Starting from our apartment, it’s five minutes to the main square. Instead of giving you the blow by blow, this is my blog through pics.
When doing a search for old ruins and castles, Slovakia came up as the number one spot. By number one, I mean oldest. Devin Castle, on the corner of Slovakia within the township of Devin. The castle is widely considered to have predated any other structures still standing. Overlooking the might Danube on a jutting piece of rock, Devin Castle is also thought to have been visited by Christ during his ministry, but some ruins have been traced back to the 5th century BC, 400 year before the celts arrived. We visited it several years ago, and wanted to take another look, as well as eat at the same restaurant at the base of the entrance.
Slovakia itself is a shocker to the system if you’ve been used to seeing the colorful, modern (or old) buildings of the surrounding countries. Cold war-era high-rise apartment buildings are stacking together, side by side and austere. Some are fainted bright colors, but most are grey and lifeless. It’s not until you see the women pushing strollers or the road bikers peddling along the sidewalk does the city of Bratislava warm up. One left off the A4 and one is right in town, another left, following the signs to Devin and the scenery changes once again. Suddenly, the road is waterside, the trees arch over the street and it becomes positively suburban, homes hidden behind gates or dense bushes on both sides of the two-lane road continue until the small town of Devin is reached.
Cold war era buildings are dominant in the skyline upon entering Slovakia. This changes immediately when leaving the city center.
Parking, country fair and food
The parking/entrance for Devin Castle can be reached two ways from the main street and Google maps provides both. If you miss the first left, going a half a mile through town gives you another opportunity to turn left, but the visual of the castle above you nearly enough for self-guidance. This year, a county fair occupied the open grass fields. Pony rides, farm animals, games that I can’t describe in local terms occupied an area half a football field in length and width. It was a warm day, so many were in bathing suits, taking advantage of the inlets of the Danube River just feet away.
The transition from city to suburb is immediate and profound. About ten minutes of this lovely drive and you are in Devin, Slovakia.
Devin is your classic, quaint small town.
The entrance fee is consistent as most of the other castles, about 30 Euro for a family of four. The walk up is easy and takes about twenty minutes, but may be longer due to the goats on the hillside who know how to play the visitors for food. Entertainers dressed in period clothing sword fight, sing and play instruments alongside a few store fronts, also in period. Word to the wise: bring cash because credit cards aren’t accepted.
Not much further is the protected area where Christ was thought to have taught. After 2,000 years, it’s not much more than the stone foundation where a building once stood, but this is preserved by a new building that’s been built around it so visitors can enter and take their time in the area. A fence bordering the area provides one more measure against future degradation.
A short walk from the parking lot and you arrive at the ticket & main gate entrance.
Exiting this structure, it’s another five-minute walk to the main castle. Unlike the majority of castles we’ve been to in our travels, the road up has nary a tree to provide relief from the heat. The great news is also unlike other castles, this one offers free, cold water at the top thanks to a fountain and beautiful (also free) bathrooms! What a relief, figuratively and literally. From the center courtyard (and well, which is impressive itself because somehow they dug down hundreds of feet, through rock), you can go left (west) to one of the ramparts and look across the river and valley beyond. To the right of the courtyard is the larger structure, though much of it is off limits. Just last year, a new metal walkway was added, allowing for an unobstructed view, which previously was availably only from the other tower. The distance between the two is less than a five-minute walk.
Building on the highest peak, the tallest rock never fails to get an appreciative picture.
Time for food
Notice how all my castle write-ups include food at the end? While we have a meal in the morning, castle exploration is hard work, especially since it nearly always involves some sort of climb, further walking, then the descent. Is it any wonder we eat like bears coming out of hibernation at the end of it all?
Readers will often make quirky faces when remarking on my choice of photos, until I call them out with question: you mean, why don’t I always post glamour shots of places? It’s because I personally am so sick of seeing “the perfect shot.” I want to know what a place looks like when I drive up, or am walking, or looking down. And I have no interest in brushing my hair, standing the right way or whatever. When it comes to food, I whip out my iPhone (usually), not my Nikon, snap and eat. I’m a focused girl; I want my meal warm. It helps when it’s pretty, but I’m not going to spend a moment worrying about it.
The reward for visiting Devin Castle is (name here) located riverside to the Danube. You can’t see the river through the dense trees, but it’s there because you just saw it, and the water can be heard. We’ve had the pork knee (sounds gross, but it’s a pound of goodness) Slavic burgers, goulash, their version of cheese sticks and several types of soups. The portions are monstrous and the prices are McDonalds. A $100 meal in the US comes out to roughly fifty dollars, including drinks.
Double boar meat hamburger with cucumbers (Rog and Porsche raved), my Slovakian goulash and previous picture–chicken wings, Slovakian style.
Drones are allowed, and Rog flew his from the parking lot. I forgot to note that he was able to fly his drone in all the castles we’ve visited (hence the shots), because they aren’t regulated in most of these areas. How wonderful!
If you’re going to make the trip, be sure to stop here. You may be tempted to try the hotel across the street, but this is “more local,” if you will.
What I love about Devin Castle
It’s the only castle I know of that mentions Jesus in the historical records. For a person who’s never been to Israel, it may be as close as I get to being in the same vicinity as Jesus. The view is unreal, and the food at the bottom of the castle shouldn’t be missed.
Parking lot, restaurant and Devin Castle, in that order. See, wasn’t that helpful?
What I don’t
Nothing really. It’s so modest, there’s nothing to give tours over—so natural beauty and ruins are there to be enjoyed.
Want to spend the night, go hiking, biking or rent a boat on the Danube? This hotel is the one and only at the base of the castle.
If you are within 100 miles of Bratislava (which means lots of places stretching from Hungary to Austria), put it on the must-visit list.
When I’m really happy, I look slightly possessed. Sorry about that, but not sorry about being really happy. Note: if you see the upper right castle-that’s the part mostly closed due to instability. It’s the left hand side that’s one of two areas open to tour.
Feature photo: taken on site. If you want to see the areal view shot from the drone, go to my Instagram account at sarahgerdes_author. It provides a much better view of the castle grounds and surrounding area.
Following on my piece on the Gardens of Cesky Krumlov, now it’s time to continue the tour of the castle itself, but before I pick up where I left off, I’m going to back track to provide several views of the lead-up to the main entrance.
From any direction, you must cross the waterway at some point to reach the castle. This bridge is right in from off the parking area and where we walked. The grand, multi-storied bridges.
Two hillsides? No problem. Let’s just keep creating rooms and hallways.
To the right is the actors areas attached to the theatre, and the left is the staff (seamstress etc)
If you are at the gardens, head to the upper most level (the maze). To the north, you can view the fields beyond, to the south is the main castle area.
The royal lands are still being farmed- this is to the north, just outside the gardens.
That’s the way we went, coming to the castle theatre. The ticket office is a remodeled building, attached to an extended, low-ceiling structure that’s the performer quarters. A lane for pedestrians’ splits that building and another on the left for the staff, wardrobe and such. From here, a visitor has multiple options to tour the inside or explore the open (free) areas on every side of the castle.
One of the side entrances leading to the castle, not the main gate.
One of the back entrances leading to the castle.
