Many Czechs own country cottages where they can escape from the city for a weekend. But for visitors and expats, “getting away from it all” can feel slightly more challenging.
For the city-weary traveler, south Bohemia could be the answer. While parts of the region are heavily on the tourist trail (like ?eský Krumlov), other areas offer exactly the kind of idyll many crave.
Driving out of Prague, it is rather incredible how quickly one finds oneself in the heart of the picturesque Czech countryside. For the equivalent of a few dollars, a one-hour bus ride goes right into south Bohemia, where the landscape changes markedly to a seemingly endless expanse of forest and open plains.
The serenity of the area is immediately noticeable. It feels like walking into the scene from the film Dr. Zhivago when Omar Sharif (Yuri Zhivago) flees Moscow with his family for an isolated cottage to hide out. This analogy is, in many ways, a warning: The area is so beautiful it is likely to provoke any pretentious literary aspirations you may have, no matter how much urban cynicism has repressed them.
However, once you are finished with literary associations, there is still plenty to do in the area. Blatná is one of the main towns and comes complete with its own fairy-tale castle, surrounded by a watery moat.
The castle’s interior is not open in the winter, but the exterior is picturesque enough for a stroll. The wooded grounds are also beautiful and home to a group of astonishingly tame deer that will eat out of your hand. It’s a thrill for children – and adults.
Local pubs are dotted around the area and ideal for lunch. A pub – actually, the pub – in a village nearby Blatná called Kožlí is not a bad option, although foreign visitors may be greeted with deafening silence as regulars stare at the newcomers talking in their crazy native tongue.
Don’t be put off though, because the food is authentic and satisfying, and includes all the usual suspects like goulash. The staff, once over their initial shock, are also the picture of country hospitality.
Around Blatná lie many tempting walking routes, forests and lakes for hiking and gentle sightseeing. Part of the appeal is the lack of boundaries that characterizes the Czech countryside – you can bike and walk in most areas without being cut off by fences, walls or keep-out signs.
But the real point of “getting away from it all” is to relax, and for some that might mean avoiding doing very much at all. If this is your aim, staying at the right place is key, and a beautiful bed and breakfast called Na Drtin?, near Kožlí, has a lot going for it.
The friendly owner, Petr Mandel, restored the house himself; it took him a year to fix up what had started as a dilapidated building, and the results are spectacular. The sprawling one-story building has distressed wood, modern fixtures and luxurious furniture, and is decorated with so much character the house feels immediately like a home. The other half of the barn can be rented out for weddings and events.
As the log fire burns, you can play table tennis, browse the extensive collection of books and magazines (all in English, a thrill for those far from home) or watch DVDs. Na Drtin? has also begun offering ceramics classes to guests, where you can visit the studio of local ceramicist Klára Jánská and create authentic keepsakes to take away with you. And in summer, there’s an enticing natural swimming pool at the back of the BB. Or you could simply lie back and enjoy the peace and solitude.
Just 90 kilometers south of Prague, this area feels like a well-kept secret. For people looking to unwind and relax, see the countryside and meet some friendly locals who may not speak English but will still be welcoming, it’s ideal.
And if all the quiet gets too much for you, tourist attractions like ?eský Krumlov, Orlík Castle, Písek and Hluboká remain within easy reach.
For more information, visit Drtinacountryretreat.cz.
Laura Burgoine can be reached at