Czech historic towns/castles
Value for Money:
Personality Types that Like it Best
Did You Know … ?
- Emperor Rudolph II bought Cesky Krumlov (the town) in order to park an illegitimate son in the castle (1602).
- Nearly 180 Czech castles, chateaux or their ruins are open to the public.
- The Czech composer, Bedrich Smetana, was born in Litomysl.
- The Sedlec Ossuary, near Kutna Hora, is decorated with the bones of more than 40,000 people.
- The UNESCO town of Telc was part of a private estate until 1945.
McMansions from another time
In the Czech Republic, castles, chateaux, palaces and all the other McMansions of earlier ages seem to be as ubiquitous as the town church on the market square. Many are open for tourists and they typically sit near or in the heart of a too-charming-to-be-believed historic town.
The Czech Republic might already have the highest concentration of UNESCO World Heritage Sites, but the casual visitor — eyes wide open and camera in hand — may whimsically wonder why that list is not longer.
The choices for historic towns and castles are legion and sited all over the country. Popular examples, listed alphabetically and excluding the obvious castle and town center in Prague, include:
- Cesky Krumlov is a honey of a site with a huge castle complex on a hill overlooking a town center, which is almost surrounded by a U-shaped bend in the Vlatava River.
- Karlovy Vary (formerly Carlsbad) is the best known of several spa towns. It was frequented by the rich and aristocratic in the 19th century, and the architecture shows it.
- Kutna Hora, once larger than London, became wealthy beginning in the 14th century because of its prolific silver mines. The mint and much more survive.
- Litomysl boasts a striking town center of small colorful arcaded houses plus a royal chateau noted for, among other things, its sgraffito-decorated facade.
- Olomouc features a series of squares lined with painted houses, but is noted for its Holy Trinity Column (to ward off disease) and medieval town hall with a 15th century astronomical clock “enhanced” with 20th century socialist figures.
- Telc offers still-another display of painted houses, this time lining an elongated triangular marketplace, and this is capped by its Renaissance chateau. It is largely surrounded by lakes.
Additionally, stand-alone castles include:
- Hluboka nad Vltavou, just north of Ceske Budejovice, looks as if its architects copied from Windsor Castle. Regardless, it puts in a romantic appearance for visitors.
- Konopiste, southeast of Prague, is a chateau with medieval origins. It has the towers and grandeur to go with the name, but, rather drearily, also includes a huge weapons collection and thousands of Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand’s hunting trophies.
Things to do for Venturers
- Drink the local slivovice, a strong plum brandy. Accept if a villager in Moravia offers you a taste of his home-brewed slivovice.
- Explore the Lednice-Valtice Cultural Landscape, a UNESCO-designated area in the southeast corner of the country, on horseback or by bicycle. The area, at nearly 50,000 acres, is one of the largest artificial landscapes in Europe.
- Take a walk on the dark side of life. See the Sedlec monastery chapel decorated with human bones. Visit the torture museum in Cesky Krumlov. And/or look in Litomysl for modern sgraffiti, predominantly black, which show us a nightmare world of demons.
- Eat Olomouc cheese. It smells so bad it is stored outdoors. This is no souvenir.
- Explore the tunnel system that was built under Plzen in the Middle Ages. Then, in the town that gives us Pilsner, relax in a local beer hall and imbibe the local brew.
- Take a train from Prague to Cesky Raj, a national park and UNESCO World Heritage Site noted for limestone pillars and caves and well suited for hiking. Besides, this excursion takes you to one of the Czech Republic’s numerous castles, Valdstein.
Things to do for Centrics
- Photograph the colorful buildings on the main street of Litomysl, then head to the town’s castle to admire its neoclassical theater with original paintings intact plus the sgraffito decorative elements on the exterior.
- Tour one of the country’s most important castles, the large 13th century complex at Cesky Krumlov. Time your visit, if you can, to coincide with an on-site music festival.
- Drink the beer in Ceske Budejovice, home of the original Budweiser beer (unrelated to the American version).
- Attend the Karlstejn Festival, a medieval fair staged at the 14th century Karlstejn castle, a 40-minute train ride from Prague. Activities include fencing displays and tasting wines made at the Karlstejn vineyards.
- Head to the tiny Loket for two reasons. It has excellent hiking trails, and it is a charming cobblestoned town set against the backdrop of a well-preserved 13th century castle. A porcelain museum in the castle highlights the region’s hand-painted porcelain.
- Tour the 13th century Konopiste castle, unique for having been reconstructed by Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the man whose death launched a world war. Because he was an avid, even destructive, hunter, you’ll see walls of mounted animal heads.
Things to do for Authentics
- Drop in for a guided tour at Kutna Hora’s Italian Court — a former mint and royal residence — to see where and how the Bohemian coins, called groschen, were made.
- Walk through the uniquely shaped market “square” (an elongated triangle) at Telc, then take a guided tour of its Renaissance chateau, also in the town center.
- If you are collecting Czech castles, include Jindrichuv Hradec on your itinerary. This town, beautifully situated above a lake, boasts the country’s third largest castle, after those in Prague and Cesky Krumlov.
- Buy crystal, which is made at the Moser glassworks factory outside of Karlovy Vary. Visit its museum, too.
- Add more castles to your collection. Include the over-the-top multiturreted Hluboka nad Vltavou, which has been compared to Windsor Castle, and the ever-so-photogenic Cervena Lhota, a pink chateau with a reflection that bounces off an adjacent pond.
- If you are a fan of organ music, attend the summer international organ festival in Olomouc.
For more information, consult CzechTourism at www.czechtourism.com