Anyone longing to escape the Czech capital in the stifling summer months would do well to visit the nearby Kokorin region - only around 40 kilometres or so northeast of Prague. Kokorin - with deep forests, valleys, as well as characteristic sandstone cliffs and unique architecture, is remarkable. You'll feel you've travelled more than one short train or bus ride away. It's an escape back to nature, with numerous spots for swimming and excellent trails for hiking, all in quiet and peace.
Kokorin boasts numerous castles, one of the most famous a stunning originally Gothic site that shares the region's name. Not long ago, when visiting the area I met with Marie Smutna, the castle caretaker there, who told me a bit about the site's rich past. It all began in 1320:
"Kokorin Castle was built on the edge of two royal domains: near both the castle Bezdez, as well as the royal town of Melnik, and it served as a sentry outpost for soldiers responsible for guarding the area, collecting taxes for the king, and similar such duties. When you travel through the Kokorin nature reserve, you'll notice that the castle is not visible from most points, but is hidden within the valley. That made it ideal from the point of view of defence. Regarding the structure itself, like most castles it houses tall ramparts, deep ditches, and a tower. The living quarters were then found in the small and large palace."
According to Mrs Smutna, the site served as a classic castle for most of its early history, but fell into demise in the 1600 and 1700s.
In fact, the revival of Kokorin Castle came at a much later date:
Marie Smutna says that Kokorin is famous for being one of the few Neo-Romantic castles in Bohemia and you won't find anything similar quite like it here: the atmosphere of the Romantic period is almost tangible. The area is pristine and there is nothing to ruin the impression: no business along the road to the castle like at many other well-known sites. Kokorin's caretaker once again:
French tourist: "We are French tourists and it's our first time here of course. It's nice to walk all around because it's in a very nice wood and there is a very nice view. Oh yes, it's nice!"
Czech man: "We've been here before and something keeps bringing us back. The valley is gorgeous and the castle is fantastic. After the castle, we're going to hike on some of the trails, to the cliffs known as 'The Lids', where there is also a rock formation that looks like a giant frog! After that, we'll head to another nearby castle known as Houska, where legend has it there was once an entrance to Hell. It belched steam and smoke and after a man came back grey with fear from searching the area, they opted to build a chapel on the site, so that devils could come up no more!"
Czech lady: "It's my first time here. I admire the scenery, it's very beautiful. I'm curious about what comes next."
Kokorin: so close, yet a world apart.