A castle-shaking entrance
Batman must have had a bigger impact on me than I’d care to admit because I’m always so completely fascinated with castle entrances. It’s not just the size and ‘grandness’ of the entry if you will, nor is it the number of barriers put in place. It’s also the length and ceilings. Just as one driveway can be printed stone and fifty feet, another can be a mile in length, tree-line with water and lighting effects. Some, such as Hohenschwangau, were both straight then circular roads, leading up and up to the main castle.
The actual carriage house where the horses were prepared and stabled.
In the castle of Cesky Krumlov, the road taken by the former rulers is long, steep, imposing with four different barriers, entirely covered with curved stone ceilings, barred windows providing views to the valley below. On the right (the inner wall) are periodic cell-like rooms with bars. Were these for prisoners begging to get out? What about goods necessary for the road maintenance during the winter, but what was the point of the bars? These questions didn’t get answered on our first visit and weren’t satisfied this time around either.
In case you get lost–and that’s a not hard to do in this expansive set of buildings.
What we remarked on then and now is the sound of the tunnel. We were talking low as we made the walk up, but we could have been shouting for all it echoed. Imagine a team of eight or twelve horses racing through, clanging on the stone, whip cracking. The entire castle might be rumbling from within, and surely the townsfolk below would be alerted the rulers had made it home for the night.
One of the disembarking areas for the carriages–this is the lesser of two areas, but has been updated for outdoor festivals.
With the occupants out of the carriage, the horses were led to one of two horse carriage houses, the first one being the grandest. Life-size replicas of the horses and carriages are within the house, which accomplished the task of allowing us to visualize the magnificence of the experience of those ruling the castle and town.
Even the peepholes have incredible views.
Authentic artists in the castle square
Not all castles have a gift shop for selling products, but if they do, it’s usually overpriced trinkets. Not so here. Eight stalls set up in medieval, square coverings showcase artisans, no two the same. With the exception of two, each were demonstrating their craft as they made products. A weaver worked at his loom, creating a shawl. A jeweler set stones in sterling silver, a woman crushed lavender for her satchels and a glass blower delicately created small objects.
The most impressive was a two-person team of iron work. Pumping a pedal with one foot, a man kept his small fire going as he insert metal, melted it to the right temperature before removing it. His work wasn’t just knives, as we’d seen in the past, but objects useful and not. When we arrived at the area, he was making a cup. The second time, a detailed iron rose, the kind you’d place in a vase. His partner worked behind the counter, adding additional touches to the works, such as leather, beading or an embellishment appropriate for the item.
The artisan and his craft.
You can probably tell we got sucked in by the skill of it all, purchasing a sterling silver ring with woven details, a lavender pouch for traveling and a few other unique items as a memory of Cesky Krumlov.
Cesky is interesting, because they offer mini-tour/sections are available for independent payment and viewing. You want to go inside the carriage house? Sure, it’s a little fee. This is another wine cellar, charged a’la cart. Don’t hit your head on the way down.
Two times a charm
Because we arrived in the late evening our first night, we had the chance to explore without crowds. Day two, our visit was about 90 minutes, giving us the rest of the afternoon to wander the town, which was our hope. That’s up next, because skimming the town really does it a disservice.
My favorite part of Cesky Krumlov Castle
The waterway around the castle, the entry and incredible view of the town from most any point. A close second is the town and culinary extravaganza that is the town of Cesky Krumlov.
The castle is long, it connects around the entire curvature of the river below. Photo taken from yet another ledge.
My least favorite part
That the renovation and remodeling required has gone a little cheesy. It’s one thing to resurface a crumbling wall, and most of the time, care is taken to at least try and make the application of paint appear more than five minutes old. The paint here doesn’t really match tone or color, but it’s looks almost cartoonish in more than a few places. We tried our best to overlook it, or at least not take pictures with the faux application in the background.
On the middle-bridge overlooking the town of Cesky Krumlov below.
Even though we are now up to three times to this castle, I know we’ll come again…and again. Perhaps not for the inside tour, but outside absolutely, and the town—always and forever. More on that next.
One of many garden areas for the court modified with atriums, benches and cafes (not pictured).
Feature photo: taken on site
What more can be said about Hohensalzburg than is already out there? Not much, in my opinion, other than the brutal review I’m going to provide you of the inside tour, which has been dramatically reduced to five rooms out of hundreds available. It’s not often I want to be Nicole Kidman or someone famous enough to get me access to floors and buildings off limits (not likely to happen in this lifetime), so all I can do is essentially grumble about paying the 30 Euro for our family, getting squished at the top of the tower with bodies, all jostling for the perfect selfie, then down again. On the bright side, we parked and took the ‘locals’ way,’ which made for new views and a quiet experience we enjoyed going up and down, which somewhat countered the lame experience in the middle.
Join me on this, our second and what is likely to be our last trip to Hohensalzburg.
Parking, right downtown in the locals’ area, the backside of the castle. The path is behind homes that lead to the castle-the occupants more than happy to chit chat as they water their beautiful gardens.
The road up and grounds
Neither have changed for four years ago. You can ride the tram up, saving yourself approximately 3,000 steps up, or you can take the leisurely route, which is longer, but in the shade and completely deserted. We encountered 4 other walks besides ourselves, two couples, both of whom stopped to grab a bite to eat on the bench and smooch.
Where the homes stop, this open grassland with bike/walking paths begin. A large home in the distance (UL), the start of the path to the castle (UR) and the four-corners path connecting multiple blocks.
Both tram and step walk are at the base of the castle; the steps are what we did on our first visit. This time, we parked on what I’d call the backside of the castle. It’s on the southwestern side, street parking for 4.50 Euro. The streets are quaint, full of locals, the paths to the castle occupied with families going through the parks. One right at an almost hidden sign lets you know this is it—the way up.
The trail up is paved and well lit, benches spread along the way. Since it’s not the main entrance, it’s quiet, offering plenty of stopping points to take photos. Nearly at the top, a view one can’t see from the front appears, which is an armory.
Seriously love the homes at the base of the castle (UL), the final walking rise to the castle (UR) and the tram in castle neither steps or path are your style.
The entrance and free areas
We beat the throng of visitors, arriving at 10:30 a.m. As we looked down the hill, bus after bus was dropping of streams of people who went single file to the steps. We were glad to already be at the top. The main courtyard and restaurants haven’t changed, and I will say my preference is the eatery on the second-floor landing which overlooks the valley.
Even though we’d seen the inner and outer courtyards, we walked in and around again, stopping to purchase our tickets for the tour. As we waited, we were bummed out to see the plethora of dogs that were on leash, but defecated all around the courtyard. While some castles have allowed dogs in the main courtyard area, few give dogs the general run of the place. This one does—and good for the owners, (we are massive dog lovers and love them). But seriously, responsible dog owners pick up the pooh, but not here. We were dismayed to be walking behind several who just dropped and walked—my phrase for the owner wasn’t going to bother and pick it up. What has happened in the last few years?
One tall set of blocks (UL), the first of many gated entries (UR) and my favorite–four different defensive entries, each another barrier to an invading force. What you can’t see is that each gate is an 18 inch thick rock–the doors have been removed.
