Medieval Treasures of Eastern Europe - Czech Republic, Slovakia and Poland

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Day 1: Arrive in Prague, Czech Republic

You are met on arrival at the Prague airport and transferred to our hotel. Remainder of day at leisure. This evening, we have our dinner and orientation at a downtown restaurant located near our hotel. Overnight in Prague.

 

Day 2: Prague - Castle, Charles Bridge, Astronomical Clock, Old Jewish Quater

After breakfast we begin our sightseeing of Prague on foot by seeing many of the fabulous Renaissance, Baroque, Art Nouveau and Neo-Gothic monuments. We visit Prague Castle - the center of the Czech state for almost 11 centuries.

We continue through gothic St. Vitus Cathedral and the imposing Golden Lane lined with tiny little houses to the Little Quarter for lunch. After lunch, we cross the Vltava River by way of the famous Charles Bridge and continue walking on the winding narrow streets of the Old Town to the Astronomical Clock.

Originally constructed in 1410, the clock is a lasting tribute to artists and clock makers of this time period. Every hour, the clock presents the Procession of the Twelve Apostles as it strikes the hour. We also visit the famous Jewish Quarter, the Old Jewish Cemetery and several synagogues.

We then transfer by cable car up to Nebozizek, a restaurant overlooking Prague. After dinner, we return to the city on foot or by cable car. Overnight in Prague.

 

Day 3: St. Nicolas Church, Lunch Cruise, to Jicin

This morning we visit the impressive St. Nicolas Church and the Vrtba gardens.

We walk past famous Art Nouveau buildings to the Vltava River to board our lunch cruise along the river. In the afternoon we'll have free time giving you the opportunity to roam around and explore Wenceslas Square before we depart Prague for Jicin, located in the "Bohemian Paradise"; an incredibly scenic area north of Prague. The area is covered in forests, meadows and lakes. The town of Jicin is thought to have been founded during the 13th century. Today the town boasts many examples of rare early Baroque architecture. Overnight in Jicin.

 

Day 4: Bohemian Paradise - Prachov Rocks and Trosky Castle

Our first visit today is to the Prachov Rocks. The Prachov Rocks area was made a state nature reserve in 1993 and has more than 200 rock towers in deep and narrow gorges.

We continue walking along the Caesar Trail, named in honor of Franz I, an Austrian emperor who visited this place in 1813, and we walk to the bottom of a gulch lined with mighty rock faces and stone stairways. The trail is generally considered the best in this area for its fascinating viewpoints and it often serves as a film set for fairy tales.

After a picnic lunch, we visit one of the most romantic ruins in the Czech Republic - the Castle of Trosky. This site is one of the best examples of Gothic castles in the Czech Republic, founded in the 14th century. Unfortunately, it burned down in the 16th century. After a renewed interest during the time of Romanticism, the castle was restored and is now a famous landmark in the area and a symbol of Bohemian Paradise.

The remainder of the afternoon we have free time in Jicin, also known as the "City of Fairy Tales". It was here that the writer Vaclav Ctvrtek created the well-known fairy tale figures of the cobbler and bandit Rumcajs. Overnight in Jicin.

 

Day 5: Foothills of Giant Mountains, Allegorical statues of Kuks

Depart this morning for Kuks, the most significant Baroque complex in the Czech Republic. Kuks means a "mine share", derived from former gold mines in the surrounding area. Known for its curative waters, Kuks was originally founded as a spa. We walk from Kuks in the direction of Bethlehem, along a trail of pilgrimage and meditation.

Along the way, we will see sculptures cut into rock by Matthias Bernard Braun and his followers. With Bethlehem being the central motif, we see the figures of Christ, the Penitent Magdalene, John the Baptist and the sculptures of Onufrius - the Hermit, and Garinus, the Hermit. We follow the rock contour through verdant woods and flowery meadows. We stop at a few observation points overlooking the surrounding foothills of the Giant Mountains to finally reach Kuks, the most significant Baroque complex in the Czech Republic. Overnight in Rychnov.

