Monday, February 8, 2016

water castles and ravagings

Blatna Castle
The goal of the weekend was to take my wife skiing at a beginner slope to help her learn. We wanted something not so far from Prague and something a little romantic, so the idea was to find a nice bed and breakfast, or castle as it goes, to stay in somewhere near a ski resort. The place I came up with was Kasperske Hori. My mistake, I’ll admit, was thinking that in the beginning of February, ski conditions should be pretty ripe. But then was the week long heat spell, a sort of savage Indian summer that reaped its way into the deep winter, with temperatures going past 40 all the way up to 50 degrees Fahrenheit (for non-Americans, read that as somewhere around 10-20 degrees Celsius). By the time we drove to South Bohemia, there was not a flake or patch of snow in sight, despite Kasperske Hori even having snow-making technology. When it’s that warm, it ceases to be even worth it trying to crank up those blowers. 

We only had to make some minor adjustments. As we set out, I decided that we should hit up some random towns that I hadn’t heard of before and see what views we could see, before hitting our final destination of the Schlosshotel Zdikov Zamek. We’ve already seen the mainstay of the region – Cesky Krumlov, and been there a number of times, so why not try something different and less touristic?

Our first stop then was Blatna. The town dates back to somewhere in the 13th century as a chapterhouse town of the Knights Templar, though what’s left of the old town seems to be only a few streets with two quite nice walking arcades – it was burned down completely in the 1800s. From the two arcades, which are linked together by a huge tower and a church, you can walk down to the “water castle”. Blatna gets its name from the Czech word for “marsh”, and once you’re at the church with a view of the castle, you can see why. There is indeed a marsh surrounding the castle, with a beautiful walking trail going through the marsh, and plenty of places to jump around and find weird spots for a picnic. The castle itself, being once a chapterhouse of the Knights Templar, is home to many legends, including one about a Templar treasure being hidden either in the castle or somewhere nearby. It’s last renovation turned it into an English Gothic manor, so that the main tower looks something like an English cottage. The true beauty of the place though is the Rozmitalsky Palace, a decaying, falling apart manor that’s nearly as tall as the tower, with dark stones and beautifully huge windows and an amazing wood terrace that has a great view of the marsh and surrounding park. 

Rabi Castle
Our next stop was Rabi Castle, which is the largest castle ruins in the Czech Republic – and a place I admittedly had never heard of before. Construction at the castle began in the 13th century and it reached its full height in the 1500s. It was the site of some major battles during the Hussite rebellion, with the famous one-eyed Jan Zizka – after which the Zizkov district in Prague was named – taking the castle and losing his other eye there. For most of its tenure as a strategic place, it was held by the Rosemburg family, who also held the castle at Cesky Krumlov in the early years. During the 30 Years War, that terrible period when everyone was quite confused on German lands and much of the European kingdoms decided to traipse about and take advantage of the local Slavic ladies, the castle was ultimately destroyed by Ernst Graf von Mansfeld from Luxembourg, who changed sides more times than one hand can count. 

The entry of Rabi Castle
After Mansfeld’s ravaging, the Hapsburg emperor decided that Rabi didn’t need to be a castle anymore and that the place would be illegal to be repaired. Since then, it’s been left to the pickings of local villagers, with the limestone especially being useful in building houses. It became a local landmark in 1920, and has been something of a museum and site for medieval festivals ever since.

Unfortunately, when we were there, the castle was closed up for winter, with the locals, I assume, not realizing that there would be a purpose of having it open in what is usually a snow covered season. It’s now on our list of places to go back to though.

Kasperske Hori
The final stop before our own ravaging of a castle was the town of Kasperske Hori itself. Where we should have stopped for coffee was Susice, quite an established town that ran the length of the River Otava. If we do this trip again, that will be the next plan, as Kasperske Hori wasn’t that overwhelming of town, which is to say, it was a bit underwhelming. It has the ski resort, and it does have a beautiful main square, but that was about it. Though the cafe in that yellow building on the right has some great blueberry cake.

From Kasperske Hori, it was only a 10-minute drive, which brought us finally to Zdikov Zamek just as the sun was setting.

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