The unguided tour
Our bad experience started at just after the ticketing desk. We paid, stood in line to receive the translation device, only to be told we’d have to wait for those in English, which wasn’t a big deal, but they had a hundred just sitting there. Worse, the man set “Get going,” as we waited for one to be cleaned and provided to us.
The last stretch to the inner courtyard (UL), a view from above (UR) and the main courtyard, unchanged from our last visit.
We just stared at him. Go where, exactly? One foot to the left so others receiving the French version?
Translators in hand, we went to the first room, the most interesting. It was a room with replicas of the cardinals who oversaw construction of Hohenzollern, accompanied by miniature models of the castle at various points in time. After that, we visited what would have been the salt room, for preserving foods. Then a long corridor, and a peek into the Organ room, housing the “Bull organ. The clergy ruler would have the organ play 3 notes alerting the townsfolks it was time to rise and get to work, and again in the evening, when it was bedtime. Talk about ruling the day.
It was interesting seeing the models representing each stage of completion over the hundreds of years–this is a great example of old meeting new(er).
The downside of this of this piece of history was the cramped 3-foot space where everyone fought to take pictures and keeping their ground while the throng behind us were pushing forward, trying to keep up with the auditory tour guide.
The first room of the tour, with rulers and to scale replicas of the castle at different points in time.
After that, we walked down a long corridor and into the torture chamber. That was more bark than bite, because our virtual tour guide said the room wasn’t actually used for torture, but to display the weapons to put fear in to the prisoners, who were actually held in a room below (not for display).
The pseudo torture chamber– the stones have been resurfaced and painted (poorly) but at least the grate to the left and below my daughter appears authentic.
A few pictures and off we were led to the highest point of the castle. Three flights of narrow stairs for the crowds going up and down, and then you arrive. A square area of stone, providing 360-degree views and in the center, a wooden platform (now reinforced with stone and metal). This can’t be larger than a 15×15 space, if that, including the stairs. Shoving, pushing, self-driven crazies. No time to really enjoy the spectacular prospect of Salzburg below.
Was it worth getting scrunched at the top of the platform? The juries out. I like Roger’s drone videos better.
I was so annoyed, me and the girls looked around, took it in, then got out of the madness. Rog fought his way up to the top, took a pic of us below and called it a day, vowing to get better shots with his drone, which is now up on my Instagram account.
A view on the back that never gets seen if you enter from the front.
Whew. It’s over. Time to eat
After that hour of our life, we were hungry and stopped at the Stocker which we’d seen while parking. The meal we ate made up for the latent grumpiness we experienced at the castle. Over amazing cold shrimp and cucumber salad, pork roast and schnitzel, we analyzed what went wrong.
Unregulated tours for starters, trying to pump as many people through as fast as possible was the culprit. Unlike Hohenschwangau, where the tour guide walked us our group of 10 through each room in the entire castle, and even the larger Hohenzollern Castle, which is infinitely larger, even there, the personal tour guide took our group of 12 through multiple rooms. Each tour was detailed, fulfilling, personal and guess what? The exact same price! Even the more visited Neuschwanstein Castle has a tour guide, granted, with 60 people, but at least that one is longer, detailed and fulfilling.
We get it. Castle tourism is a business, and Salzburg is a convenient destination outside Vienna. Mozart’s house is a draw, and many day trip visitors are trying to get both Mozart and Hohensalzburg in at the same time. But to those of us who desire a deeper experience, it’s pretty clear that only fame or a whole lot more money than we possess is going to fulfill that dream, at least with Hohenzollern.
The best part of the visit was the food afterward- or am I being too harsh? Okay, maybe a little, but the food at Stocker is really to die for.
What I liked
The grounds are lovely, and the back path to the castle calm and easy. I also must call out one new room we found which was free and unique–it’s the puppet room. These are life size recreation of puppets that kept the rulers happy. These are shown in a cave-like area within the castle.
The marionette area was pretty cool in it’s own batcave area.
The town below—be sure to go on the locals side—offers incredible food and shops.
What I didn’t
See the paragraphs above. Too many people. Touristy and unfulfilling.
Even with our disappointment, I’d suggest you go at least once to see the grounds and explore the area. If you are early in the season and have twenty minutes to spare, sure, do the tour. You’ve made it all that way. The best thing to do is set your expectations accordingly. Otherwise, save your money for a castle where you can have an incredibly rewarding experience that you’ll remember the rest of your life, and for all the right reasons.
Feature photo: taken from the perch atop the Hohensalzburg, and not with a selfie stick!
The hidden gems of Castle Soave
After three days in Bellagio and Lake Como, we were ready to head out of town. Because of the location we chose and the general road challenges that exist on Bellagio (no cabs allowed, only car and driver, walking or bike, and of course, parking limitations) we grew fatigued of trying to avoid getting hit as we squished ourselves against the walls as cars zipped by. And while I don’t mind a periodic good look at the rock wall now and then, when I can make out individual strands of grass as Rog tries to avoid oncoming traffic, it’s time to go.
The drive to Verona from Bellagio, Italy a straight and easy one, with the exception of several road construction projects that weren’t identified on either Google maps or our internal GPS system. It wasn’t a serious problem, but annoying when you lose ten minutes here and there.
In the San Briccio valley of Verona, heading up to our rented villa. This is a northwest facing view.
The heart of wine country
Located on the outskirts of Verona, both towns of San Briccio and Soave (pronounced So-ahh-veh), are both identified as Verona, and a suburb within. As such, the town is listed, and as a (VR) behind it. It would be like saying Russian Hill in San Francisco and the signs reading: Russian Hill (SF). The Italians make it easy so locals and foreigners alike understand where they are at all the time.
San Briccio is about fifteen minutes outside the center of Verona. The owners of the three-story villa we rented are both architects, and lived in this home as they raised their two children. When the kids became teens, the family moved into Verona proper, the “scenic” drive through the mountain roads too much, especially during high traffic times where the drive is more like forty.
The hilltop homes of San Briccio offer a 360 degree view of the valleys below–stretching northeast of Verona, pictured above.
Winding up from the valley through acres of non-stop wine fields, to the mountain top offering a panoramic, 360-degree view of the San Briccio valley below. We could see the neighboring town of Soave, and the fortress castle in the distance.
Free parking on the street (hurray), walking over a canal (upper left), the mainstreet at 4 p.m. in the Castle Soave township (upper right) and the walk to the end of the street. The building at the left is where you turn right, walk up a 1/16th of a mile and you are at the caretakers home.
On both sides of the hill are miles of wine fields, the area producing dozens of brands of vino. The surrounding hills have been cultivated in stair-stepped manner to provide the largest yield. We can appreciate the effort and beauty even if we don’t drink the stuff, but our wildest culinary dreams were met with the food, so don’t cry for me Argentina, we haven’t gone without.
From the caretakers home (left) and the less-than-steep walk from the lower village (right).
Today, the privately-owned castle has a caretaker who lives on the property in a converted sentry house with his German shepherd. The entry fee for four, two adults and two children was 24 Euros (adults 8, children 4). The walk up from town is short and steep, but not too bad compared to all that we’ve ever done thus far. Once at the entry station, it’s less than a hundred feet to the primary entrance.
Set on the highest hill, Castle Soave’s fortress walls extend around the town of Soave proper, which is now converted shops and restaurants, although it’s home to several thousand full-time residents lucky enough to live with castle and wine country views.
