet, stimulated his imagination in this way. The experience inspired him to write the poem that later became the basis of his famous opera Tannhäuser.
Státní zámek Duchcov - Dux | © Marian Hochel
The great lover, adventurer and writer Giacomo Casanova found refuge near the end of his life as a librarian at the chateau of Count Joseph Karl Emanuel von Wallenstein. This is where he wrote his famous report on his escape from the lead chambers of Venice, his memoirs, and his novel Icosameron. At the chateau you’ll find authentically furnished rooms in which Casanova walked, including the chair upon which he died on 4 June 1798.
Archiv CzechTourism | © Ing. Lubomír Čech
In the famous spa town, to which the cream of society flocked from all over Europe in the 19th century, a legendary event took place that illustrates a generational clash between two great artists. On 23 July 1812, two giants of European culture met here – the “prince of poets” Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and the brilliant composer Ludwig van Beethoven. During one of their walks together in the park they encountered the wife of Emperor Franz I, Mary Ludovic, with her large entourage. While Goethe respectfully doffed his hat and bowed deeply before Her Majesty, the composer, convinced that only the artist is a true aristocrat, made his way through the crowd of courtiers and onlookers with his hands in his pockets and without greeting anyone. He then criticized Goethe for his servility, and with this incident their brief friendship came to an end. They never met again.
Its unrepeatable vistas drew the world-famous explorer Alexander Humboldt to return here often. After his first ascent to the highest peak in the area, during which he accompanied the Prussian King Friedrich Wilhelm III, he wrote enthusiastically in a letter to a friend:
"The view from Milešovka is the third most beautiful I have seen in all the world.”
And although he was among the most well-travelled people of his time, he sought out the magnetic charm of the Central Bohemian Uplands a total of sixteen times. Even the King of Prussia returned to them, climbing Milešovka every year during his regular stay at the spa in Teplice.
The views here truly are powerfully captivating, and the landscape of the Central Bohemian Uplands is without a doubt the most photogenic in the Czech Republic. The hills are not high, most of them easily accessible, thus it isn’t difficult to get to the top and just daydream for as long as you wish while gazing at the rugged horizon. Many of the mountains are linked with ancient myths, and practically every one has some secrets of its own.
In search of green gold and grapes
The fertile countryside of lowlands along the River Elbe (Labe) and the red soil around the River Ohře have always been used for growing “green gold” – hops. Czech hops are among the best in the world, and the Czechs are rightfully proud of them. The hopfields in the Žatec area are an inherent part of the local landscape, and despite the Czech Republic’s small area the country boasts the fourth largest hop acreage in the world. The typical wooden structures that support the hop plants can be seen at nearly every step throughout the countryside, and the former hop brigades, in which young people travelled from field to field during harvest time under the previous regime, are part of the cultural identity of the Czech nation. If to try to bring up this topic in a local pub with anyone older than 30, you see that the stream of stories, which more and more people at the table will add to nostalgically, never ends.
If on your travels through the Central Bohemian Uplands you visit the former royal city of Žatec, you will see not only the world’s smallest hopfield, located on the square next to the city hall, but also just a bit farther one of the biggest shrines to this Czech national treasure – the Temple of Hops and Beer. Here you can learn all about their long history, see with your own eyes how beer is brewed, and taste local beer specialties and regional dishes at the onsite restaurant.
Photos: Traditional copper brewing kettles (© Jiří Strašek)
The area around the city of Litoměřice, in contrast, is a centre of winemaking. In this place called Porta Bohemica, the meandering River Elbe (Labe) carved its way between the volcanic hills of the Central Bohemian Uplands. According to written records, the history of cultivating and processing grapes on the fertile slopes above the Elbe goes back more than a thousand years. To this day, the original 13th-century wine cellars on the former Cistercian estates in Velké Žernoseky are preserved, where wine still matures in oak barrels. You can sample wine directly from the barrel in the historic cellars, and you can also find accommodations at the chateau. An ideal time to visit is during the traditional wine harvest festival. While once you are here, you can use your stay to enjoy some relaxed outings along the river or aboard a boat.
In Litoměřice stands a former royal medieval castle from the 13th century. This majestic building, one of the oldest structures in the city, once housed a brewery. But beer ceded its place to wine some time ago, and today you will find a modern exhibition about Czech viticulture. You’ll learn all about the cultivation of grapes in this region and have the opportunity to taste the typical varieties of the area. The pride of the castle is the newly renovated Gothic chapel, where Emperor Charles IV prayed during his stay in Litoměřice. It was he who granted Litoměřice the right to grow grapevines in the Middle Ages and contributed to the development of viticulture in the Litoměřice area.