“Prague, of course!” is most people’s answer to, “Where did you go in the Czech Republic.”
But not ours…
As Adventure Caravanners, our aim is to reach the parts that other road trippers don’t. In our sights was Kokořínsko National Park with its beautiful landscapes, historic villages and, of course, castles.
The first part of our journey from spa town, Karlovy Vary to Kokořín was enchanted. Our route followed a sparkling river as it wound through a verdant forest.
Then, it was flat, flat, flat, boring, boring, boring, culminating in a huge open cast mine at Spořice. I am not exaggerating the size; the desecrated, apocalyptic wasteland extended to every horizon.
Things improved as we approached some domed, volcano-shaped hills, one with an imposing, twin-turreted castle on top.
Then, our surroundings returned to enchanted as we drove into the protected area around Kokořín; pronounced Cock au Gin.
Sandstone cliffs, softened and eroded by time, bordered our route through dark, green forests. Small caves and grottoes pockmarked the walls, some of which housed statues of the Madonna. It was like fairyland!
Camp Kokořín was a quirky little place, tucked at the head of a slightly damp, slightly gloomy cleft between the sandstone cliffs, surrounded by deep forest. We loved it immediately. The lady proprietor and her delightful teenage family were really friendly and there were footpaths galore straight from the door. At first glance, it looked like there was no room for us to pitch, but with a reverse through an obstacle course of campers, caravans, tents, awnings and an electricity bollard, the owner found us a quiet corner where Caravan Kismet could squeeze in.
Once again at check in, our only shared language was German,
“VIER Hunde – FOUR dogs?!” she exclaimed. My heart sank. Then she said, “I will make a charge for two…”
Always an endearing phrase!
We had run out of clothes, so we were grateful to be squeezed in next to the facilities. Our portable, twin-tub washing machine does not heat water, so it was helpful to have warm water on hand from the washing-up sinks. The seven litres provided by Caravan Kismet’s boiler barely covers the bottom of the tub, so laundry day usually entails a steaming array of pans and kettles on the hob.
Of course, the second we had finished all our laundry, it rained, but we put our home-made ‘awning’ over it. Everything that was still wet remained outside overnight, but thankfully dried in the morning sun.
Besides no clothes, we had no food. On our way to the campsite, we had not seen any shops or supermarkets. Fortunately, there was a restaurant on site, so we treated ourselves to ribs, two beers each and a walking map of the area. It cost less than £20. Approximately the same price as coffee and a cake in Germany!
The new day arrived with no food to break our fast either, but thankfully, the owner’s son, Frankie, offered to cook us ham and eggs at 10.30, even though breakfast finished officially at 10am. We had not overslept, we were just entranced by our morning walk through our bewitched surroundings. The Fab Four absolutely loved it; bounding through the trees and playing chase with each other, although The Terrible Two, Lani and Rosie, kept disappearing, hot on the scent of some elusive, woodland creature.
After breakfast, we set off into the forest on the Rundweg, the circular walk from the campsite to Hrad Kokořín – Kokořín Castle, our backpack laden with gingerbread. This was not to lay a trail to find our way back. We had bought it in Alsace, where it is a local delicacy, and it was the only thing we had left to eat!
At check in, Frankie’s mum had posed a rather strange query,
“How heavy are your dogs?”
I wondered if the dog charge was by weight, but in German, she conveyed that there are ladders and steps on the Rundweg, so it was more a question of whether our pooches were petite enough to be portable!
The walk was gorgeous, weaving between sandstone cliffs in the dappled light of beech woods. There was no-one around; we had it all to ourselves.
Close to the parking for the castle, we found an ice cream trailer and two outdoor restaurants. Plunged into the heat of the day beyond the cooling shade of the forest, ice cream seemed like a spiffing idea. Mark went with the easy option of Karamel, while I pointed at Meruňka. I had no clue what it was until I tasted it. Thankfully, it wasn’t kipper flavour, but a very delicious apricot! There was no sign of the castle, but we had no problem finding it. From the car park, we just followed the crowds up a narrow, shaded road that cut through the forest.
Kokořín is an impressive mini castle of exactly the sort that I would love to live in. With white walls and terracotta tiled roof, its charming turrets give it a fairy tale quality. It seems to float above the forest on its sandstone outcrop. The castle started life around 1320 as a fortified palace with a tower, built by a Bohemian knight, Hynek Berka of Dubé.
Kokořín was badly damaged in the 1400s, during the religious ‘Hussite’ (or ‘Bohemian’) wars. After that, it got a Gothic facelift, but by the 17th Century, it had fallen into disuse and disrepair.
Even in ruins, Kokořín inspired the imagination of notable poets and painters, which then attracted tourists. In the late 19th Century, aristocrat Václav Špaček bought the castle. Between 1911 and 1918, he reconstructed it in the Romantic style.
Entry to the courtyard and turrets was free, and dogs were welcome on leads. There was a charge to see the restored interior, with an additional 10Kč to take photos of it. I didn’t go inside, I just climbed a spiral staircase to the top of a tower. There, I experienced stupendous views across the treetops, along with that uneasy feeling of vertigo in the pit of my stomach.
By the time we got back to Caravan Kismet, I had another feeling in the pit of my stomach. Even after a sunlit chill-out on our bean bags, we didn’t have the energy to drive out to find a shop. We plumped for a second, expensive dinner in the onsite restaurant. Despite our own additions of gingerbread and ice cream for variety, the Czech diet of meat, with meat plus a garnish of meat had left us hankering for something fresh.
We settled at what was now ‘our’ table on the outside terrace. The menu was in Czech, but Frankie spoke good English, so we requested a dish that came with vegetables.
We received a delicious, grilled pork loin with chips.
“Where are the vegetables, Frankie?” we asked.
“There!” he said.
As his trademark, bright smile lit up the place, he pointed proudly at an extra-large dollop of horseradish sauce!
Still not Prague, but known as ‘Prague in Miniature’, please click the link to read about our to Český Krumlov. This is featured in my second book, Dog on the Rhine, which creeps in and out of Amazon’s Bestseller list for German Travel. Click here to see Dog on the Rhine on Amazon.co.uk or click here to link to it in your local Amazon store.
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