Prague (et al) – part 2: castles to rival the imagination

The castles in the Czech Republic may not have the notoriety of castles in the UK or Germany or France, but they are a must add to your travel itinerary.

Thee most well-known is the Prague Castle. Ironically the actual castle is a long, low somewhat staid building. The St. Vitus Cathedral that sits within the castle grounds is what gives the castle its iconic skyline – especially when it is lit up at night.

Prague Castle sitting above the Vltava River

Prague Castle sitting above the Vltava River

Prague Castle lit up at night

Prague Castle lit up at night

Construction on Prague Castle began around 880. This UNESCO Heritage site is listed in the Guinness Book of Records as being the largest ancient castle complex in the world – 70,000 square meters.

St. Vitus Cathedral is the largest gothic church in the Czech Republic. With detail and ornate accents to rival some of the greatest cathedrals in Europe. Within the castle are some unique chapels that have been created by royal figures throughout the years.

St. Vitus Cathedral, sits within the property of the Prague Castle

St. Vitus Cathedral, sits within the property of the Prague Castle

Gold mosaic inlays on the St. Vitus Cathedral

Gold mosaic inlays on the St. Vitus Cathedral

St. John of Nepomuk Chapel in St. Vitus Cathedral

This highly ornate chapel supposedly contains the remains St. John of Nepomuk, in St. Vitus Cathedral

Chapel in St. Vitus Chapel built by King Rudolf II - a proponent of Mannerist style showing incomplete pillars and a less ornate look

Chapel in St. Vitus Chapel built by King Rudolf II – a proponent of Mannerist style showing incomplete pillars and a less ornate look

One of my favorite spots in all my travels is the castle that sits in the idyllic setting of Pruhonicky Park, an hour subway and train ride outside of Prague. The castle itself dates back to the 1270’s, but the grounds were turned into a fairy tale land that stimulates the senses, back in the 1800’s. I could not stop taking pictures so I will let my pictures replace my words for the rest of this post.

Chateau at Pruhonicky Park

Chateau at Pruhonicky Park

My son, Mike, taking in the smells of the fragrant flowers that line the pathways

My son, Mike, taking in the smells of the fragrant vibrant colored flowers that line the pathways

Is it a picture or a painting? A picturesque stream running through Pruhonicky Park

Is it a picture or a painting? An idyllic setting for a romantic picnic along this stream running through Pruhonicky Park

I kept waiting for fairies to flitter out from the this fairy tale setting

I kept waiting for fairies to flutter out from  under the lush green canopies of the this fairy tale setting

More castles: Prague being a fairly small country, allows you to take short day trips to see many of the countries highlights including a couple of more castles.

State Cesky Krumlov Castle, located approx. 100 miles south of Prague on the Vltava River, is comprised of some 40 buildings

State Cesky Krumlov Castle, built in the 1200’s, is located approx. 100 miles south of Prague on the Vltava River, is comprised of some 40 buildings

Dobris Castle, this colorfully ornate newer 18th century castle is located approx. 40 miles southwest of Prague

Dobris Castle, this colorfully ornate newer 18th century castle is located approx. 40 miles southwest of Prague

Must dos and sees: Give yourself plenty of time to enjoy the highlights of Prague and the Czech Republic. Try at least one of their home brews to accompany a plate of ghoulish and knedly. Bring a good camera to capture the ornate colorful architecture of the city and the castles that abound through the countryside. Most importantly, relax into the laid back attitude that surrounds you.

 

Lake Louise – Just as beautiful in summer

Moraine Lake July-2011

Moraine Lake July-2011 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Chateau Lake Louise, Banff, Alberta, Canada: Just as beautiful in the summer

Chateau Lake Louise, Banff, Alberta, Canada: Just as beautiful in the summer

The path along Lake Louise

The path along Lake Louise

Lunch at Chateau Lake Louise

Lunch at Chateau Lake Louise

Trans-Canada Highway in Alberta, Canada, in th...

