Summer is undoubtedly the best time to visit Divoká Šárka, a rambling expanse of park, reserve and farmland on the outskirts of Prague 6. The large green section in the upper left hand corner of city maps, Divoká Šárka miraculously escaped the creeping concrete jungle of socialist housing establishments and factories to become a nature reserve.

Divoká Šárka’s rocky cliffs and blossoming fruit orchards blend into brilliant green fields dotted with enormous uranium yellow dandelions, simultaneously evoking Japanese watercolor scenes and alpine post-card images.

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The area’s serenity is only occasionally disturbed by the sonic blasts of jumbo jets taking off at the airport a few miles further a field, reminders of the outside world so easily forgotten while lying in the long grass on a sunny summer day.

As you walk from the main road and descend into the valleys of this picnickers’ paradise, the noisy street traffic fades into an ever-increasing chorus of twittering birds and buzzing insects. The smell of exhaust is happily replaced by fragrant fruit blossom breezes.

Shady paths, ideal for leisurely strolls, host an endless meandering parade of moms, baby carriages, dogs and couples. Bicyclists and joggers zigzag around these slower moving targets. Jutting off the main paths, dirt-hiking trails run through fir forests, up rocky cliff faces and over rolling hills.

It’s easy to find a secluded spot to picnic, sunbathe, read; sleep, and frolic among the wildflowers. And the flat, green fields are just asking for a pick-up game of soccer, baseball or ultimate Frisbee. On higher cliff faces, the colorful ropes and garb of climbers stand out against the black rocks.

For those wishing to bare all or some of their pale Prague bodies to the sun, the impressive Divoká Šárka swimming pools set in a plush green valley complete with snack bar, picnic tables, changing rooms, and showers are open Mon-Fri from 10:00 to 19:00, Sat/Sun 9:00-19:00. To get to the pools just follow the main concrete path.

Be sure to spread on some sunscreen, the protective ozone layer is almost nonexistent above the Czech Republic these days.

Swimming is also possible in a man-made lake surrounded by a blue railing near the entrance to Divoká Šárka. The water, however looks polluted and the surrounding facilities rundown, if not abandoned.

To get to Divoká Šárka, take metro line A (green) to Dejvická and exit up the elevators. Follow the signs to the CSAD bus stop and catch bus number 119. On weekdays from 8:00-13:00, buses leave Dejvická at 10, 30, and 50 minutes past the hour and on weekends from l0:00-16:00 at l5, 35, and 55 minutes past the hour. Divoká Šárka is the fourth stop. As you exit the bus, turn right and walk around the parking lot to the paved road that leads into Divoká Šárka. Alternatively, you can take tram number 26 to the end of the line, the Divoká Šárka stop.

A Beach in Landlocked Prague?

Prague may be hundreds of miles from cool ocean waters, but one can still go to the beach. Just 30 minutes from Prague’s center lies a lake area, perfect for swimming and sunning. To find it, take metro line C to Háje.

Emerging from this far-flung station, it would hardly seem possible to find a beach in such a bleak area. But the first beach area, Oáza, is a 10 minute walk from there, After stepping out of the metro train, exit up the escalator to the right, walk through the shopping arcade and turn left across the bridge at the end.

Walkthrough the huge apartment buildings and parking lots, past the potraviny and restaurants until you reach Faltánova Street. Cross this main street to walk through what looks like a small condominium development and you’ll find yourself on the path to the beach. Oáza even boasts a functioning waterslide.

For those looking for a more "complete" suntan, the Nudistická Oáza, a nude beach, is also nearby. From the Háje metro take a bus 165, 170, 212, 213 or 260 to Jižní Město, the last stop. Then follow the path through a field to the entrance. Both beaches are open daily from 10:00-19:00 and have lawns, showers, toilets, food, drink and boat rentals.

Legends

Prague has been the site of plenty of wars and battles, but how often is the legendary Girl’s War at Divoká Šárka mentioned? According to old Czech tales compiled by Alois Jirásek, women – angered at their treatment by men after Princess Libusa, a founding mother of Prague, turned over her rule to men – built a castle called Děvin, trained themselves as warriors and declared war on the men.

Vlasta, the women’s leader, used the young and beautiful Šárka in a plot to capture Ctirad, a brave and strong male soldier. Šárka was tied to a tree and attracted Ctirad’s attention with her cries for help and explained that she was being punished as a traitor.

Once free, Šárka offered Ctirad a jug of honey liqueur. Ctirad got drunk and Šárka sounded her horn, a signal for the women warriors to attack. Ctirad was captured, tortured and killed, most horribly according to legend.

After Ctirad’s death the men sought revenge. Vlasta was killed in the renewed fighting and chopped into little pieces. Šárka’s fateful end has two versions. According to the first, she died in the final battle alongside Vlasta and according to another version, Šárka, who had fallen in love with Ctirad at first sight, became agonizingly ashamed of her actions and committed suicide by jumping from a rocky cliff in what is today Divoká Šárka