Why it’s called a castle is unknown to all of us. The lone attendant within the Captain’s private chambers told us Castle Soave was used for centuries a military fortress for several reasons to protect the town from the neighboring community. It was originally built in the 10th century, the twenty-five-foot-high, two-foot-thick rock walls were built around the town to defend against an attack. Within the highest reaches, two floors exist; one for the Captain (the Italian version of a General) and then a lower level, rather small room for the guards. The remaining part of the rampart was all watchtowers and fighting stations.
From this areal view shot by my drone, you get an idea of the size of Soave proper, the fortress wall a clear line of demarcation.
The armory and guards station is rather small, with attendant saying the room slept only five guards at a time. The rest were on duty around the clock. The Captains private floor has four gracious rooms, the foyer, where he received his soldiers and visitors, his table and three-seat bench in front of a floor to ceiling fireplace. To the left is his bedroom, the ornate bed, armoir and facilities far fancier than the Prince’s rooms in Germany and Switzerland. The Italians knew how to carve a thousand years back! To the right of the foyer is the eating area then library. Up the steps from the library is the Captains private garden, a spot of greenery where he could presumably plot his next battle plan. To the left is the escape door which isn’t concealed at all. If the man needed to use it, speed was the factor, not illusion.
This is the Captain’s escape door off his private garden. It’s thought never to have been used. Little factoid: the last Captain murdered the ruling family in cold blood, ruled himself for 20 years, then was killed in battle with the sword. Served him right.
My favorite part
The best part of this inner military area was the prison. Approximately 100 feet high, all capital punishment was conducted in this chamber of death. The top three floors (each with levels) were designated for nastiness (beheadings, dismemberment etc.) and the bottom floor was essentially the pit where the castoffs, sometimes entire bodies, were thrown down. Then every so often, they’d light the fire, but nary a phoenix would rise from those ashes. The tour guide told us that when the castle was opened to the public, human bones dating from the 1300’s were found.
It was a bad day for a prisoner who displeased the ruling Captain.
The weather in wine country
We didn’t know the afternoon rains so common in Switzerland were equivalent in Italy. We were up on the ramparts, looking down to the valley when it started dumping. From the highest rampart, where we walked the Captains private gardens and escape door leading directly out of the castle, down to his entrance, we were soaked through. But it was so warm that our clothes were dry and hair frizzy when we reached the car.
The upper courtyard, and steps leading to the Captain’s private quarters. The door below is for the soldiers who rotated eating and sleeping shifts in groups of five.
With the weather once again cooperating, we walked the streets, enjoyed our second serving of gelato and appreciated yet another town that seems to have been passed over by every tourist, “influencer” and Trip Advisor writer.
The Captain’s private dining room (upper left) the guards rooms (upper right) and the first courtyard leading to the upper courtyard.
What I’ve loved about the area
Finding a castle that’s rarely written about, seeing miles and miles of Verona, the old and new, past and present.
The Castle less-visited: with tourists sparse, no ticketing agent, metal detector or guide. Just walk up to the care takers office (where he sits with his dog on the floor) Upper left. The second doorway has a downgate, not a drawbridge, but includes a standard door for good measure. Me squatting so you can see the better view of the town behind me.
What I haven’t
The bugs! Oh. My. Gosh. Why hasn’t a single person in the history of man written about the ‘no-see’ems’ that come out when the heat of the day starts to ebb, changing from blistering to merely humidly hot? It’s so bad that in the thirty seconds it took to walk from my car to the front door, I got nailed by seven little wizards of torture. When we were at the pharmacy to pick up my prescriptions (from the next blog on the unexpected Italian hospital visit I had to make the second day here), the pharmacist asked if we’d been bitten at all, and we nodded vigorously. She produced a tube of cream that I have carried everywhere for three days, applying to the red dots of purgatory on all of our skin.
You don’t need to be a lover of wine to enjoy and appreciate Verona. It’s centrally located to zip down to Milan, over to Venice and not far from Lake Como. We are headed next to Salzburg, Austria, which is about as far as either Milan and Lake Como at three and a half hours. Definitely plan a few days, perhaps at a bed and breakfast or home to really soak up the local culture.
Feature photo: shot from the village walking up.
The original castle of Fussen
Hohenschwangau, or Castle of the Swans, as the tour guide explained, is based in a simple fact that we’d never before heard: swans, as in a pair, male and female, dominate a single lake. Around this area of Fussen, many lakes exist, and for each lake, no matter the size, it has only a single pair, as they are very territorial. The entire valley is called “Valley of the Swans” for this reason. The knights wore embroidered patches on their arms as their insignia, and the rulers of Bavaria who inhabited this castle, have swans everywhere, from the solid silver chandelier hanging in the king’s private chambers, to the solid silver swans located on major artifacts and pieces. It’s all about the swans.
Hohenschwangau, pronounced, Hohen-shwong-gow, (say that a few times, because I did, until the tour guide stopped grimacing at my inabilities), is in the opposite direction of its sister castle, Nueschwanstein. Skipping over hundreds of years of details (sorry, I only have so much time), King Maximillian and his wife Marie of Prussia raised their two sons here. Prince Ludwig, who never married, decided to outdo this castle and built Nueschwanstein. We saw the room where he installed his telescope to watch the construction of the massive castle, which is much more imposing on the outside by far, but lacks the intricate details on the inside. He was single, he had nothing better to do than fight with his mom (tour guides off-the-cuff remarks, not mine), so why not build a castle 300,000 people from around the world would one day come see?
As you can see, the front entrance is far more familial and less imposing that the castle built by Maximillian’s son, Ludwig. The outdoor courtyard in the upper right, the view from the what’s essentially the deck to Nueschwanstein
Since I already detailed the roads, parking and walk to Nueschwanstein, I’ll skip that part and go right to the castle. Just below the castle itself is another lot available for parking, and the lake which is not actually open to swimmers, but as the tour guide said, people come (not hundreds, but dozens) and use the shoreline. No one will get fined or arrested, but it does worry the locals and tourists, because they are increasingly trying to lure the swans in and feed them. This year, the mating pair only had a single duckling, and a tourist from China was caught trying to kick it to take a selfie. Pictures were taken and she was escorted off premises. Word to the not-so-wise: don’t kick the swans.
The “back entrance” for servants, as their building is adjacent to this (not pictured)
If you are walking up from the ticket office, or down from Nueschwanstein, it’s only another 10 minutes up another pathway, this one much narrower but still paved. It’s shaded as well, and not a big deal. The first building you see is the chapel, which from the outside looks more like a hothouse. Then up to the main house, which consists of two buildings, one for the servants, storage, carriages and the like, and the other is the primary residence.
This castle is what I’d describe as a “family castle” where it was actually used like a home–or rather a nice, summer retreat. And since you don’t want to leave for church, just have your own on site.
