Land of Lager, Dumplings and Witches!
Some 170km south of Prague, and not far from the Austrian border in South Bohemia, is the fairy tale town of Český Krumlov; recently emerged from years of territorial fighting, enforced ownership and urban decay, its Bohemian charm has now been fully restored to its former glory, with winding streets hugging pretty candy cane painted burgher’s houses and small cobbled squares all overlooked by a sugar-coated “Trompe l’œil” castle, and so it was that at on the first Sunday in Advent last year, I took an early morning walk around the historic centre of this “picture perfect” UNESCO town. The day was sunny and bright, the first blue skies I’d seen since landing in Prague a few days before…..there was a definite winter chill in the air, but it was wonderful to walk about the town before the inhabitants and visiting tourists set foot outside their red-roofed homes and “all mod cons” hotels. It would appear, that South Bohemia is indeed the land of fairy tales in the Czech Republic.
The town is still wrapped in the mystery and intrigue of its historical past, with each ruling force attempting to impose their stamp of authority on the beleaguered town, and, the local townsfolk still talk about it and remember what it was like; on awaking from German and Soviet rule, and post the break up of the Czech Republic and Slovakia, the town has achieved UNESCO status, which means it is firmly back on the map. It’s not hard to see why it has been bestowed such a great honour, the fairy tale State Castle and Chateau Český Krumlov towers over the winding medieval streets below, whilst the Vltava river meanders through the centre of the town. The area surrounding Český Krumlov is equally magical, with beautiful countryside, rural farms and ancient monuments, as well as numerous carp ponds, rivers and forests……
….our trip had taken us from Prague to České Budějovice, where we visited the brewery of the original Budweiser Budvar beer, before being taken to Holašovice, Český Krumlov, Lipno nad Vltavou and finally Hluboká nad Vltavou. The trip, which was organised by Czech Tourism and Czech Stories, was highlighting the fact that there is more to discover in this fascinating country other than Prague, beautiful though the capital city may be. Our first stop was the The Budweiser Budvar brewery in České Budějovice, where we followed the brewing process of this famous beer, as well as enjoying a meal in the brewery’s restaurant, Budějovický Budvar Restaurant, with beer and food pairings, including an authentic plate of Beef Goulash with the region’s ubiquitous dumplings.
We stayed overnight at Hotel Malý pivovar, in České Budějovice, where elegant townhouses are gathered around one of the largest squares in Europe, this is the capital of South Bohemia, and the city has preserved its historical character over the centuries, as well as being a modern regional centre for commerce and industry. There was a Christmas market on when I was there, and numerous market stalls plied their wares, with sausages, wurst, salamis and all sorts of exotic looking cheeses making a big appearance, as well as wooden toy stalls, and other stalls with Christmas paraphernalia.
Holašovice, which is situated in the middle of some of the prettiest landscapes in Southern Bohemia was our next stop, although we weren’t able to see much with the swirling fog and insensate rain, but, we could all see that the village was indeed charming. The wonderful Baroque farms that are set around the extensive village green are included in the UNESCO world heritage list, and it was easy to see why these buildings with their fusion of two vernacular building traditions, known as South Bohemian Folk Baroque, were included on the UNESCO list of heritage buildings. After lunch at one of the local restaurants, where garlic soup made another appearance, along with pork medallions in an almond and beer sauce, and some freshly made pastries by the owner’s mother, we made our way across the road to a “Farming Museum”.
Our next stop after lunch was at Český Krumlov, the beautiful town I mentioned above.……on arriving, we had a guided tour around the town’s imposing 13th-century castle with its Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque architecture, a rather macabre but interesting puppet museum and we were also taken on a walk about the town, by dusk, which was truly magical. After checking in to Hotel Latrán, dinner was taken in the extremely popular and atmospheric tavern, Krčma v Satlavské Uliciin, in the centre of the town, where all the food was cooked over an open wood fire…….the chef was cooking a variety of steaks, chops, meat and chicken with the dexterity, juggling the meat from front to back and then to the sides of the hot open wood fire grill, and in full view of all the customers, my marinated chicken finally arrived and was deliciously moist with a crispy skin.
The next day saw us travelling to Lipno, to the very popular attraction Treetop Walk; this unique 675 metre trail in Lipno nad Vltavou enables you to walk among the treetops and enjoy views of the surrounding Šumava countryside and the distant Alps, it was a gradual walk around tiers of wooden walk ways before finally climbing up and around a wooden and metal spiral 40 metre high tower. We also had the opportunity to ride a bobsleigh at the appropriately named Slideland, in Lipno nad Vltavou, where there are two intertwined Bobsleigh Tracks – an Alpine coaster and Bobsleigh Track, both which were very exhilarating rides! Lunch was taken at a local lakeside restaurant, before we had some free time to explore Český Krumlov and the Christmas market by ourselves, before dinner.
Our last day dawned with the sound of the church bells for Advent Sunday and a clear blue sky………after a filling breakfast at the hotel we set off for Hluboká Castle, where we had a guided tour; the castle was filled with taxidermy, and it appears that the ruling family who used to live in the castle, the Schwarzenberg’s, were very keen on hunting and stuffing their “prizes”, as animal heads, fur rugs and antlers adorn the castle, both inside and outside! It is a beautiful building however, filled with stunning furniture, and is apparently based on the design of Windsor Castle in the UK. After a wonderful lunch at Solidní Šance, we were then transferred back to Prague for our flight back to the UK.
My abiding impressions of this part of the Czech Republic, are that of Grimm’s Fairy Stories, it’s a beautiful part of the country with castles, lakes, breweries, taverns and tales of witches, fairies and goblins to entertain and horrify you in equal measures……there are numerous outdoor activities to engage in, as well as ample opportunities to sample the local Budvar lager type beer and the ubiquitous dumplings! So, forget Prague next time you want a long weekend, and explore South Bohemia, it’s worth the transfer from the capital city…..and there is so much to see and enjoy.
Local time in the Czech Republic is GMT+1 (Central European Time)
The international access code for the Czech Republic is +420
The outgoing code 00 followed by the relevant country code (e.g. 0044 for the United Kingdom)
Czech Koruna – CZK)
(Exchange rate for 1 GBP is about 31 CZK)
There are regular flights to Prague from London, Manchester, Glasgow, Birmingham, Edinburgh, Bristol, Newcastle and Leeds
BREWERY TOURS at Budweiser Budvar Visitor Centre:
Regular brewery tours without prior booking in Czech, English and German take place every working day at 2 pm
Upon prior order, the tours are also available in Russian, French, Spanish and Italian.
The tour takes approximately 60 minutes; the minimum amount of visitors is 5 and the maximum is 50.
50% discount for children under 18 and students (upon submitting the ISIC pass)
I was invited on a press trip in South Bohemia; all flights, transfers, accommodation, food and excursions were included at no cost to me and I was NOT asked to write a favourable review. Karen S Burns-Booth