 

Day 6: Eagle Mountains hike, WWII military stronghold in Dobrosov

We head off this morning to begin our hike in the Eagle Mountains, which run along the border with Poland. The main ridge has an elevation of about 3,273 ft (1,000 m) with the highest peak Velka Destna at 3,643 ft (1,115 m). The highest peaks of this mountain range are now a State Protected Area.

We follow a trail leading around many terrain-oriented military structures, to finally arrive at the Dobrosov Fortification System. The whole system was engineered before WWII in expectation of a Nazi attack, but it was never put to use.

We walk through "Paradise to Hell" - a deep river valley of captivating scenery. We follow the stream of the wild Metuje River and conclude at the town of Nove Mesto. Nove Mesto is one of the best-preserved renaissance towns, with splendid historical buildings, arcades and a stately palace built in the style of Italian Renaissance. Overnight in Rychnov.

 

Day 7: UNESCO towns of Litomysl and Olomouc

Today, we begin with a visit to a lace museum in Vamberk (except on Mondays), which houses an exhibition of traditional lace making in the region, as well as displays of modern laces. We then head off to the city of Litomysl, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the birthplace of Bedrich Smetana, the renowned Czech composer. Litomysl boasts a grand, elongated square with rows of picture-perfect Renaissance and Baroque houses, beautiful arcades and, above all, a monumental Renaissance Palace.

We also visit the UNESCO town of Olomouc, a fascinating city whose historical significance compares only to that of Prague, and boasts monuments of all architectural styles, including a Romanesque palace, a number of Gothic and Baroque churches, Renaissance palaces and Art Nouveau homes. Olomouc also has a unique set of seven Baroque fountains portraying mainly themes from ancient Greek and Roman mythology. After lunch, we have some free time to explore independently. Overnight in Olomouc.

 

Day 8: Wallachian Open-Air Museum, Hike to Radhost, to Slovakia

Today we travel to Roznov, home of the popular "skansen" of folk architecture in the Czech Republic and a gateway to the gorgeous Moravian-Silesian Beskyds. We visit the Wallachian Open-Air Museum, which consists of the old village and town buildings (some original, some copies). It is the oldest and most popular open-air museum in the Czech Republic, founded in 1925.

In the afternoon we continue to nearby Pustevny, a lovely little village on the ridge of the Moravian-Silesian Mountains. Its name is derived from the hermits who lived there until 1874. The village has an amazing complex of richly decorated log houses; an exquisite example of folk architecture. We head out for today's hike to the legendary mountain of Radhost.

At the top of Radhost, we visit a chapel dedicated to Sts. Cyril and Methodius. These two influential Byzantine scholars and missionaries are credited with the creation of the Glagolithic alphabet. We cross the border into Slovakia this afternoon and arrive into Terchova for our overnight.

 

Day 9: Hiking in the Orava Mountains, Orava Castle

Today we walk through the charming rural landscape, coniferous forests, and emerald meadows of the Oravske Mountains. The scenery is dotted with quaint shepherds' huts and picturesque wooden cottages. In Lestiny we will visit the wooden evangelical church, a UNESCO World Heritage site.

The highlight of the walk is the extensive 13th century Orava Castle rising on a limestone cliff about 370 ft. above the Orava River. This Slovak national monument truly anchors the Slovak past to the landscape. Climb the castle tower and indulge in the breathtaking panoramic view of the surrounding landscape which was the location for the earliest Dracula movie, Nosferatu (1922). Tonight we meet the Slovak people, in a local establishment for dinner and a typical "salas" evening, including Slovak folk music. Overnight in Terchova.

 

Day 10: The High Tatras Mountains, UNESCO Town of Levoca

Today we drive to the central part of Slovakia into the High Tatras, the largest mountain range of Slovakia and one of the most scenic. The Tatras contain more than 500 peaks and 30 valleys. We take an easy walk from Strbske Pleso, the most popular glacial mountain lake in the High Tatras, to the glacial moraine lake of Poprad.

