PRAGUE -- Veteran travelers seeking an escape from European
modernity may find one by hiking the Czech Republic's green trails.
Its 250 miles of hiking routes between Vienna, Austria, and
Prague wind through historic areas, giving walkers a fresh
The 100-year-old Czech pathways follow the Dyje River through
southern Moravia and the Vltava River in southern Bohemia. Likened
to the Appalachian Trail by Czech tourism officials, the paths,
known as the Greenways, take hikers through a network of villages,
vineyards, monasteries and castles.
Although Austria and the Czech Republic share a border, the
cultural division between these two European countries reflects
disparate political and social courses. There was little
architectural evolution during communist rule, and it enabled the
Czech Republic to maintain its Gothic and Baroque building styles
absent the modern influences found in Vienna.
Furthermore, Cold War isolation left the area relatively free of
tourist traffic or development. "These places were untouched for 50
years. It's like walking in a time warp," said Suzanna Halsey,
administrator for Friends of Czech Greenways, a nonprofit
organization based in New York that coordinates development and
conservation efforts along the trails.
With increased travel to the Czech Republic, interest groups
such as Halsey's work with the U.S and Czech travel communities to
encourage tourism that respects the local character.
"We're bringing in ecotourism as well as experts who can help
preserve the area," Halsey said.
One associate of Friends of Czech Greenways noted that walking
tours offer a more intimate exploration of the Czech Republic than
a standard group tour. "We don't have buses zooming through the
region [with passengers] taking a picture to the left and a picture
to the right," said Peter Dytrych, co-owner of Summit, N.J.-based
Summit International Travel.
"We want people to spend quality time in the region," he
The agency operates as the U.S. authorized retailer for the
preservationist organization and offers a slate of options for
self-guided walking and biking tours. In addition to the Summit
International offerings, several operators offer walking tours that
visit the Czech Republic, Austria and Slovakia. Some themed
itineraries include wine and beer tours as well as art- and
Portland, Ore.-based Walking Softly Adventures focuses on local
artistry ranging from baroque paintings to prehistoric cave
According to some operators, many visitors booking vacations in
the Czech Republic and other eastern European destinations have
traveled already to central or western Europe. "They are looking
for something a little more traditional," said Richard McConnell,
general manager of Emeryville, Calif.-based Adventure Center,
adding that these guests want to visit "a part of Europe that has
not had the same advances as the rest of Europe."
According to Hilary Achauer, guest services coordinator for La
Jolla, Calif.-based Classic Journeys, visitors can see the
juxtaposition of the two cultures in central Europe. Achauer said
the local Austrian and Czech guides who conduct sightseeing in each
region highlight the distinctions.
Operators note that visitors to the Czech countryside will not
find as many luxury properties as are found in other major European
destinations. One operator described the the country's facilities,
outside of Prague, as "clean and comfortable," adding that some
properties should be considered simply "a place to spend the
The hotels can be considered to be in a three-star category,
with private bathrooms available at many properties. Various
options are provided by inns and guest quarters on the journey
between Vienna and Prague.
According to McConnell, simplicity of accommodations helps keep
costs down for the walking tours offered by Adventure Center. "We
want to keep the tours small and affordable," Dytrych said.