The iconic Czech lake      (Bohemia, CZ)

03/04/2017

Somewhere in the shadows of pine-covered hills, mirroring on the surface of a lake..... there is Mácha's country. It is so picturesque and magical, full of castles and legends. I saw you at last. You, such a celebrated lake! You, who are really just a pond with a noble name - Mácha's. 

In shadowy woods the burnished lake
Darkly complained   a secret pain,         By circling shores embraced again;   And heaven's clear sun leaned down     to take a road astray in azure deeps,    Like burning tears the lover weeps

Karel Hynek Mácha - Máj

For those of you who did not go through the Czech educational system and have no clue what the poem or the first paragraph of this article is about, I will just point out that it is one of the most famous works of poetry by Czech author Karel Hynek Mácha from his epos Máj.

Mácha, the helpless romantic, discovered the beauty of local landmarks and nature during one of his long walks starting from Prague, and during which he visited places such as Doksy, Bezděs, and the castle Houska, but mainly Velký Rybník (Grand Pond) which was later renamed Mácha's Lake in his honor.

Legend named Mácháč

Since my childhood, I have been hearing about how everybody goes to Mácháč and that it is a kind of Czech sea, but I never had the opportunity to go there. As a proper post-revolution child from a worker class family, I always longed for the real sea and I preferred to suffer through 30 hours of a bus ride to Spain so I could enjoy a bit of the "west". It's true that Croatia is close to us but I wanted to go to a sandy beach and to see palm trees at any cost; in my 20s, some pine trees and pebbles were not tempting me at all since I could find the same nature behind our house.                                                 That, however, changed after I hit 30. 

The illusion of a Mediterranean begins

The tourist season just started, but I have had a few demanding months spent by moving so I 've decided to have a little vacation. I did not have enough days to go to a sea, so I was looking for some nice place in our country. And finally, I realized it was time for the Mácha country and his lake!

I chose a small hotel with a pool in Staré Splavy, situated on a hill among pine trees, with a partial view of the lake. The interior of the hotel was an untypical mix of varied styles and it came together well. It felt romantic and homey, and very cozy. At the same time, there was an obvious effort to make the customers feel like they were at a castle. 

Bike ride to Jarmila

I arrived on Thursday afternoon and right away I booked a massage and a bike for Friday, I would go for a ride in the country. Jarmila's path was recommended to me (Hynek, Vilem, Jarmila!) and it was a very good suggestion. 

I rode through the woods on a partially paved and partially unpaved road. Within half an hour, including breaks to take pictures, I was already in the second larger town on the banks of the lake called Doksy.

Doksy is known mainly for its renaissance castle, which is unfortunately not open to public. So I explored the surroundings and I discovered the Museum of Karel Hynek Mácha, located in a gorgeous log cabin that used to be a hospital and was build in the 17th Century. 

Then I went to the main square and discovered an ice cream parlor with a very interesting owner....

Ice-cream with a story

Mr. Isac, a native of Zagreb (Croatia) confined in me that he comes from the third generation of ice-cream makers in his family, traveling with ice-cream all over Europe. Even his grandfather was selling ice-cream from a street cart at Wenceslas Square. He showed me several photographs and a book by Vilém Kropp, where his grandfather is immortalized in a black and white period photograph. Ice-cream by Mr. Isac´s grandpa was supposedly renowned around Prague. To this day, the family has an ice-cream shop in Zagreb. There are four brothers and each year, one of them takes care of the ice-cream shop so the other three can travel around the world. 

His wife is Turkish, and he says it is common in his family that wives come from other countries than Croatia. If you ask him whether he feels more Croatian or Czech, he answers that he does not believe in nationalities. He feels and has always felt that he is a European.

For me, that was an interesting meeting. Mr. Isac speaks Czech and he spoke about the local countryside with love. He really loves those pine trees, forests, and hills! And that the water is not as clear as it is in Croatia? Supposedly, he does not care at all since, according to his opinion, nobody who lives by the sea really bathes in it and he would not do differently in Croatia.

I tried banana ice-cream and it was amazing. What will surprise you is the huge size of the scoops and that there is a sweet, crunchy cone instead of the tasteless cone we are used to.

Mr. Isac opened just recently, so I hope that his enthusiasm will be crowned by success and that his ice-cream shop will work just as well as his stand on a beach, which he operated till the last season and which he changed for a brick-build ice-cream shop at Doksy Square!

(And no, this isn´t a sponsored article, although Mr. Isac insisted I take the ice cream for free.)

Water, water everywhere

I biked back so I would burn some of the calories from the ice-cream, and on the way I discovered docks from which steamboats depart for trips around Mácha's Lake. However, I would probably not enjoy the trip by myself and I also had a bike with me so at least I have a plan for my next visit - I will do a boat trip!

The docks alone are worth a closer look as well. The wooden building is from 1928 and a long-gone fame and society status of yachting during the first republic emanates from it. It has been used by the local yachting club since 1927 and the local yachtsmen regularly place at the top in statewide yachting competitions. 

The path was bordered by various signs. Those on the dock buildings might have been from 1920, the Yacht Club Doksy had a brand new sign and the last assembly of letters from stick-on foil was a clear sign of our folk art probably from socialism or just after it...

Not far from there I found Doksy's sandy beach bordered by a long promenade, a volleyball court, toboggans, and refreshment stands. However, I find the Staré Splavy beach much prettier. You get to it either through an aqua park or, from the Doksy side, by a walk around the famous White Stone (Bílý Kámen). Along the way, you are sure to see billboards with ads for a dance club by the same name, which is locally both famous and infamous.

I also managed to talk to a few local people. I like to ask them how do they like living in destinations where people go for vacation while I am silently jealous of them living in such a beautiful location. The reactions and opinions were mixed. All of them agreed that it is a beautiful place but unfortunately, it is supported only by tourism and it is difficult to find work here. Most of them commute to the larger city of Česká Lípa, which has a lot of factories producing car parts, and are able to employ up to 5 000 people. 

And what are the locals like? I thought they were very nice, but I was told that thanks to the high unemployment rates and financial problems, there is a bad atmosphere among the people and they are not as open and friendly as they are, for example, at the southern parts of our state... And the animosity increases with the deluge of tourists and the fact that the loud dance club Bílý Kámen, located at the banks of the lake, is opened every day... Despite that all, none of the locals would ever want to move because the beauty of the local nature makes it all up!

About Hotel Berg

I wanted to combine relaxation with some spa treatments so I chose wellness hotel Berg. The accommodation was pleasant, even though I would have a few recommendations for service improvements. The all-over impression from my stay was great, and it has fulfilled my expectations. Even though a single room was 2500 CZK (about 100 Euro), the price for a double is the same. Well, I guess one has to pay extra for the luxury of privacy ( and if you´re booking at last minute)! With a partner, though, it has to be really romantic, right?

I have also booked a set of spa treatments - oxygen therapy, two massages and a water massage, and I also used the hotel swimming pool and saunas. However, I was a little irked by the time limitations of the wellness zone, which was opened only till 7pm and the saunas were opened only for two hours a day during the evening. Also, only one of them was working each day since the owner supposedly wanted to alternate their use. 

The first and last time?

I gained from my vacation exactly what I expected. Peace, the walks, bike rides through nature, and beautiful surroundings. I even swam in the lake, perhaps as the only one, and the water was pleasantly refreshing and relatively clean. Is it going to be like that during the tourist season? Who knows... I was completely taken aback by Mácha's Lake right before the start of the tourist season! As soon as I came back home, I promised my family I'd take them next time and we would enjoy it all together.