Southern Bohemia is home to some of the most beautiful and idyllic destinations in the Czech Republic - from the historic town of Tabor to the jewel that is Cesky Krumlov. One destination in the area, somewhat lesser-known but also attractive that you might consider visiting, is Bechyne, located around forty kilometres from Tabor. Found on a dramatic promontory, the town of just 6,000 features an historic monastery, a fantastic fifty-metre high bridge that spans the nearby Luznice River, and the oldest ceramics school in the country. It may not be the most obvious choice, but Bechyne is a most satisfying visit in the summer or spring.
The town's castle is the perfect place to start, says Jaroslav Matejka, the town's mayor:
"In the 1990s, following the restitution of property after the communists fell, the castle was returned to its former owners, and then acquired by the organisation Panstvi. The site underwent repairs and renovation at this time and is now open to the public. That includes the former riding hall which is available for concerts and theatre performances. In the summer, there are sometimes also special events, such as night tours where you can explore the castle's halls but also enjoy an authentic historic meal served in the castle's historic 'black' kitchen. Then, there is a choice of a number of regular daily tours."
The original castle in Bechyne was built in the 13th century but nothing of the original foundation has survived. The site was rebuilt in the Gothic style and belonged to the famous Sternberk family. Further reconstruction at the castle then took place in the 16th century, when it came into the ownership of nobleman Petr Vok of Rozmberk. He had it redesigned as a Renaissance Palace. Vok's interests included the sciences, alchemy, astrology, and studying the stars: on the castle tour in the past, it was possible to see original measurement tools, as well as more commonplace items like the nobleman's dagger, or chalices once used by Vok and his wife Katerina of Ludanice. He married her when he was forty and she was just fourteen. Guide Nada Podarilova told Radio Prague:
"Their wedding was extraordinary and lasted a number of days - many important figures attended. Records show that, incredibly, the guests consumed 70,000 litres of wine and beer and a lot of meat! Clearly they had a very good time!"
Even now organisers in the town have held celebrations in Vok's honour, a number of years ago hosting a re-creation at the castle of his famous wedding, and held a local ball.
What kind of a man was Petr Vok? The nobleman is said to have been famous for his sense of humour, on one occasion poking fun at his young wife: in a famous letter that survived to this day he calls her "granny". Her term of affection for him was "dedek" - as in old man, grandpa, or greybeard - signifying their difference in age.
There is one other story often told about the nobleman. Shortly before his death the castle was put under siege by Passau mercenaries who had not been paid their due. Vok asked for payment to be made by Czech King Rudolf II, but in vain. Local historian Jirina Trckova explained to Radio Prague that - in the end - a different solution was found:
"He took the Rozmberk silver and had it melted down. The Rozmberks regularly minted their own coins, and he did the same with his silver, with which he paid the mercenaries and asked them to leave southern Bohemia, leaving the people and the castle in peace."
Today the castle garden and walks along the ramparts remain among the most pristine sites in Bechyne, with views of the Luznice River below. In the distance it is impossible to overlook the town's most magnificent concrete and metal bridge, known affectionately as the "Bechyne Rainbow". It was completed on the occasion of Czechoslovakia's tenth anniversary, in 1928.
Bechyne is also famous for the first electric trail in Bohemia, which runs to this day. Originally, the track was meant for a steam locomotive. Jirina Trckova once more:
"Czech scientist and inventor Frantisek Krizik - who had worked on lighting and electric trams in Prague, pushed through the idea of a local electric train that would run from Bechyne to Tabor. It is not only the oldest electric line in the Czech lands, and was also the first in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. He built the locomotive that pulled the train and it's still fully functional."
"Originally the railway line represented the only link between Tabor and our town. Its still one of the ways visitors can get to Tabor and back. For ten years now we've had historic rides - the original cars from the turn of the century, and this really is a big attraction. Once, in Bechyne I would recommend the walks along the scenic route on the Luznice River."
"From the bridge you can see a panorama of the whole town and there are scenic look-out spots. Below, along the river, there are areas that are ideal for fishing - I used to fish as well, though I have little time for it now. One of the most beautiful routes then leads along to the area of town known as 'Zareci'. That quarter has jokingly declared independence: it was hard hit by the floods in 2002 but has been fully repaired now and it is truly one of the nicest areas. In the summer there is a festival when Zareci celebrates its independence, but of course it's all in fun."
Another attraction that should not be missed, along with the scenic walks, pubs along the river, summer festivals which include performances of outdoor theatre, is most certainly the South-Bohemian Art Gallery of Mikolas Ales which houses an amazing collection of world-class international ceramics. Milous Ruzicka heads the gallery and explains that ceramics have an extremely long history in the region. The oldest ceramics school was founded there in the late 1800s, and the Ales gallery houses some of the finest examples from the turn of the century right up to the present.
"One of the most remarkable periods was the period before and following the First World War, the period of the Secession, the Art Nouveau. We have samples that show the influence of Vienna and Mittel Europa. Other highlights included Art Deco in the 20s as well as abstract work in the 30s, which was excellent, echoing similar work in painting and photography. Ceramic work was perhaps a bit like Cinderella - a bit overlooked - but some of the pieces here are truly notable and rare throughout Europe. There are very few samples like this."
Certainly Bechyne offers far more than one might expect, and, as one local
told us, if you visit expect to spend at least a day- two or three hours
are not nearly enough. If you plan on spending the night, keep in mind
it's a small and quiet town and aside from a few hotels or nearby camping
grounds in the summer, lodgings in the peak season are limited.
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