After lunch, we continue to the historical town of Levoca. The jewel of eastern Slovakia, Levoca was originally settled in the New Stone Age and is a UNESCO listed town with a well-preserved square and exquisite examples of Renaissance architecture. The town's highlight is the Church of St. James's, home to the world's largest Gothic winged altar. Overnight in Levoca.

 

Day 11: Zehra to Spissky Castle

We take a short drive this morning to the village of Zehra. A thirteenth century Gothic church, which is a part of the UNESCO World Heritage, stands in the middle of the village. From there we take a moderate walk over the meadows towards the spectacular Spissky Castle. It was founded by Hungarian kings around 1200 AD, but a stronghold was built on a nearby hill already in prehistoric times. Spissky Castle has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, being the largest castle ruin in Slovakia. Together with the excellent Gothic castle the region includes the church of Zehra and the Spis Chapter, St Martin's church from the twelfth and thirteenth centuries with an outstanding late Gothic chapel. This chapel was built as a sepulchral chapel of the "Zapolsk" family, the owners of the castle in the late fifteenth century.

After spending some time exploring the site, we have lunch in a traditional wooden sheep house converted into a charming Salas restaurant, offering the best of Slovak cuisine. Enjoy the opportunity to taste traditional Slovak "halusky", small dumplings prepared from sheep cheese and potatoes. We return to Levoca after lunch.

Following a short guided tour through the town, you are free to enjoy Levoca on your own. You may choose to visit St. James Church, the Town Hall, Protestant Church, a medieval pillory - the Cage of Shame and the main square. Overnight in Levoca.

 

Day 12: Dunajec River Ride, to Krakow, Poland

Today we drive across a scenic high plateau down to the Dunajec River bordering Poland. The 5-mile river gorge is part of the Pieniny National Park created in 1967. We enjoy a ride down the Dunajec River on a wooden raft, the same way Slovak predecessors used to transport timber to the Baltic Sea. Our experienced captains wear traditional costumes that take us back in time. Later in the afternoon we continue on to the UNESCO World Heritage city of Krakow. Overnight in Krakow.

 

Day 13: Auschwitz

This day is dedicated to visiting Auschwitz/Birkenau, located 43 miles (70 kilometers) from Krakow. It is estimated that over one million people perished in Auschwitz between June 1941 and January 1945. This infamous concentration camp remains a symbol of terror, genocide, and the Holocaust and was added as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1979. Afterwards return to Krakow. For those who do not wish to visit the Auschwitz, the day is free to explore independently. Overnight in Krakow.

 

Day 14: Krakow Sightseeing, Royal Wawel Castle and Wieliczka Salt Mine

Krakow is often nicknamed "the New Prague" because of its architectural splendor, cultural significance and historical importance. Krakow, the royal capital of Poland for over 500 years, is without a doubt the most picturesque town in Poland. Our city tour begins with a visit to the Jewish Quarter, followed by a visit to Royal Wawel Castle. Afterwards we continue to the city center, which is full of churches built between the 11th -18th centuriesó they constitute an excellent collection of various architectural styles. Our visit includes the old University, the main city parish church and the Church of the Virgin Mary.

This afternoon, you have the opportunity to enjoy an optional excursion where you will travel to the UNESCO World Heritage site of the Wieliczka Salt Mine, one of Poland's top attractions. We travel to and from the mine by local train. This vast underground mine has been in operation since the 13th century. It has nine levels, going down more than 1,000 feet (325 m) and it has over 180 miles (about 300 km) of tunnels. Over time, the empty spaces have been made into beautiful chambers, which have been used as health clinics, churches, ballrooms and concert venues. Some chambers have rock salt statues, carvings and some even have salt carved chandeliers!

Please note that there are several hundred stairs to go down into the mine and this visit is not for people who suffer from claustrophobia. Should you wish to not participate with the Salt Mine visit, spend the afternoon at your leisure. The group will meet later in the evening in Krakow to enjoy our farewell dinner at a local restaurant. Overnight in Krakow.

 

Day 15: Depart Krakow

Today we transfer to Krakow Airport for our departure flights.

 
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