For $28 Euro, two adults and two children receive audio-guided tours. You have an actual tour guide, which controls the flow of 20 people through the 35-minute session, ensuring you stay together, don’t take any pictures or items, although that would be hard, since everything is behind glass barriers. The rooms are cool, since each room has windows that have been left open; and the views are awe-inspiring. Built on the top of the mountain, the castle has 360-degree views of lake, mountains and valley. The Queen Marie (formerly of Prussia) had an entire floor to herself, including music, writing, waiting and bedrooms, each looking out to different parts of the territory. Just above her on the top floor is the King’s quarters. In his room, he had two secret doors with painted murals, one for the bathroom and the other for his stairs leading down to his wife’s bedroom. Love those sneaky doors.
The shield on the left was a wedding gift made of solid silver, each of the small square pieces represents the coat of arms of a wealthy family who contributed to its creation. Behind it is an ax and a sword (yes, you could touch it). To the right was a gift to Maximillian for his 80th birthday. The corners are bronze, the blue is lapiz and what you can’t see are detailed monograms made of diamonds.
The other area open for the tour is the main entryway, the reception and dining areas, as well as the what would be considered the main entertaining areas on either side of the dining hall. The unique factor of this castle is much that every wall has original, mural paintings on every wall, capturing and depicting the history of the people, the rulers and the culture significance of the area. Gold leaf is everything, it too is authentic and original. The Bavarian guides are people are rightly proud of the respect shown this castle, and its significance. We appreciated the piano made of walnut given to the Queen when she was fifteen by her parents (in her music room) and the contrast of the one made and used by the King upstairs in his bedroom (hers was nicer/more refined).
Swans everywhere! This time in the garden overlooking the lake beyond.
The town of Fussen
Below both castles is the town of Fussen, which offers a ton of hotels, but not in the traditional, American style. Most are rather hidden, are unassuming and all unique to this culture. You won’t find a single, big-name, brand hotel in the area, which is a good thing. In fact, the hotels are considered historical sites, and signs posted along the roadways show a “hotel tour” so tourists can go visit each and every one. After finished our visits, we were game, and thought, why not? After four, we stopped, but only because we were starving and needed to eat and drive the @2 hrs back home. The ones we saw were lovely (and no, I didn’t take pics. I only have so much time/blog space).
The town is lovely, quaint and also offers Fusseen Castle, but this is a completely different style. My camera battery died (shame on me) so I only got a couple of pics.
A singular pic before my camera croaked, but it the rest of it was much more majestic, although in no way comparable to either of the other two castles- this is much more basic, at least from the outside.
What I liked
The situation of the castle, the views from every window, its ornate and detailed characteristics, and the outdoors, which are incomparably nicer than Nueschwanstein. You can tell this was more of a family castle, because it has gardens, fountains, sitting areas and touches completely lacking at the grand Nueschwanstein. That’s what I’d call a man’s castle. In fact, this castle was simply deserted by comparison.
Fussen had a festival the weekend we went, which really meant more food for us!
Another day, another million calories consumed. What you don’t see is the actual “garden” in the back, past the people on the upper left. As with most beer gardens, it’s a tree-covered area where people drink beer. Rog is always incensed that sparkling water is $6 Euros a bottle, whereas a beer is about a single Euro. Porsche asked politely if he would rather she took up drinking to save him money. Snap.
What I disliked
Nothing. It was all good! The path up, the tour (size, length, tenor and information) were great. Of course, we all want to see more—which would have included the downstairs of the castle, and the other building, but life is life. Castle operations are a business, and with the volume of people and tours, I’ll have to reach another level in this life to get the private, see-it-all view.
Absolutely do this tour if you are a history buff. Like Nueschwanstein, walking the grounds is free of charge, but the inside is not to be missed.
After 38 years, I finally made it
Today’s castle-going journey is being split in to two separate blogs because I have too many photos, and suspect WordPress will collapse on me, which happens when I push it, which means Castle Nueschwanstien in one and Hohenschwangau (Hohen is Castle) in another.
A clear shot from the paved road up, where you can walk, or have a horse-drawn carriage (like Cinderella, actually, but without the slippers).
The shout-out to my 79 mom is important because it was she who gifted me a calendar of castles when I was twelve. On the cover was Schloss (Castle) Nueschwanstien, which seared itself in my mind as the end-all-be-all of castles, and places to visit. For years, I promised myself that when I “arrived”, I’d go. Little did I know it would take me decades to arrive! In truth, it wasn’t that I couldn’t have gone before. It was just a tad out of the way when I’d go to Berlin, Hamburg or Hannover for business and later, with Rog and the girls, heading to southern Germany never made the top five on our list. Today, we realized that we were a lot closer than we realized, which made our visit that much more…how shall I say, impactful (embarrassing would be another word). We shouldn’t have waited.
Fun fact: this castle is conventionally known as “The Cinderella Castle,” because Walt Disney famously said he modeled the castle the animated movie on Nueschwanstien.
Cinderella lives, just like Elvis
We were north about 90 minutes, the drive was fast, per usual, the traffic nil, despite us learning it was the weekend of a fair in the nearest town of Fussen. As a side note, we later learned the family history of the three castles I mentioned, and it was sort of “I’m going to out-do-you” mentality, regardless of the fact the parties were related. That made it all the more interesting.
An incredibly beautiful journey to the region, the town just outside Fussen and a pic of the mountains as we head to our destination.
The closest major town is Munich, but it’s not too far from Lichtenstein and Switzerland. On the Autobahn, time is always cut in half, so that’s something to keep in mind.
Arrival and parking was a breeze. Straight off the freeway about five minutes, in town, parking nearest the castle is to the right, with a sign identifying it was full, so we turned left, took a ticket and parked, front row. Tip: make sure you have 7 Euro in coins with you because they don’t take credit cards for parking and this can’t be purchased on line (we didn’t know this).
Tickets and prices
A short walk of five minutes to the one and only ticket counter, and another $28 Euro for two adults, as kids are free (at least 13 and under). Because we arrived at 2, our choices were limited for tours; either the Nueschwanstien or the Hohenschwangau Castle, but we couldn’t do both. We asked the ticket agent for his insight, and he balked. My husband, ever the man, leaned in, and asked, “if it were you, and it was your money, what would you do?” At this, the agent glanced around and told us the skinny.
“Take the Hohenschwangau,” he answered in a low voice. “The Nueschwanstien tour has 60 people for a 20-minute tour, and it’s so crowded you will hate it. The Hohenschwangau is limited to 20 people and a 35-minute tour, and it’s much better preserved.”
That was it. The translators are available in multiple languages, the most important being Mandarin from the number of visitors predominantly from China.
The view from the lot is top right and below, while the upper left is the building adjacent from the ticket office (which wasn’t nearly as pretty).
The journey up
Our time was in fact, very limited, because we were told the walk up to the world-famous castle of my dreams, Nueschwanstien, would take 30 minutes, unless we were going to take the horse-drawn carriage. None of that for us. Then we’d take some pictures around the external premises and inside courtyards, because it is open and free to the public. Only the tours charge a fee. We’d then have to go down, and walk back up the other hillside to Hohenschwangau.
Fortunately, the only sun on the way up is right at the base of the hill, the rest of the rather steep road is paved and in the shade. One shortcut on dirt stairs is available, and we watched an American couple and friend hand carry their stroller (with two kids) up the stairs—hundreds of feet. We were impressed.
By foot or carriage, the scenery is stunning
Sitting on the top step was a man drinking his bottle. He was in good spirits, inviting us to sit by him, but we thanked him and continued; stopping was not an option. I was going to reach that darn calendar destination!
