Roudnice nad Labem is a small, picturesque town situated on the banks of the Elbe river, about 30 kilometers north of Prague. As much as Roudnice is worth the visit to see the historical sights, it’s the spectacular views of the not far off České středohoří or Central Bohemian Uplands that really makes a trip here worthwhile.
Roudnice Castle, photo: Harke, CC BY-SA 3.0 Unported
The most dominant structure in the entire town is the first one visitors will encounter arriving at the train station, namely the 17th century Roudnice Castle and châteaux complex (parts of it date back to the 12th century) – the fourth largest castle in the Czech Republic – built by the noble House of Lobkowicz family. On closer inspection, the pink structure looks like it is in need of a fresh lick of paint. The reason for the slight shabbiness is that for years the communist regime used the site as a military musical academy; after 1989, restitution saw the castle returning to private ownership by Lobkowicz descendants, who have evidently been trying hard to fund at least a partial restoration of the site.
The steel arch bridge, photo: Dominik Jůn
And that isn’t the only monument with funding needs. Right next to the castle is the site of a former brewery – today emblazoned with a large poster declaring “save the brewery!”. Fears continue that the historic, but now semi-derelict site of a 17th century brewery will eventually have to be demolished. Incidentally, the Lobkowicz name and brewery in question have nothing to do with the Lobkowicz Group, the 5th largest beer brewer in the Czech Republic. Rather, Roudnice nad Labem is wine country. Vineyards surround the town. And Roudnice castle is full of wine cellars open to the public. And what is the name of the wine sold here? Lobkowicz of course!
Church of the Nativity of Virgin Mary, photo: Dominik Jůn
The main sights in Roudnice can be seen by following a looping handy red-white tourist track, which starts in the spacious Karlovo náměstí, and passes a number of monuments, including an early 20th century steel arch bridge, which crosses the Elbe. Other sites include the gothic Church of the Nativity of Virgin Mary, a modern art gallery, an old Jewish cemetery, a former Capuchin monastery and the 18th century St Vilém’s and St Josef’s chapels. All while navigating a number of charming little alleys, which traverse up and down along the banks of the river.
Hláska tower, photo: Dominik Jůn
Climbing up the town’s historic Hláska watch tower – part of the original fortifications of Roudnice – is just one location where a magnificent view of the surrounding landscape can be observed. At the top is a guide to the various mountains one can see from here, which have names like Milešovka and Sedlo. About ten minutes walk from the town centre is yet another great viewing spot – the Kratochvílova Watch Tower. This wonderfully designed circular functionalist structure was built in the 1930s, and is named after Václav Kratochvíl, a key 19th century political and business figure from the town. Both locations offer a breathtaking view of the peaks of the České středohoří mountains to the north.
Říp, photo: Dominik Jůn
But, rather surprisingly, neither of these vantage points offer a view of one other key site in the Roudnice nad Labem area – namely the famous Říp Mountain, which lies just south of here. For the view of this lone hill, which lies just a few kilometers south-east Roudnice is obscured by the topography of the town. It’s about a two hour walk, but it’s well worth it. According to legend, this is the site at which the mythical Slav known as Forefather Čech decided to establish the Czech lands. Říp is singular hill rising from an otherwise flat landscape. It’s a popular site, with large numbers of visitors undertaking the steep, but relatively brief slog up the 455m high hill. At the top is a charming mountain-style log cabin offering food and drink. There’s also the Romanesque rotunda of Saint George, a kind of mini castle, which dates back to the 10th century and is one of the oldest preserved structures in the Czech Republic.
Rotunda of Saint George, photo: Dominik Jůn
Naturally, the view from here is even more spectacular. On a clear day, you can get not just an even better view of the České středohoří mountains to the north, but you can also see Prague to the south. Not to mention the toy-like chimneys of the handful of power stations that dot the area.
Roudnice nad Labem is just a short 45-minute train journey from Prague. It offers visitors an oasis of serenity from the hustle and bustle of the Czech capital and is well worth visiting.