Karlštejn Castle is located approximately 20km west of Prague. It is the most visited and one of the most beautiful castles in the Czech Republic. Construction of the castle was completed in 1365 under the reign of Holy Roman Emporer Charles IV. There is a national forest around the castle with some very nice hiking. Nearby in the village of Svatý Jan Pod Skalou you can visit a beautiful monastery including the 'holy cave' that it was built upon.
While Karlštejn is one of the most beautiful castles in the Czech Republic, it is also the most exploited by the tourist industry. The village below the castle is filled with tacky souvenir stalls, very expensive restaurants, and to complete the carnival an 'erotic city' porn shop. Fortunately you can make your visit a lot more enjoyable by taking 12km or 20km hiking trips in the unexploited forests of the ?eský kras protected area around Karlštejn, hopefully relieving you of some of your unease after visiting the Castle itself.
Everything is within walking distance. When you arrive at Karlštejn you cannot actually see the castle, turn right at the station exit , walk 200 meters then turn left over a bridge into the village, or just follow the flow of tourists and you'll get there. The village starts about 500 meters from the train stop, the castle is a short (but slightly tiring) half kilometer hike up a large hill.
Hiking at Karlstejn:
A trip to Karlštejn starts with a trip to the castle, which was the the seat of Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV. The 50-minute tour is delightful, and well worth the time. There is a lovely and picturesque hike available to the Svatý Jan Pod Skalou monastery through the ?eský kras protected area (Bohemian Karst or Czech Karst in English). While at times rugged (it actually is 12 km, and not the 8 km marked), it is more than doable for those who are in good shape and have the proper equipment. It begins at the castle walls (look for the red markings near the trailhead at the castle walls).
A caveat: the hike is likely to be too challenging if you are not in good physical condition and lack proper hiking shoes. Specifically, the path meanders through forest, stream, several steep uphills, some slippery rocks and tricky downhills. There are numerous locations during the hike where you have no cellular service, and you are unlikely to see another human being for kilometers at a time.
Another thing to remember is that the path markings while clear after some experience reading them, first appear rudimentary, so always follow the red markings on the trees. The green trail marks also are fine--they track the red markings until approximately 1km before the monastery, and there is a clear sign marking the turnoff to the monastery.
Once you arrive at the monastery (which closes at 4 PM), you have the choice to take another hike to the town of Srbsko, where you catch the train back to Prague. The hike from the monastery to Srbsko actually is 8km, and not 5km, as indicated. The yellow signs purportedly indicating the path to Srbsko are nearly impossible to find. Alternatively, if you call a taxi from the local restaurant in Svatý Jan Pod Skalou (75 meters from the monastery, on the right), this is a 12km hike, punctuated by round-trip train rides and taxis. This option is highly recommended, and as of June, 2007, there is someone at the restaurant who speaks English. If you choose to hike to Srbsko, be prepared for an all day, 20 km hike. If you do decide to hike to Srbsko (and assuming you can find the yellow signs), the Srbsko train station is directly across the blue bridge. There is no place to purchase tickets. Those can be purchased on the train, however. Although you will see little mention of it on the signs, the town of Beroun is closer and larger, making for an easier and faster train journey back to Prague. The best choice is to ask the manager of the pub near the monastery to request a taxi to take you to the Beroun train station.
Extra travel tip:
Little and big America mine For the more adventurous, there are also several open pit abandoned mines that have filled up with water and have become a popular place for Czechs to go swimming. They are a bit difficult to find but if you ask around and have a good map you should be able to find them. Be warned that they are officially closed to the public because access to them is somewhat dangerous.
Getting to Karlstejn from Prague:
You can take a train from the main station (Hlavní nádraží) in Prague to Karlštejn or from Smichov train station (see time schedule at http://jizdnirady.idnes.cz). Trains run every 60 min. For groups of 3 or larger the cost for a return ticket is 30k? per person.
Return tickets for a single person will cost 64K?.
Trains run every hour, you can pick them up either in Srbsko, Beroun, or in Karlštejn. If you are in Svatý Jan Pod Skalou, you can hike to Srbsko (8 km), take a taxi to the Beroun train station, or take a bus that runs from the village to Prague every two hours or so. Check the bus schedule at the bus stop or ask at the restaurant when the next bus will be to Prague. The taxi to the Beroun station is the easiest option.
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