Halfway up is a rest station, consisting of two restaurants and an ice cream station. Sweating profusely, we continued up, reaching the top in another 10 minutes. Once at the castle, you can turn left or right. Left will take you up and around an side of the castle that’s being restored; the west-facing side towards the valley and lake beyond. Then you read the massive entry doors, walk in (again, all of this is free). You can take pictures in the courtyard, or continue up another set of stairs which takes you to the “real” main square. This area reminds me of Robin Hood, where the King walks out on the deck to great the crowds, but without the king.
The first thing you see from the base of the castle.
Back down the stairs you go, and those taking the tour look to the electronic sign identifying the next group. Through the turnstiles you go. The rest of us walk down, then back around the other side of the castle. It does have an overhanging, metal grate with invisible decking for pictures to the east, overlooking the rushing river below. It was freaky and awesome at the same time, and I thought I was going to get crushed by the onslaught of foreigners with selfie sticks, all battling for the corner spot. And I thought us Americans were bad!
The main castle entrance
The “bottom” entry courtyard, which requires one to walk left, and up the stone stairway to the courtyard
The main courtyard on one side….
And turning around is this opposite facing…all the views are to the valley
What I liked most
The castle is all I imagined it to be and more. In both this castle and Hohenschwangau, the artifacts are original, not replicas. If you’ve not been to lots of castles (we’ve visited 15 or so thus far), it might surprise you to learn that most everything inside is a replica, because the value is high, as is the risk of damage or theft. It’s just fun seeing all the gifts from other royalty and such, knowing they are the real deal.
Coming down from the castle…
Nothing that can be changed. It was disappointing to hear from the staff that it’s overcrowded, the tours so big and fast—but even this I have to defend a bit. We learned more from the staff that tourists had taken too many liberties with the original items—from silverware to lamps, coats of arms, porcelain etc., and event destroying items on the wall. For that reason, about 90% of Nueschwanstien is closed off. What a bummer, but it proves the sad saying true: the actions of the few destroy it for the many. GRRR
Absolutely. It’s a feat of mankind for a person to have a vision for a castle perched on a hillside as well as the fortitude and engineers to design and construct the structure.
Feature picture: taking on site!
Both come with small townships, local people and not a word of English
Ok. Maybe a word. Hello. that’s what we got and we were thankful for it. The rest of the time, we used Google Translate and smiled a lot.
Day two/37 amounted to three hundred miles , two castles, a butcher-bakery, finding our rental and trying to make an honest Bavarian food fair. Disappointment faded with the people, service and incredible cuisine however, and we ended the day at midnight, while I stayed up until 3 a.m. converting photos and writing blogs. ha.
No speed limits: everyone loves the Autobahn
Shooting down the Autobahn, where no speed limit exists, is the real reason we came to Europe, or so I teased him. He experienced nirvana for about 300 miles and I didn’t blink an eye. 100 mph are normal, and we were getting passed at 110. I won’t tell you how fast he got that Audi A6 touring mobile going as I want my mother alive and happy, not angry or dead.
Zipping through the mountains, we see this incredible (put perfectly normal) feat of German engineering–this unbelievable bridge connecting two mountains, and why? Because why go twenty miles around when that can be shortened to about 2, that’s why. No stopping allowed, so I did my best between trees going way-to-fast.
German roads are ‘da-bomb’ as my daughter said, and we made good time from Aachen through the countryside to our first stop at Burg Berghausen Castle in Keppen in upper Bavaria. This is a manor that didn’t even show up on Wikipedia or any other searches pre-trip, but our car (and Audi A6 touring sedan) showed it on our dashboard, we were going right by anyway, so thought, why not?
Each experience we created this day is special. The soaring tree which made us stop and say: God created this. The second was me thinking: I may need to write a book about a person inheriting a castle, and the last shot, with the girls, was taking as we hypothesized what the evening was going to be like for the couple getting married this evening, and the reception to be held on the deck behind us. What a night it will be for that couple.
It’s more of a manor than castle, but rightly got the designation because it has a bridge with a moat and lake at the backside. Across from the main building are large stables, servants quarters and substantial armory at the front entrance. It’s privately held, open only for special events, but walking the lawns and parks around is open and free. Muskrats the size of a small dog ate feet away from us, and a whole family of four (parents and little ones) waddled right on up expecting to be fed, as did the single, large swan in the lake and loads of ducks. The visit was short but impactful, with Rog and the girls identifying the muskrats and hundred-foot beech trees being their favorite parts.
The horse stables, side of the castle and another angle of the front
The world’s largest, tame muskrat, swan and servants quarters
Local eats in Keppen
Despite the luxurious foods offered at the rest stops, we wanted real German delicacies. Not two minutes in to town we found it at the town’s one and only butchery/bakery. Potato salad, the likes only found in my mother’s kitchen went hand in hand with marzipan and almond pastries, as well as sausage and cold cuts. It was sweet and salty, just the way I like it—so much that I took a pic of the mother-of-all bread making stoves and cajoled the owner to take a selfie. Her first ever. She was so embarrassed, she was fussing over her hair and giggling like a schoolgirl the entire time.
Today, Rog had his vehicular nirvana while mine was culinary. The marzipan pastry as long as Rog’s hand and the little town of Keppen. This was 5 pm-ish. Rush hour.
A note on Keppen: every person here has been incredibly kind and polite, but speak functional English (hello) at best. We have not met a single person (in two days) who speaks conversational English, although we have two more days so things may change. I’ll keep you posted!
About ten minutes later, we were in Saffig, going up a dirt road to visit the local castle, which is only named Saffig Castle, another one that showed up on our Audio roadmap but not on Google or any listing anywhere! This castle is seriously old (13th century) and is undergoing complete restoration. Personally, I like the old, original stone, and we weren’t allowed to take any photos. Side note: we get that a lot, but usually ignore it, because it’s a ploy to get us to purchase stock photography. Yet sometimes, I ask for permission and get the wink and nod, thus allaying my guilt. That’s what happened with Castle Burg, but not here. I actually received a scowl instead of the nod, so I dutifully put away my camera, but did manage a single shot through the trees as we left the area.
My off-premises shot through the trees. See what I’m talking about on the restoration above? It looks fake and call me a traditionalist, but I like the original.
Our Bavarian rental
This time around, we wanted the fully country experience, which included cows, farmland, locals and meeting more German folks. We loved and appreciated going to towns where English wasn’t spoken at all, because it forced us to speak the language (or at least use Google Translate). Our desire came true with a home in Kammeltal, (pronounced like Camel-tall). From VRBO, we found the home, and are presently perched on the top floor of a two-story home, with three bedrooms, two baths, two balcony’s and modern kitchen, with views to overlooking the small town on one side, and farmland on the other. The backyard is grass, a trampoline and hothouse garden, all for our use. Check in time was 9, and we arrived at 8:40. It’s light here until 10:30, just like Coeur d’Alene. Our German hostess/owner and her family live below us, but we’ve only had a single sighting, which I expect will continue. The house, street and neighborhood are local, mostly older folks who ride their bikes the few blocks in to town—which is a completely different look, feel and style from Ashford, and that’s what we love. One day and veritable world away from what we experienced the day prior.
