We are standing in front of the red castle of Cervena Lhota built in the Middle Ages. Why is it painted red? The scene of a Bohemian version of Romeo and Juliet, the castle’s owner married a young woman not on his family’s “A” list, and visa versa. The families were right; he proved a wife beater, not a prince. When the parents got to the “Told you so” bit, the young bride threw herself out of a bedroom window, her blood spattering on the rocks below. The café opposite the castle sells a local ice cream and raspberry dessert named “Love on the Rocks” in her memory.
Welcome to the Southern Bohemia region of the Czech Republic (CR), a land of legends, curiosities and ghosts. Some 90 miles south of Prague, the nation’s capital, it is a wooded land of fairy tale castles and enchanting scenery.
A car is essential for touring this off-the-beaten track destination, but roads are practically empty once you clear the capital so the drive is a no-sweat.
Overnight in a Romantic Fortified Town
Plan an overnight in the next town, the fortified Jindrichuv Hradec, also home to another castle filled with curiosities. Of the three castle tours available, my favorite is tour C, which includes a visit to the Rondel, a Renaissance period summerhouse. Absolutely stunning inside, it was used in the summer to host formal dances. What’s odd about the dance floor is that it appears to have a vase in the center. The explanation is even more curious than the appearance of the dance floor! The architect who designed the building made the main floor too small to mount an orchestra, and solved the problem by housing the musicians in a subterranean room. The vase is really a sound horn designed to amplify the music, proving that Bose was not first in horn technology.
On your tour, you’ll see the castle’s many treasures – Napoleon’s bed, a piano played by Mozart, ornate water well constructed of wrought iron, and an interior beautifully decorated in Renaissance style. Most unusual are the 19th century paintings on wood, which despite the talent of the artists were mutilated to form targets for musket practice.
Make time to Czech out the National Photograph museum, and the mother of all curiosities, Kryzas crèche. Completed in 1756 after 60 years of woodworking, this mechanical nativity scene includes 1000 characters and fills an entire room. The inventor worked on the project by candle light after returning home from his day job. And still managed time to father a substantial number of offspring!
Diner is your chance to dine like a lord. The greeters are knights of the Jindrichuv Hradec castle, and entertainment is provided by fire eaters (women!), jugglers and minstrels. The beer is excellent; food quite passable, but the honey wine is definitely an acquired taste.
A Czech Windsor Castle
The castle Hluboka in Ceske Budejiovece, the next town on the castle trail, has more in common with Windsor castle than any other building outside England. Impressed by their visit to Queen Victoria, Count and Countess Rosenberg decided to replicate both the building and formal gardens. The Countess did the designing while her husband was out shooting any animal in sight. Lucky he died when he did – there isn’t any more room for taxidermy trophies!
Bears The Best Bit
A stop in the fortified town of Cesky Krumlov, the last castle on the trail, places you slap bang back into the Middle Ages. The huge Renaissance castle sits atop a hill overlooking a river. Clearly, money was no object for its creator – it has bridges, theater, courtyards, towers, fountains, gardens, and more. Don’t miss the castle’s bear pit complete with some fine looking bears. Nearby is a market with vendors dressed in period costume, and several artisan boutiques well- worth visiting for your chance to buy a ceiling or wall painting done in the medieval style. Remember that competition among shopkeepers is keen, so it is always worth haggling over price.
To do the tour, good walking shoes are essential. Park at the bottom of the town and cab it up to the formal gardens; then walk leisurely down hill.
If You Go
www.czechtourism.com contains all the information you’ll need for getting around and finding accommodations.
When selecting your hotels, consider that the star rating system isn’t necessarily the same worldwide. Be sure the property contains the desired amenities and do your homework.
English is not widely spoken, except in hotels, and a good phrase book is worth its weight in gold. English does appear on menus together with the weight of the meat in the dish, a throwback to food rationing in Communist times. Clearly, today’s fast food restaurants weren’t first with the quarter-pounder burger.
Richard N. Every is a professional travel writer and photographer, and a member of the North American Travel Journalists Association.
all photos are by Richard N. Every
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