God was easy to find. But I had to use skis.
The Czech Republic is probably better known for its garden gnomes than its ski resorts. It produces thousands of ornamental plastic gnomes every year. But only has a few ski resorts catering for quite a bit of snow.
More often than not moderately abysmal and studiously unpretentious and ‘relentlessly incompetent’ skiers like myself and the Lord Mayor of London are ignored by the mainstream ski destinations.
Nowhere looks after shocking skiers and very poorly-dressed tourists better than the Czech Republic which, as one of its winter activities brochures proudly proclaims, “offers numerous ravishing sceneries” where “you can enjoy the nature while struggling to ski”.
The Czech Republic is not ashamed to welcome the world’s worst or, at least, most self-conscious winter sports enthusiasts. It openly vaunts itself as the ideal place for “not very capable skiers”.
You can ski in several places within two hours of Prague. All are accessible, if totally unpronounceable. There is Beskydy in Moravia on the Slovak and Polish border. Pustevny, Jeseniky and Cervenohorske sedlo are popular resorts with well-maintained routes and draglifts. Ricky and Destne are the places to go in the Orlicke Hory mountains. Liberac Jizera, home of the country’s longest race, is the place for cross-country, sledging and tobogganing.
Sumava may be the largest and perhaps best equipped Czech ski area of all boasting centres like Zelezna Ruda-Spicak, Vrchlabi, Harrachov and the romantically-named Pec od Snezkou. But perhaps the most picturesque and characterful is Bozi Dar, which is translated ‘God’s Gift’.
An hour or so drive from Prague behind sputtering Skodas, Bozo Dar is right on the German border and therefore the most westerly of all the Czech ski centres. It costs about £5 to ski per day. There are no queues because in the Krusne Hory mountains there are very few skiers and plenty of open spaces. The two main hotels are the Santa Anna and the Dum where you get a meal for £10 including beer and liqueur. Bohemia is like Bulgaria before ‘Crystal Holidays’. The mountains are totally rep-less.
The skiing is easy. Therefore relaxing and exhilarating. Especially if the peat bogs are not completely frozen up. The snow cover is not deep so you don’t spend all day trying to find your skis if you fall.
The gentle gradients take you across plains, over snow-capped basalt mountains and through Christmas tree-lined valleys to tiny Bohemian hamlets like Mikulov and Abertamy. I followed a signpost pointing towards ‘God’, which turned out to be a tumbled-down farm, no doubt equipped with a manger. A red-faced man came out of the door. I smiled at him because I am an agnostic.
He didn’t smile back.
Jachymov used to be a large silver mine and is famous for producing ‘tolar’ or ‘thaler’ which gave the name to the US dollar. Radium was also isolated from local ore there by Pierre and Marie Curie.
You can ski in several places within two hours of Prague. All are accessible, if totally unpronounceable
Five kilometres northeast of Jachymov and reached by a chairlift is Klinovec, the highest peak in the Ore mountains. On a good day (you will probably have to camp waiting for it) you can see Saxony. And ‘The Land of Health’ which Bohemia has recently begun calling itself.
Every town in Bohemia is an ancient spa specialising in some therapy or other. Jachymov brings relief to people suffering from diseases of the motor neurone system. Marianske Lazne is a famous urological spa.
Frantiskovy Lazne is a gynaecological centre and the waters of Knyzvart are reportedly beneficial to children. The oldest and best known spa town is Karlovy Vary, which is a good base for touring the area whether on four wheels or two skis. It is about 15km from the slopes.
Founded in 1358 by the Czech King and Roman Emperor Charles IV, people stand around the taps in the town square helping themselves to cuppa after cuppa of curative cuppas. The water comes out of the ground at 52-70°C as it has done since the Middle Ages.
Most top hotels like the Kolonade offer spa treatments. So staff are used to dealing with people who have complaints. In the kingdom of Bohemia the traditional pre-piste, dietetic breakfast consists of two fatty frankfurters curled on top of a bowlful of calcified porridge. The waiter told me it promotes peripheral blood circulation and girds against hypothermia. And probably any interaction with the opposite sex too.
Apres-ski, Bohemian-style, is similarly idiosyncratic. As Bohemia is well known for its dentists, apres-ski centres largely around a voluntary gum irrigation session intended to relieve tension and help straighten out your jaw if you have spent the day crashing head-first into fir trees, farmhouses and other rustic structures. There is nothing quite as relaxing as getting back to your hotel putting your feet up and somebody putting their hands in your mouth to give your gums a good seeing to. It brings further colour to your cheeks.
The locals don’t seem to mind if you are not one of the beautiful people. In fact, they encourage it. Thrown into some all-inclusive ski holiday packages is advice on how to control your obesity.
Bohemia, which occupies two-thirds of the country, is the only place where you can guarantee a tan, weight loss and healthy-looking gums that will be the envy of all your Zermatt-going friends.
‘The Land of Health’ provides a budget-conscious but fun alternative to conventional winter sports destinations. You can stop over in Prague, do the sights as well as a quick cruise down the River Vltava before getting into the Czech countryside, getting up into the mountains and doing a spot of unorthodox skiing in an unorthodox spot without anyone seeing how bad you are.
If you are a bad skier and sick of the prices elsewhere and all the posing and pretence, then the Czech Republic might be the cure.
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