A few shots of our authentic Bavarian home
Baby room, front and back yard
What I love
People walk their dogs through farmland, which means strips of gravel separating wheat and corn fields, instead of paved paths alongside freeways or streets.
What I don’t
Only four restaurants exist that only has its name listed, without any other details. But the 4 km drive in one direction gives us one town, a 6 km drive in another direction gave us Gunzburg, and that’s where we went for dinner.
Even before we knew that all four restaurants closed Friday night at 8 p.m. in Kammeltall, we were intending on hitting the food festival. Sadly, we missed that too! Yet the (slightly larger) town of Gunzburg has a much bigger Old-town/downtown (because a new/modern area doesn’t exist as of today). Fun fact: Gunzurg was founded in 70 b.c., although it does look slightly more updated. It features its own main square, where we found Greek, German and lots of outdoor pubs but after 9, only serve appetizers and drinks. Fortunately, one superb Italian restaurant is open until 11, and we were seated by the owner, referred to as “Uncle.” Love that. Pure Italian through and through, but has lived in Germany for 30 years. I’ll let the pictures do the talking, but suffice it to say we want to go back to Guntia again before we leave, eventho we will be in Italy for 5 days in another week.
Our dining experience in Gunburg was tops, the freshly made mozzarella caprese my favorite
Daughter number 1 passing out on #2’s lap, who then enjoys sparkling water at the white table clothe experience of Guntia
Feature photo: Burg Berghausen Castle
Three castles, one McDonald’s and lots and lots of money
One afternoon in Zurich we decided to get in the car and just drive towards the Alps. Somewhere along the way was a sign for Lichtenstein, and we had nothing better to do so we hung a left off the A1 and bingo, ended up in another country. Given that we were entering from Zurich, the first town is Vaduz, the capital.
Vaduz castle, in the capital city of Lichtenstein
My previous reference to the country was a place where the excruciatingly wealthy of the world park their money. Funny thing is that in the US, bastions of money means huge, ornate buildings, fancy cars and snappy suits. Here, the environment is so understated you’d have no idea of what lurks behind the mostly grey, mostly one-story buildings. No flashy cars, just a single McDonald’s and corner cafes, which are themselves, nothing more than metal tables and chairs.
Still, we arrived mostly in the company of summer road bikers, nearly all on BMW touring bikes, their outfits not leather, but mesh, because as we were told, they “breathe better.”
About a mile or two inside the fourth smallest country in Europe is the town of Vaduz, pretty much the one and only city. It’s home to the Prince who lives in a great castle which is off-limits to tours (bummer) a few parks and lots of great shops for chocolate. As an aside, I know you are likely sick of my fixation of chocolate by now, but some people have wine, others coffee, me chocolate. Sorry. At least I can tell you what to purchase on Amazon, for most of it is in fact, for sale over here.
There are two interesting castles to visit, nonetheless. Some of which must be done on foot, because the hub is car-free on purpose. The winy roads rival Lake Cuomo for the width (which is about arms-length wide) and the goal (we presume) is to get visitors to spend more money on the local shops.
The Rhine cuts through the country, and nearly every exit off the A1 offers up a park. And keep in mind that there aren’t that many exits and then you are out of the country.
Even though it’s not open to the public, take the path and walk up the 150 meters to take pictures. It’s lovely and really, just standing by all the wealth in this micro-country makes me feel good at a seriously temporal level.
This is definitely my favorite castle in all of Europe-and it’s likely the smallest. First, it sits on an island of rock that juts up and out, requiring access by bridge. Second, it has a really cool ‘hunting room’ with the original pedestal the hunters would use to stand up and retell their adventures of killing the local boar with one of the original steins that line the upper molding of the room. Third, it has a “mistress” door for the Lord of the manner to sneak out and have a moment with his lady friend. The upper rooms, which are very small and off limits (though we cajoled a peek) are upstairs in the turret-area of the castle. The tour is SO worth it, you must, must, must do it. This castle has a great scene between Danielle (the American expat) and Zurich-born Andre, which is wrote specifically around this destination in the first book of the trilogy, Made for Me.
This is one of the few castles in all of Europe that offer such a glorious, unobstructed perch from which to take photos
Keep an eye out for the funky elements of the area. Rog found a side entrance for the dog, which begat my tongue-i-cheek phrases that when I get my next castle, I’m definitely going to make sure I have that bat-cave door for my four-legged companions.
The nearby armory to ward off the
The day was beautiful, crowds light and completely family-friendly. Easy parking with a bit of a walk in the heat (uphill) but no too bad. Pictures are not allowed inside the castle, as they encourage postcards, so my law-abiding self had to make do with the pics from all the angles possible.
Just a short distance away is the armory. Factoid: during WWII, the Germans tried to bomb the castle but succeeded in damaging only a fraction of the structure; the rest remained completely intact.
Two hikes are definitely worth making the effort. The first is the Prince’s Way Hike and the Eagle’s Way Hike. One thing I seriously love about Lichtenstein is they offer up a site detailing the location, level of challenge and more details so you can be fully prepared. (Unlike the States where it’s more of: you paid the park entry fee, good luck!) Check out this link for the details for the available hikes.
When we got hungry, literally no restaurants were open because we arrived (apparently) at an odd hour. The McDonald’s was crammed with road bikers, but the notion of being in Europe and eating at the sole fast-food restaurant in the country was a little offensive. So, we kept wandering up and down the side streets (below the no-car zone) and finally found an open restaurant. Rog had never had boar before, and I wanted authentic as well, so I just pointed and ordered, loving the meat, potatoes and schnitzel.
A lake that’s called a swimming pool
Now this was interesting. We were boiling up and thought- okay, we’ll see what’s around. The Grossabuent Leisure Centre popped up, and since it is billed as a swimming facility, we thought pool. Well, we look up the website and laughed, reading that it’s actually a lake, but billed as a non-chemical swimming area, so it’s named a Centre. Got all that?
The random monastery/church on the hill. We got lost, found a church-basilica overlooking the entire town and took a look around. Honestly, I think some of our best pictures came on that hour side-adventure, and I’m sorry/embarrassed to say I can’t find the name of the place—one reason why I MUST start writing these blogs real time during my travel. (and NO, this isn’t the Cathedral of Vaduz, also known as the Cathedral of St. Florin. This is way smaller.
One of my personal favorite subjects is cemeteries or gravesites. They can be so exquisitely personal and though provoking I am always taking photos- so shame on me. I can’t recall the name of the actual destination but adore the photos! Arg!
We love churches when the architecture, grounds and vibe is different from what we’ve previously seen. The Cathedral in Vaduz offers that, but then we found another, smaller church that for the life of me, I can’t recall the name. Perhaps one of my readers can help me! The pictures speak for themselves, especially the cemeteries.
I love cemeteries. We learned that this one was/is reserved for only the most stalwart families.
Gutenburg Castle in Balzurs
Open to the public after May 1 through October, the tours are by appointment only, and relatively limited, including the gardens and the chapel specifically. It’s also available for weddings upon request. The view from the grounds, however, are awesome and should definitely be seen.
After that, the tour of the country is pretty much over, well, unless you are there to discuss your gazillion-dollar account with a financial advisor. Sorry, can’t give you a recommendation on that one.
