Czech Canada - a vast, barren landscape in miniature

Czech Canada, photo: Atriplexmedia, CC BY-SA 3.0

Czech Canada is the name of an area in south-eastern Bohemia within the Jindřichův Hradec region. Spanning around 250 square kilometres, it is characterized by a terrain of gently rolling hills, pine forests, and an atmosphere of infinite vastness and very few people. It serves as something of a reminder about the sheer number of quaint corners offered by a relatively small country such as the Czech Republic: there’s also a Czech Siberia, and a Czech Grand Canyon – but more about those some other time.

Czech Canada,  photo: Atriplexmedia,  CC BY-SA 3.0
So what exactly is meant by “Czech Canada?”. Isn’t the very notion rather absurd? The entire area of the Czech Republic is more than 126 times smaller than Canada, and is even far smaller than 10 out of 13 of Canada’s provinces and territories. In fact, the name was something of a publicity stunt, concocted by early 20th century journalist – and proud native of this area – Jaroslav Arnošt Trpák. He thought the name might help bring in more tourists. By the end of the 1920s, the local authorities had fully embraced the concept. Of course, after 1948, the communists abolished this Western-oriented monicker, and it wasn’t until 1994 that a Czech Canada park – with somewhat different dimensions that the original area – was created.

Today’s Česká Kanada Nature Park runs along the Austrian border in the south, stretching about 25 kilometres from the town of Nová Bystřice in the west to the town of Slavonice in the east. It extends northwards about the same distance to the towns of Kunžak and Český Rudolec. In winter, the area's rolling terrain makes it an ideal place for cross-country skiing – and there are countless tracks to this end all across Czech Canada. In the summer, the area’s pine forests are a blueberry-picker’s paradise – those curious green little bushes that dot the forest floor suddenly filled with the cherished fruit.

Slavonice,  photo: CzechTourism
Each Summer, the town of Slavonice holds a film and music festival called Slavonice Fest – this year taking place from 3-7 August. Films are projected onto a makeshift screen outside in the town’s main square after dark, and a number of bands perform live. The entire festival has a decidedly hippie feel akin to the UK’s Glastonbury Festival.

Walking from Slavonice towards Nová Bystřice one comes across countless concrete World War II-era bunkers hidden in the forest, built from 1935-38 in reaction to the growing Nazi menace. Today these bunkers have been preserved and feature a museum. Every Saturday in August, there are also staged recreations of the “mobilization” in the run up to the Nazi occupation of this area in October 1938 – the shows include the staging of a fictional battle between the Wehrmacht and Czechoslovak forces based upon the premise of a rejection of the infamous Munich Agreement.

A little further north-west, one comes across Landštejn Castle. Originally built in the early 13th century by Přemysl Otakar I. Like the bunkers, the castle was also designed as a defence system against neighbouring Austria. Today, the castle itself is a stone ruin sitting on a small hill, offering a unique example of Romanesque architecture. The castle was abandoned after a fire in the late 18th century, with preservation work undertaken throughout the 20th century.

Landštejn Castle,  photo: archive of Radio Prague
Not far from here is the lost village of Pfaffenschlag. Nothing to do with the Sudeten expulsion of 1945 or the subsequent clearing of the “border zone” by the communists. Rather, this is an archaeological site featuring the remains of a Moravian village destroyed in the 15th century during the Hussite Wars. The ruins were uncovered in 1958. The rows of stones in the ground bear an eerie resemblance to some of the more modern remains of former German and Austrian villages one often comes across in these border areas.

Czech Canada offers a chance to lose oneself in at least the illusion of a vast, barren landscape akin to those found in Canada. Well worth visiting.