Trans-Canada Highway in Alberta, Canada, in the Banff National Park, between Banff and Lake Louise (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Banff and the Banff Springs Hotel may get more traffic and notoriety, but I think the extra hour it takes to drive up to Chateau Lake Louise is worth the extra effort. Both hotels were once owned by the Canadian Pacific Railway and built-in the late 19th century to attract wealthy Canadians to visit the natural beauty of what is now a World Heritage Site, Banff National Park. Now the hotels and trails are packed with people culturally diverse as the multitude of amazing views you see en route to the hotels, at the hotels and on the paths leading from the hotels.

On the 45-minute drive from Banff to Lake Louise you delve deeper and deeper into the Canadian wilderness. The slate blue Bow River sits on one side of road with the Canadian Rockies flanking the other side. For years the only way for wildlife to get from one to the other was to hoof or pad their way across the one and only road – the Trans-Canada Highway 1. Named “Highway 1” because it is the one and only National highway in all of Canada – and it flows only east and west.

Over the years, as road traffic to Lake Louise became steadily heavier, so did the amount of vehicle-animal accidents. And when these animals are elk, moose, caribou, deer, bear, big horn sheep – nobody wins, car or animal. To ease the rash of these incidents, high fences were erected along the sides of the highway. These fences lead into specially designed bridges that cross the highway. The bridges are animal crossings and are covered with natural fauna so the animals feel it is part of their natural surroundings and comfortably make the trek back and forth, up and over the highway, saving the lives of wildlife and people.

Eventually you arrive at the little hamlet of Lake Louise which sits at the base of the world-renowned Lake Louise ski hill. Since the advent of World Cup Ski Races in 1980, and the Winter Olympics in 1988, Lake Louise has become a destination skiing hot spot. Prior to this, however, the area was mainly a summer destination. The Chateau, which sits higher up in the mountains on the opposite side of the Lake Louise river valley from the ski hill, was not even winterized until 1982.

The drive from the heart of Calgary to Lake Louise is only two hours, but allowing plenty of time to take in the surrounding beauty is a must. With the long summer hours you can cover a lot of territory in a day. Make the short drive from Lake Louise up to Chateau Lake Louise to experience views unlike any other: the bright white hotel sits at one end of the vivid blue-green colored Lake Louise and Victoria Glacier, that feeds into Lake Louise, sits at the other end. Spend the hour to hike the well maintained path along the lake, to allow you to take in both views – about a 3 mile round trip hike. Come back and enjoy lunch in the hotel with views of the lake and Victoria Glacier in the background and then walk off lunch by taking a tour of this magnificent hotel.

Or, after taking in the views from the Chateau, head back towards Lake Louise, but take the turn into Moraine Lake. A picnic basket and a blanket is all you need to take in views equally as breathtaking, but more rustic, than at Chateau Lake Louise.

If you can find time in your busy schedule to spend a couple of days in the area, a stay at Chateau Lake Louise would allow you the time to hike back to Victoria Glacier. The glacier can be reached on foot or horseback along a well-worn and well maintained dirt path leading from the hotel. Round trip is about 8.6 miles (14 km). Be sure to look up as you pass the first major bend at the far end of the lake – you are likely to see rock climbers working their way up the sheer face of Mount Victoria.

Or make your way back to the Lake Louise village and stay a night at the world-renowned Post Hotel that sits along the wild rushing waters of the Bow River. Eat at the world-renowned restaurant which focuses on using local ingredients, specialty meats from the area, and fresh fish caught nearby. And enjoy a bottle of wine from their world-renowned 25,000 bottle wine cellar.

My husband and I lived in Calgary for 2 1/2 years and made the trip to Banff National Park several times. There are few greater stress relievers like the majestic views of the Canadian Rockies. I am in awe of the engineering marvel of winding a well maintained four-lane highway throughout the valleys allowing us to get up close and personal to all this area has to offer.