Sunday, 4 May 2008

Along the Morava River to Litovel

Dennis and Jess on the trail out of Horka I’ve been doing a lot of cycling lately, in preparation for my big trip, which is coming up soon. One of my favourite trips is north of Olomouc (where I live) through the protected landscape area up to Litovel.

I’ve written before about cycling to the lake, and this trip starts out the same way. At this time of year the lake is wild with life. Frogs, swans and fish are all going about the business of spring, while the two-legged wildlife prefers to keep to the shore until it warms up a bit more.

Keeping the lake on your left leads you to the marked cycle trail#6027 and then through the townships of Chomoutov and Horka nad Moravou. Outside Horka you cut across a wide open field surrounded by forest on all sides and then plunge into the forest itself. This week I rode with a couple of friends and one of them described the forest as being 'a little bit Brothers Grimm' when she was out here in the winter. In spring though, it’s bursting with green leaves, white blossom and wildflowers of gold, violet and blue.

Ribbit!The Litovelské Pomoraví protected landscape area stretches about 20km from Horka up past Litovel and is five or six kilometres wide. It takes in all the low-lying country around the many branches of the river Morava, and provides wonderful habitat for all kinds of flora and fauna, including otters, beavers, hooded owls and several kinds of frog.

The area is far from being a perfect environmental paradise though. Continuing along the Grimm brothers track brings you to the hunting lodge, better known locally as Štrougal’s cottage. After the father of Lubomír Štrougal was executed by the German occupants during WWII, Lubomír was drawn to the communist party and eventually became Minister for Agriculture and then Minister for the Interior. After the Warsaw Pact invasion of 1968 he turned down a position in the so-called “traitor’s government”.

A couple of years later he accepted a position under Husák and served as Premier of Czechoslovakia from January 1970 to October 1988, and became closely associated with normalization, the cruel process of smothering, censoring and repressing any shoots of freedom remaining from the Prague spring, until his forced resignation in early 1990.

His private getaway cottage in the Litovelské Pomoraví is now open to the public as a pub and guesthouse. There are several outdoor seating areas, and it’s particularly popular with horse riders and cyclists. Unfortunately at this time of year it’s only open on weekends. I don’t remember that from last year, so I think they open every day during the summer. I’ll update this post when I find out.

Following the trail further brings you to a place called Three Bridges, and from here you can cross the river and follow a different trail back towards Olomouc or turn and continue on to Litovel.

Around the corner towards Litovel is the nicest part of this ride. The forest stretches seemingly forever, a dozen types of wildflower compete for your eyes’ attention, and the river swerves out to keep you company every couple of minutes. The trails are flat and the turns well marked; in short the cycling is excellent. It doesn’t last forever though; soon the trail will bring you alongside a farm and spurt you out onto a roadside trail through open fields. Next stop Litovel.

Litovel is quite a pleasant town. It’s sometimes called the Venice of Haná, which is either very optimistic or self-deprecating, but there are certainly a lot of channels and bridges, as well as a lovely lake just as you enter town on the bike path. You could easily spend an hour or two ambling around checking out things like the old mill and the stone bridges (I believe one of the them is the country’s third oldest, after those in Písek and Prague). The main square would be picturesque if it wasn’t used as a big carpark.

TGM and JZPThere’s a brewery in Litovel and the beer garden at the front is recommended as the best place to try their offerings. My friend Hello-Xu Xu recommends the 13º Morávan. Alcohol is not my drug of choice, so I usually head for the Cukrarna on the main square. I like it for its tacky interior decoration-a style I like to call “early post-revolution neo-art deco veneer”- and its solid old school desserts; like Marokanky, Rakvičky and Větrníks. Good fuel for the return trip.

If you’re in Olomouc without your own bicycle, both Poets’ Corner Hostel and Hotel Arigone rent bikes to their guests. Czech Rail also rents out cycles and offer the advantage of renting in Olomouc and returning the cycle to the station in Litovel, or vice versa. Bike rental from all three places starts at 100Kč (4Euro), so it’s a good cheap day out in the lovely countryside that most travellers only get to see from the train.

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