Bohemian Forest (Šumava)
The Green Roof of Europe, the Lungs of Europe – such are the nicknames that have been given to the forested belt of Šumava, which extends along the Czech Republic’s borders with Austria and Germany. Its length from the Chodská Úhlava Valley to the Vyšebrodský Pass is about 120 kilometres; the maximum width of Šumava and its foothills is 45 kilometres. In reality it consists of two mountain ranges - Šumava and the Bohemian Forest (Český les). Deep forests, vaguely eerie peat bogs, the dark surfaces of glacial lakes, and the remains of primeval vegetation form the core of Šumava National Park. Šumava – where hundreds of kilometres of marked paths run along ridges, through valleys, along streams and rivers to the delight of hikers and cyclists. An endless space for watching wildlife and birds and for mushroom picking. A promised land for recreational and sporting water enthusiasts, surfers, and yachters. An abundance of opportunities to spend weekends and holidays at foothill farms, horseback riding, and strolling through the countryside, perhaps with a faithful dog. Long calm cross-country ski excursions and lively downhill ski resorts.
The Šumava Ridge is like the European divide between the Black and North Seas. On the Bavarian and Austrian side, the mountain range descends sharply, while it does so gradually on the Czech side. The ridges of the main peaks loom mightily over vast mountain plains.
Šumava’s highest peak is Velký Javor (1456 metres), which is situated on the Bavarian side of the border. The highest peak on the Czech side is Plechý (1378 metres). Šumava is divided into six subgroups: Železnorudská hornatina, Šumavské pláně, Boubínská hornatina, Trojmezná hornatina, Želnavská hornatina and Vltavická brázda.
The Šumava region also boasts some unique features. For instance Black Lake (Černé jezero) is not only the largest (18,4 hectares), but also the deepest (40,6 m) and highest (1008 metres above sea level) lake on the Czech side of Šumava. The 320 metre-high Lake Wall (Jezerní stěna) looms above its surface, and far below it, on the Úhlava River, our nation’s first pumped-storage hydro-electric power station was built in 1929-30
Colonisation of Šumava began around the end of the 12th century. Until the mid-18th century, however, the entire region was covered in undamaged primeval and borderland forests, through which the busy “Golden Trail” had run since as early as the 11th century. The border of the Bohemian kingdom was guarded by two groups of citizens – the Chods in Chodsko, and the Královácí in the Royal Forest (Královského lesa). Both groups enjoyed one important privilege – they were free people who answered only to the nation’s ruler. The remaining vestiges of the Chods can be seen in a peculiar Chod village with preserved rustic architecture. As for the Královácí, some of their farmsteads remain, the most fascinating of them is the one known as Antýgl.
Since the early 17th century, colonisation, together with the development of glassworks, the timber industry and pasturage, have had a fundamental influence on the formation of Šumava’s present ecosystem. All this progress reduced the total surface area of the primeval forests and gave rise to new logging and glass-making settlements, which, since the 20th century, have gradually become significant to the region’s tourism.
Šumava’s character is exposed more or less through its well-preserved historical monuments. Kašperk, Velhartice and Vimperk Castles, or the Celtic fortified settlement of Giant Castle (Obří Hrad) provide credible evidence of the settlement of this territory. There are two extraordinary technical monuments that deserve mention – the Schwarzenberg and Vchynicko-Tetovský navigation canals, and the hydroelectric power station at Čeňkova pila. The area abounds in religious monuments such as chaples, milestones, crucifixes, memorials, and pilgrimage sites.
Šumava comprises two areas – Šumava – East and Chodsko. You’d be hard pressed to find a better place for hiking in the Czech Republic. And the region also has a growing number of bike paths that were originally used for military communications in the former border zone, and the further you go, the denser the trails as you cycle through the Bavarian Forest. Those who are into canoeing, kayaking, rafting, and the like find that the upper reaches of the Vltava and Otava Rivers have a lot to offer. Water sport enthusiasts can enjoy themselves at the Lipno Dam and the Hracholusky reservoir. Lipno now has a sport and recreation park named Marina Lipno, which has a dock that can accommodate 144 yachts, a sport hall for tennis, squash and bowling, an indoor swimming pool with a subtropic atmosphere, and a funicular to Kramolín.
As far as winter sports go, cross-country skiers will appreciate Šumava the most, but downhill skiers can still have a good time at the winter resorts in Zadov, Churáňov, Železná ruda, Špičák, Nová Huť and Kvilda.
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