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The Czech Republic Offers Much Beyond Prague

Ceske Budejovice, Czech Republic (dpa) – Martin Polak loves his home city of Ceske Budejovice. The ex-teacher can recount the history and anecdotes he has found out about the region for hours on end.

Polak gave up teaching after the fall of the Iron Curtain, travelled through Europe, translated travel literature into Czech and finally became a self-employed tour guide.

Today his services are in great demand because the old cultural landscape of southern Bohemia today attracts more than a million visitors a year.

The history of Ceske Budejovice, situated at the confluence of the Vltava and Malse rivers, dates back to 1265. Today it is the largest city in southern Bohemia with 97,000 inhabitants, but is best known for its world famous beer.

Its strategic location made this former royal seat an important bastion against the aristocracy’s claims to power. The town grew rich trading in salt, shipping, silver mining and through its own mint producing currency.

The inner city with its Renaissance and Baroque houses still look splendid today compared with the small villages of the surrounding Bohemian forest.

Arcades in the narrow streets are inviting to strollers. On the market square, a huge statue of Samson supported by muscular Atlases looks down on visitors. On sunny days the atmosphere is nearly Mediterranean.

Visitors who want to tour the Budejovicky Budvar brewery should reserve a place in advance. The continuing brand name dispute between the Czech brewery and the U.S. drinks company Anheuser-Busch has had some curious effects. The U.S. firm opened an American cultural centre in the centre of the old town in an attempt to give the local inhabitants a taste of U.S. beer. It did not work. “The Czechs are sensitive when it comes to beer,” said Martin Polak.

In the region surrounding the city, situated above a bend in the Vltava, is the castle of Hluboka nad Vlatvou. Today it is a popular site for wedding ceremonies but its origins date back to 1285. Its present facade dates from the mid-19th century.

Princess Eleonora of Schwarzenberg was so impressed by Windsor Castle on a trip to England that she renovated Hluboka in the same style. The Windsor decor is a matter of taste, but the 140 rooms document many generations of feudal life.

Another jewel for visitors is Cesky Krumlov, with an old town that was declared a UNESCO world heritage site in 1992. The first written mention of the town was in 1253.

The Vltava winds three times round the town centre, returning to almost the same point a kilometre on. From the well-maintained castle bearing evidence to various architectural styles, you can look down over kayaks on the river.

Visitors should not miss the late Baroque castle theatre, with its still intact original wooden sliding stage. The complete 18th century theatre machinery is very impressive.

Below the castle is Latran, probably the oldest quarter of the town. Crooked houses stand closely together, with rich facades bearing witness to previous wealth, and the narrow, winding streets give a fairy-like impression in the sunlight. Cesky Krumov is the Czech Republic’s best preserved historic town complex after the capital Prague.

On a journey through the southern Bohemian landscape, surrounded by the Bohemian forest mountains and the Novohradske Hory mountain range, the village of Holasovice stands out. This epitome of a Bohemian village with farmhouses arranged round the village square was listed as UNESCO cultural monument in 1999.

Shortly before the Austrian border towards Weitra is Nove Hrady. The town itself looks rather run down, but it is home to the only Servite Monastery in the Czech Republic, which has been restored. In the 18th century, Johann Nepomuk Graf Buquoy landscaped an artificial valley for his wife Theresia nearby the town. Visitors today can still wander through Theresia Valley with its artificial waterfalls and small bridges.

Southern Bohemia is rich in history and the splendour of times past. Much of it has been restored but a lot is still run-down. Martin Polak says he knows streets that would shock tourists. “We are a border region,” he explains. But intrepid visitors will be well rewarded. The Czech Republic has plenty to offer beyond Prague.

Further information is available on the Internet at http://www.bohemia.net.

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