Feature image: in front of Lichtenstein Castle
Close and far, Karlstejn and Cesky are not to be missed
When we were visiting the Karlstejn Castle outside Prague, I had roughly ten minutes of wait-time while Roger waited in the ticket line with the girls. Me being me, I’m scoping the scene before me, immediately zoning in on a tall man with a slobbering bull mastiff by his side. I wander over, dropping down to my knees, asking if I can pet his beautiful male mastiff. His eyebrows raised, and then it occurred to me I was awfully arrogant thinking the man could speak English.
“Of course, you may,” he replied in perfect English albeit with a Czech accent.
We get to talking because I’m an author, I ask questions, and learn the dogs name is Saffron, as in the herb. The reason he was outside the castle instead of in, was because it has a no dogs allowed policy, which he didn’t know. I learn he’s a contractor who specializes in private homes, and was a wealth of information what to see and visit.
The wonderful man who told us about Czesky and let me pet his beautiful mastiff Saffron!
“Have you been to Cesky Krumlov?” he asked me. Before I could answer, he told me I definitely need to go. “It’s the best thing you’ll see in the Republic.”
That was quite a statement, especially since we’d been in
and around Prague, but he was so fervent I told Rog about it, and after we finished
with our day at Karlstejn Castle, we cleared the deck for the next day and
This is a castle on the smaller side compared to Czesky Krumlov and the Prague Castle, but it has features we enjoyed. The 30-minute walk up on the white stones, and the tour takes less than an hour. The services are quite limited in terms of food and gifts, but the views are lovely. Because of its convenience to Prague, and it’s Gothic structure, it’s considered one of the top tourists’ destinations. You might think it would be really busy, but it wasn’t. We walked right up, and twenty minutes later we were in.
The walk up to Karlstejn almost resembles this rocky terrain–kidding–not kidding. It’s the opposite of Cesky
A few of my favorite snapshot memories are the small gardens below the walkways connecting the two buildings that were used for the ladies of the castle. The tour was also fantastic. We were incredibly grateful the majority of our small group of 12 spoke English (we were with a group of Australians) or we would have had to hear the tour in German and their rules is majority rules.
The original walkways connecting the buildings and the outer gardens below
What struck us most about this building were the size of the rooms, which are all compact, but we understood why when we got to the staterooms. The original, wooden beds where the King slept was sooo small!! And the height of the doorways was also very small. Back then, the people overall, were quite a bit shorter than we are today. The paintings were amazing, and we were most struck by the room where all the portraits of the royals hung around the room. The chapel stands out, and above all, near the end of the tour, we saw the replicas of all the tiaras and jewels. The real ones had long since been replaced with fakes, but they were still pretty neat to see (boy, those real jewels are HUGE).
Cesky Krumlov and the town of Cesky
According the history, the town of Krumlov was created around the castle by the Lords of Krumlov. Over 300 medieval buildings surround the town, along with the Vltava River. The grounds are large, the river wandering around the base of the castle goes through the town and beyond. We parked probably ten minutes from the castle, and walked through the town to get to the castle. Unlike the short tour of Karlstejn, this castle and town requires a day trip.
An original lower entrance for Cesky, and the Vltava River where you can boat, canoe or swim alongside
Forty buildings reside in the castle complex, with galleries, towers, churches, most open to the public. We thought one of the greatest parts was walking up the long entry way used by the previous Lords of the castle. Imagine being in a horse-drawn carriage and entering a long, stone laid driveway that’s 100% covered, the ground treatment perfectly laid and matched in the color of muted yellow. As I mentioned to Rog, it was the medieval version of the Batcave entrance except above ground.
The drive for those in the carriage might have been a few minutes, but to walk, it was about twenty. You go up, and up, and up, and I regret not taking pictures, but I was working hard!
Sorry about the iPhone pics but this was the best I could do! Left: the restaurant we ended up eating at (where they were nice–keep reading), right: walking from town to the Castle.
Then the levels and options within the castle are many, as
are the perches, each providing unobstructed views down to the town. The original
Lords knew how to position the castle, but we didn’t see a single view which
Almost lost a daughter
One of the things we love about Europe is the general lack of rules, restrictions and sometimes, guardrails. If you see a dangerous animal and want to put your hand it, no second line of protection stops you. It’s more like the universal DNA test of nature; if you are dumb enough to stick your hand in, then you deserve to lose it.
Colorful and quaint is the town
So, it was with Cesky Krumlov. No long-fanged carnivores, but multiple ledges without protective rails. My precocious six-year-old jumped up on one ledge and nearly toppled over the edge, which would have been a 700-foot drop to their death. I’d been partially turned to Rog when she leapt up, turned just in time to grab her foot while my other daughter caught her waist. We were able to stop her forward momentum, my oldest daughter at nine and myself just held her tight, and then I pretty much lost it. Never before or since have I ever gotten that close to death, and all I can say is this: watch your kids because it’s Europe, and I’m pretty sure I was the one who’d have been arrested for not being mindful.
A pic of the town of Cesky through a peek-hole, and the embrace after our youngest almost fell off the ledge….still shaking.
The trip is going to take you roughly 4-5 hours, because we kept to the speed limit and it was 4.5. We arrived around eleven, just as it started to sprinkle, but it stopped as we were inside, and we thought the grey clouds totally romantic. The tour we took was in English and completely worth it.
We then went down in to town for dinner, taking our time to walk up and down the streets. From the small, original bridges covering the brooks and streams to the bistros, cafes and restaurants, we were enchanted.
We had only one unfortunate experience during our time in Cesky, and this actually was relatively common in our journeys: it’s what I call kid-discrimination. The fact is that not all destinations, restaurants or eateries welcome kids, even those who are quiet and well-mannered. We entered to two restaurants—not bars, mind you, but actual eateries, and at the first, the hostess said: “We don’t serve children.” As we saw teens probably 13 and above, we were perplexed, but left. We walked a few doors down and although the male host scowled when he saw our girls, he sat us anyway, but get this, not on the main floor, next to the water, where four tables sat open (picture the windows open, the stream going by—enchanting), but he put us upstairs, in the far corner where the windows were closed and no air conditioning. Again, we were perplexed but went with it, right up until others were being served and we weren’t-water or menus. Finally, after about ten minutes, we just got up and left.
On the way out, Roger had a word with the host, and he straight up told Roger that restaurants are for adults and we should have known better. Well, then!
Culture is culture, and we weren’t delusional enough to think that we could change opinions and attitudes, so we adjusted our approach. Very politely, we approached the next restaurant, also by the Vltava River and still in town, asking the host if they minded children. He smiled and said “Of course! Come in!” We proceeded to have the most glorious, authentic dinner of pork, potatoes, noodles, soups and my favorite, hot chocolate that was more like thick, hazelnut mousse.
This is how happy I am when the chocolate hazelnut mousse is as thick as pudding. Yum!
Cesky was, and still is, hands down, our favorite town outside a castle, and we have another full day booked for our upcoming trip this summer.
Couldn’t help myself–I’d taken another selfie with Saffron just to show how big he was and how much he slobbered. LOVE that dawg
Feature photo: taken from one of the decks at the Karlstejn Castle