(& why even a day ski trip can be a treat)
Getting away for the weekend is one of my family’s favorite things about life in the Czech Republic. Regardless of the season, once Friday afternoon arrives, we love to hit the road. Summer camping trips to Český Ráj (Bohemian Paradise) and rafting trips near Český Krumlov lead into autumn biking weekends in the Moravian wine region, followed by winter ski weekends in the country’s Krkonos, Jizera, Sumava, and Ore Mountains. When spring rolls around, we head to České Švýcarsko (Bohemian Switzerland) to hike again.
Our weekend travels often take us no farther than the country’s borders (i.e. a drive of one to two hours), yet they set the tone for the rest of our everyday lives. Sometimes, it seems as if we live weekend-to-weekend. Our duffel bags stand packed and ready near the laundry room door.
In this country where adventurers, nature-lovers, and mushroom-pickers abound – we are not alone. Getting out of the city and into nature doesn’t necessarily mean getting away from people, as Czechs in general use their weekend leisure time outdoors.
Being around other people can be a benefit where children are concerned (see tip #2 below). Pre-planning, negotiations, compromise, and flexibility are key to making a family weekend away work, especially in the winter when extra clothing and special equipment are often required (see tip #4).
Even if you aren’t ready to tackle an overnight, the Czech Republic is small enough to take a day ski/hike/trek trip anywhere in the country. No luggage required except for a day-pack.
Here are a few of my family’s best tips (and good spots) for making a winter weekend (or even a day) away, one that everyone will remember (in the best possible way).
#1 Plan Ahead
Decide what the primary goal of the weekend is. Do you want to downhill ski on slopes that will test your abilities? Go for a long day hike and stop for garlic soup and fruit dumplings at a mountain lodge? Put your children into ski lessons while you and your partner hit the slopes alone? Are you traveling with a group that includes non-skiers and skiers? Do you want to spend the evening playing a family game in a cozy cottage or socializing with friends in a restaurant?
Finding accommodation at this point in the winter can be tricky, as the Czech Republic is a small country and winter weekends are booked months in advance. However, if you have the urge to leave the city, check local websites (see where to go below) or www.booking.com for last minute deals. Try e-chalupy to rent entire cottages for multiple families.
#2 Travel with Friends (preferably ones with children)
From hard-earned experience, I’ve learned that family ski (hike, raft, bike, etc.) trips are best enjoyed with friends. Seriously. Trying to convince my three to brave bitter winds or heavy snowfall to hit the slopes on our own can be a chore. On the other hand, when we travel with friends, I often have to drag them off the slopes at the end of the day. Then, they usually just exchange their skis for sleds or shovels to build a snow fort.
Traveling with others requires prior planning, flexibility, and patience (see tips #1 and #5). But the benefits can be worth it. In addition to fun on the slopes, traveling as a group can bring added benefits – games and late-night conversation, splitting cooking responsibilities, and the chance for your children to share their skills (and learn some new ones) from their peers.
#3 Organize Food, Snacks & Drinks (before you go)
Have you ever been driving down highway D1 passing Czech cars loaded up with everything from a potty chair to a runner sled strapped on the top? Czechs travel prepared. From packing snacks for the car, to taking sandwiches on the slopes, or tucking a thermos of hot tea into their day packs, Czechs seem to know what it takes to keep themselves (and their children) physically satisfied while adventuring.
After watching my friends whip out sandwiches on the lift mid-morning to give their children, I finally caught on. Whether you carry your food with you or just plan where to stop (i.e. the Yeti Hut on Lipno’s back side has my children’s favorite hot chocolate while their après ski bar near the Fox Park is great for drinks while children sled), make food a fun part of your weekend away.
#4 Rent equipment & book lessons ahead of time (or call ahead)
Rather than scrambling last minute to find the right downhill or cross-country skis (as we have often done), consider renting your children’s equipment for the season back in Prague. Happy Sport has several locations in Prague and one in Hradec Kralove.
#5 Be Patient & Flexible
When traveling with children, remember that flexibility and patience are key. Things are likely to go wrong. And, you can’t control the weather. Take it in stride. Some of my family’s most memorable vacations include hiking in thick fog on the ridge above Špindlerův Mlýn, trying cross-country skiing (and falling repeatedly) in the Jizera Mountains, and playing rousing games of Dixit while listening to the rain beat down on the cottage roof.
A Few of Our Favorite Czech Ski Spots (totally subjective)
The Lipno Ski resort in the Sumava Mountains (about 30 minutes from Cesky Budejovice by car, 200 km from Prague) is a great place to bring your family for their first ski experience. With the largest children’s ski areal in the country (Fox Park), gentle slopes, and plenty of activities for non-skiers (i.e. waterpark, Hopsarium, ice skating on Lake Lipno, and a treetop walkway, the Lipno resort is designed with families in mind. Ski and snowboard lessons are available for adults and children in Czech, English, and Dutch.
If cross-country skiing is more your style, head to Boží Dar, a ski town in the Karlovy Vary Region of the Krušné Hory (Ore Mountains) about 125 km from Prague. Enjoy the downhill runs at the region’s largest resort, Klinovec, in the morning, then swap out for an afternoon of cross-country skiing on kilometers of gently rolling, groomed trails. Boží Dar is an ideal place to introduce your family to cross-country skiing. And for aspiring snowboarders, Klinovec’s new Funpark has jumps and railings even for beginners.
The Spindlruv Mlyn ski resort in the Krkonos Mountains (145 km from Prague) is the Vail or Aspen of the Czech Republic. With a cute downtown straddling the river, shops to browse through, high-end restaurants and an active nightlife, Spindl offers a wide variety of options for skiers and non-skiers alike. After a day on the slopes, try snow tubing or tobogganing, or visit a water park. For last minute accommodations, check the local website or check here for more tips for families.
Though not as large as Spindl, Pec pod Sněžkou (200 km from Prague) is another popular family-oriented resort in the Krkonos Mountains. If you’ve ever wanted to learn to use a T-bar (or anchor) style lifts, this is the resort for you. Although the resort does have two chair lifts, the numerous T-bar lifts and mountain cottages scattered on the slopes give Pec a retro feel. The summit of Sněžka (1603 metres above sea level), the Czech Republic’s highest peak, can be reached by cable car from Pec, although fall or spring are more ideal times to make this hike with children.
The Jizera Mountains are best known for the Jizerská magistrála, a network of 170 km of cross-country skiing trails. The magistral is the site of the country’s most famous cross-country race, the annual Jizerská 50. Visit the region for this year’s 51st race series (February 16-18), which includes the traditional 50 km main race, team races, a 10-km family race, and a mini-race for children.
Whether you decide to book a weekend away or just head to the mountains for a day trip, I hope these tips may help.