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Cesky Krumlov: Castle boasts bears in its moat

Occupants of the Cesky Krumlov castle created its infamous "bear moat" in the 18th century, not as a defense against attackers but rather as an expansion of their bear-breeding hobby.

STEVEN BEARDSLEY/STARS AND STRIPES

By STEVEN BEARDSLEY | STARS AND STRIPES Published: July 12, 2013

A castle with a moat is often worth a visit. A castle with bears in its moat should be mandatory viewing.

That’s why I ended up in Cesky Krumlov during a recent weekend. The medieval Czech city and UNESCO World Heritage site, located some three to four hours from U.S. Army posts in southern Germany, boasts postcard-pretty views, some worthwhile activities in the area and, yes, a castle with a moat occupied by two lumbering bears.

They didn’t look especially ferocious on the day I visited, waddling around their habitat and eventually settling in front of a feeding platform of lettuce and carrots. But the bears were never intended as a threat. Castle occupants in the 18th century merely needed space to expand their bear-breeding hobby and thought the moat was a good option.

The Cesky Krumlov castle has always bowed to the whims of its masters, who have changed throughout the structure’s more than 750 years of history. Built in 1253 on a rock cliff overlooking the Vltava River in southern Czech Republic, the castle offered a defensive fortification and a projection of power over a stretch of southern Bohemia.

It flourished in the 16th century when the Rosenbergs, one of the country’s most celebrated noble families, reconstructed the castle along the lines of the Italian Renaissance, opening the dark Gothic corridors and incorporating art and interior design. After spending time under Habsburg hands, the castle became property of another Czech family in the 18th century before falling into disuse in the 19th century. In 1947, the state acquired it.

Open to the public today, the castle rooms can be toured by reservation and a small fee. Its grounds can be explored for free by those willing to walk.

The views alone make a visit worthwhile. On a high corridor that bridges a gap in the cliff, visitors can look down into the town of Cesky Krumlov, its red-roofed buildings squeezed onto a teardrop-shaped spit of land surrounded by the shallow Vltava.

A bridge connects the castle grounds to the town, and the view from the streets is equally powerful — the castle looms above, its ornamented, frescoed bell tower standing out like a Bohemian pagoda.

The town itself is worth a walk. Shops and stands abound, offering toys, postcards and a pastry called “trdelnik,” dough wrapped around a dowel, heated and rolled in toppings such as cinnamon and sugar.

A favorable exchange rate ($1 equals almost 20 Czech koruna) makes spending money less painful in Cesky Krumlov and dinner in the town an affordable option.

Just north of the town, two other attractions are worth a stop. One, Cesky Budejovice, is home to the brewer Budejovicky Budvar, which produces what many consider the original Budweiser, a pilsner brewed since 1895 in a town that has produced beer since the 13th century. The brewer has long been in litigation with the American Budweiser label, owned by Anheuser-Busch as part of the larger multinational corporation AB InBev. Tours of the brewery are offered daily most of the year.

About 10 minutes north of Cesky Budejovice is Hluboka, another castle owned by the Czech government and open to the public. Built in the 13th century, it was later reconstructed to look like Windsor Castle in England. For a few koruna, visitors can trek to the top of the castle for an overview of its grounds and the region.

Whether for the castle, the views, the history or the delicious “trdelnik,” Cesky Krumlov and nearby haunts can make for an affordable weekend. Just mind the bears.

beardsley.steven@stripes.com Twitter: @sjbeardsley

Times

• Cesky Krumlov: Six distinct tours of the castle are available, most of them daily between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. or 6 p.m. Budejovicky Budvar: The brewery is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. between March and the end of December.

• Hluboka: The castle is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. in July and August, with a 30-minute closure at noon.

Costs

• Cesky Krumlov: Expect to pay for parking. Tours of the castle range from 35 to 50 koruna ($1.75 to $2.50) for the cellar and tower, respectively, to 200 koruna for the castle theater. Most tours are in Czech, with higher costs for other languages.

• Budejovicky Budvar: A one-hour English tour is available without reservation daily between April and November for 100 koruna.

• Hluboka: Entry to the grounds is free. Tours of various parts of the castle, in English, are available at prices beginning at 40 koruna.

Accommodation

Cesky Budejovice is an ideal staging ground, located between Hluboka, about seven miles to the north, and Cesky Krumlov, some 15 miles to the south. Good hotels are available for less than $100 a night. Hotels are apt to be more expensive in Cesky Krumlov, a heavily trafficked tourist destination. Hluboka, being smaller, is best as a day trip.

Food

A standard variety of restaurants ranging from hearty Czech fare to Indian can be found in Cesky Budejovice; Cesky Krumlov presents a solid selection; and Hluboka has slightly less to offer.

More information

• On Cesky Krumlov: ckrumlov.info/docs/en/kaktualita.xml

• On Budejovicky Budvar: budejovickybudvar.cz/en

• On Hluboka: zamek-hluboka.eu/en

The bell tower of the Cesky Krumlov castle, which stands on a rock cliff above the town of the same name.
STEVEN BEARDSLEY/STARS AND STRIPES

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