A Trip through the Chateaus of Bohemia
The life of a lady in 18th century Central Bohemia was laced with velvet gowns, China tea sets and genteel preparation for marriage. An understanding of European languages and etiquette was expected. In return she would continue to enjoy life in one of the superb chateaus and castles dotted across the landscape of what is now the Czech Republic. Central Bohemia surrounds the Czech capital, Prague, in a donut shape and is easily accessed from the city by train and bus for anyone with a penchant for architectural splendour.
I’ve started my explorations at the Chateau Jemništĕ were I discover the story of the Sternberg family. The chateau was built in 1724 and is a prime example of a Baroque summer residence. The ebbs and flow of the family cover centuries in the region south east of the Capital, Prague. With survival through the thirty years war and two world wars the family watched their legacy almost disappear during the communist period. Our guide Veronika explains that during the communist era many chateaus were used as store houses and often destroyed just because of what they represented. Now beautifully restored the option to have a picnic in the grounds is a lovely way to put in a sunny afternoon before heading to the 13th century mainstay of the Sternberg family.
Český Šternberk Castle
Český Šternberk Castle, called the Pearl of Posázaví, towers above the central part of the river Sázava. Despite losing ownership of the castle during the era of confiscation from 1948 to 1992 the current owner, Filip Sternberg, lives here today. During the Russian occupation his grandfather, Jiří Sternberg, took the job of tour guide so he could oversee the preservation of his family estate although he did not live to see it returned to the family he had the pleasure in ensuring it remained intact. Rich brocades drape across sash windows and grand portraits line the walls along with weaponry used by the generations of Sternbergs in various wars.
On the trail of fine chateaus there is much to see along the way. In the town of Nižbor The Rückl glass works was founded over 100 years ago and is an example of community and craftsmanship working hand in hand. The crystal glass factory has created spectacular sports trophies and glass pieces made in the same tradition for decades – cut stars and diamonds are trademarks. In the shop photographs of Martina Navratilova and Queen Elizabeth II holding spectacular pieces of glass show how important this company is in the preservation of hand blown glass craftsmanship. I took a tour of the works to watch the vases being molded from globs of hot sand in spectacular fashion. I was given the opportunity to cut my own crystal glass too and anyone can join a guided tour by booking online. www.ruckl.com
A short stroll from Rückl Glassworks is a quirky restaurant called Zastávka Nižbor set in disused railway carriages where I sampled my first taste of Kofola. Coca Cola wasn’t available In Czechoslovakia during the communist era and I’m rather glad it wasn’t as I found Kafola less sweet and more liquorice in flavour than its American counterpart. At this restaurant it’s possible to stay overnight in a carriage – a quirky alternative air bnb. Czech food is whole and hearty with dumplings and meats such as boar and venison on most traditional menus but I opted for a lovely warm goats cheese and beetroot salad. Cheese is an important ingredient in Czechia and many restaurants offer fried cheese in a crispy coating.
Next stop is at Chateau Dobříš, about 50 kilometres from Prague, near the town of Příbram and the Brdy Mountains. The present chateau in Dobříš dates from the years 1745-1765, when it was renovated by Jindřich Pavel Mansfeld. The Colloredo-Mannsfeld family lived here until 1942, when the chateau was taken over by Nazi Germany. After World War II, the chateau was confiscated again, this time by the Czechoslovak State. In 1998 the chateau and its French garden and English park were returned to the family. The Chateau Dobříš is a stunning example of a house incorporated into an area and offering more such as the very fine French garden and fountains which were destroyed during the communist era. Now the garden is set for music recitals in summer.
In keeping with the days sightseeing I checked in for the night at the Wellness Hotel Panství Dlouhá Lhota. The rooms are lavishly decorated in the same lavish baroque style of the chateau but with modern conveniences and stylish additions such as the freestanding wardrobe that backs the large double bed. As well as a modern restaurant and swimming pool therapies are available in the spa, and the sauna is turned on as guests request it.
Skanzen Vysoký Chlumec
Other buildings await exploration across the Central Bohemia Uplands. The outdoor folk museum Skanzen Vysoký Chlumec is a traditional village with restored rural and folk houses of varying wealth from the mid-17th to the beginning of the 20th century. A preserved working mill has been moved to the park intact and makes an interesting feature. From original tiles to children’s hand carved toys the properties in this village show the intricate workings of households in rural Bohemia for hundreds of years. Built with wooden frames, and using wattle and daub on the walls, the life span of these houses was short and fire damage common. Our guide Ivan tells us factual information on the era with stories and anecdotes on the items on display. Poppy seeds were used to make calming medicine to help children sleep. Being a form of heroin it left some incapable of looking after themselves and in rare cases children died. The holy corner was an important fixture in the houses of the poor farmer and the wealthier miller with religious pictures and a cross. The ingenious way that the black kitchens heated homes from the inside meant that living rooms weren’t filled with smoke as seen in dwellings of that time in other parts of Europe. www.muzeum-pribram.cz/skanzen-vysoky-chlumec
The craft village of Botanicus Ostra is constructed in similar fashion but with guides and vendors dressed in traditional clothing of the Middle Ages. The grounds are home to a herb garden. Candle and soap making are just some of the activities on offer to make or purchase and the arts of paper making, stove grinding and archery are all participating options for visitors. Payment is in quirky plastic coins that we purchased at the entrance to the village with our ticket. The puppet show and panning for gold are popular activities for children and we sampled traditional breads, cakes and pies typical of medieval diets. www.botanicus.cz
Most people don’t know that the Czech Republic is a wine producer. The main wine region is in the south of the country in Moravia, however Central Bohemia is the second largest wine region in Czechia. I stopped off at Winery Klučov to learn more about Czech wine production and taste some great wines too! This modern winery offers accommodation too and a good stop off for anyone who wants to see the area by bicycle at a relaxed pace. The quirky wine labels are designed by local Czech artist who illustrated the Czech edition of the Harry Potter books. www.vinarstviklucov.cz
It would be rude to leave Czechia without embracing the charm and atmosphere of the medieval old town in the city of Prague. With little time to explore the many museums I came across the Museum of Illusion. This fascinating exhibition takes visitors on a virtual reality experience that will play with your visual senses and mess with your head.
In a random display of sneakers and shoes a slight chance of perspective and movement to the right brings about a realistic portrait by Patrik Proska. In another of his ensembles he turns a pile of electrical equipment into Nikola Tesla. This is a great museum for any age. www.iamprague.eu
Almanac X Alcron Prague Hotel
My bed for the night is at The Almanac X Alcron Prague Hotel, located off Wencseles Square with a totally modern twist on an iconic building. I checked into my castle view suite on the top floor enjoying the variety of architectural styles spread out across the city. The Alcron cocktail bar and restaurant is the dining option at the almanac hotel. Surrounded by beautiful artwork the tantalising menu offers a 21st century artful display of fish meats and vegetarian options
The cocktail bar presently on ground level is a taster for the new rooftop bar which hopes to open later this year. The Almanac is the perfect spot to enjoy the best that Prague’s has on offer in stylish surroundings. Indeed times have changed and now firmly ensconced in the 21st century I think the Almanac X Alcron Prague is just the type of luxury to be enjoyed by the modern day ladies of Bohemia.
An overnight stay at Almanac X Alcron Prague including breakfast in a Delux Room from €350 per night www.almanachotels.com/cs/
Aer Lingus operates 5 flights weekly from Dublin to Prague. Fares start from €49.99 each way including taxes and charges. Visit aerlingus.com.