What may surprise you and temp you to
visit the city, is the prominence of swimming facilities making Prague
an ideal holiday destination for the adventurous wild swimmer.
You may know that Czechoslovakia was occupied by Germany during the Second World War until its liberation in 1945 by Soviet and American forces. The Communist Party of Czechoslovakia won the 1946 elections and just two years later a coup d'état ended with government in the hands of a single-party communist state under Soviet influence. Continuing dissatisfaction with the regime led to a Soviet-led invasion in 1968 and with this the door was firmly closed to travel aboard.
With a huge population and short but very hot summers to contend with there was no chance of escaping to the coast. Swimming lakes were thus constructed to meet the demand for summertime water sports and recreation.
The lake Vodní nádrž Džbán was constructed in the seventies with four or more swimming areas to suit all tastes. Buildings which initially look like holiday homes dominate the backdrop and give further insight into the country's history. These building housed cloak rooms, hundreds of them. Although they now look very sad and neglected they were at one time the heart and soul of the swimming experience. As you gaze at this changing room extravaganza you can't help but wonder why swimmers fled the lakes and beaches provided for them?
In 1989 revolution led to the collapse of the communist regime, four years later Czechoslovakia peacefully dissolved, resulting in the independent states of the Czech Republic and Slovakia. Freedom for the people saw a mad rush for the seaside and most backs turned to the old style staycation river and lake beaches.
Without state support and investment and with dwindling patronage they became run down, neglected and vandalised. For visitors to the Czech Republic It has been hard to imagine the past popularity of these swimming facilities until that is, the sweltering summer of 2015 drew sunbathers and swimmers back in their thousands. At this site alone over 80,000 Crowns was taken in a single day with crowds reminiscent of twenty years ago. This resurgence has sparked fresh hopes that the rundown facilities will receive more attention and financial investment in the years to come.
Finding the lake: Situated on the main road between the airport and the city take the (underground) Metro to Dejvická (line A), then take tram 20 or 26 to the terminus at Džbán. Walk towards Mc Donald's and take the road to the right into the park. Follow the road downhill as it sweeps to the right or take the stairs to cut off the corner. Head for the dam and then turn right and follow the lake around to the grassy beach and free swimming section, or turn left into the swimming complex. First you will pass the disused diving boards then once you have paid the fee go inside the swimming complex walking through the naturist section and on into the main swimming area beyond the first blocks of changing rooms. Water quality at the lake deteriorates in high summer, the water develops a greenish hue (much like the Serpentine Lake in Hyde Park) but water quality standards are displayed at the entrance and for the most part are fine for swimming. Food and drinks are served one or more of three cafe-bars in the complex depending on how busy the lake becomes. Children's play equipment, toilets and lakeside showers are also available. Entrance fee 50 Crowns for adults which is about £1.40.
On the other side of the city you can visit Hostivar. Take the metro to Háje (link C). Exit the train turning right and continue in the same direction you have been travelling but now on foot. On exiting the station walk straight ahead through an elevated street of small shops. Descend to ground level on exiting the shopping complex and follow the main road in the same direction until you reach the bus depot. Follow the path to the left through the depot passing the football field on your left and then on down the hill until you reach the main lake complex.
This huge swimming lake is very picturesque and would fit in happily in the Lake District. A huge sandy beach and many amenities make it a favourite with families and swimming enthusiasts. I can't help think about the many lakes near big cities in the UK that could be profitably opened up to an eager public, keen to experience wild swimming close to home. Swim at your own risk is the rule abroad; the live and let live attitude is a good example worthy of imitation.
Back in the city you can take a dip at one of two riverside beaches. I recommend the east bank of the Vltava at Žluté lázne.
There has been some serious money spent on this facility and it's a great place to spend your leisure time in Prague. Excellent cafés and restaurants along with a children's play centre and outdoor splash pool make it very popular in summer.
Again I can't help thinking about the many parks in English cities that could offer riverside beaches and recreation if only misconceptions regarding health and safety could be addressed and overcome.
Getting there: Take tram 3, 16, 17, or 21 down to Dvorce, and look out for the complex beside the tramline.
Whatever your preference a visit to Prague would not be complete without a swim in its natural waters!