Ceské Budejovice

The commercial and political hub of southern Bohemia, Ceské Budejovice is probably best known in the rest of the world for its eponymous beer, Budvar - and that brewery's long-running feud with Annheiser Busch over naming rights. The city, established in 1265 as a "King's City", has charm and history to spare and the beer, which even most locals concede to be relatively inferior in a land of plenty, is the least of them. Considered a sleepy outpost of the republic (it's a short drive to the Austrian border), Ceské Budejovice is beginning to wake up, pulling in more and more tourists and even working expats to sample its curious history and quaint medieval streets.

For centuries, the city's wealth was based on the salt trade and its silver mines, but Josef Hardtmuth, who ran an earthenware factory here in the eighteenth century, discovered a way of mixing graphite with clay, baking it and sandwiching the resultant "leads" between two bits of wood to produce the world's first pencils. After setting up the KOH-I-NOOR pencil factory in Vienna, he ended up moving it to Ceské Budejovice in 1848 where it became a major employer of the local community.

Nonetheless, it may take some time for Ceské Budejovice to overcome its reputation as a lazy, relaxed city. As Petr Soukup, Editor in Chief of regional newspaper publisher, Deníky Bohemia, says, "On the map, we are at the bottom of the country. And we are exceptionally good at hiding there." But times may be changing. Aside from its beautiful center and interesting history, the city is beginning to show signs of its more cosmopolitan, historical roots.There's even a new wine tasting shop in town - "French wines only!" sniffs the proprietor. Vive l'Europe! Here's a quick tour…

Old Town & Main Square
The town square, a 10-minute walk from the bus and train stations, is one of the largest in Europe at a perfect one hectare around. Arguably the most beautiful square in the country, the 600 year old design has proved so effective that locals actually drive through the center instead of around it in order to cross from one part of the city to another. The Samson's fountain at the center was once the town's only source of drinking water. You will immediately notice the colorful Baroque Town Hall, built in 1727-30 by Antonius Erhard Martinelli, and framed by the statues of Fairness, Wisdom, Caution and Bravery, representing the 4 virtues of a citizen. Most of the buildings on the square were originally Gothic but rebuilt during the Renaissance, after a great fire in 1641. Legend has it that somewhere, moving about the square, is the "bludný kámen", a stone on which the city gallows once stood. The unwary visitor who is unlucky enough to step on it will never find his way home, which may explain the dozens of tourists you can see wandering around, peering at their maps.

Black Tower
Constructed in 1550-1577, the tower is 72 meters high and has 225 winding stairs (no elevator). It was used as a bell and a watchtower and is climbed today mostly for the panoramic view it affords of the city, although a new trend is to use it as a location for weddings. As a nod to modern neuroses, a chain fence now protects homesick travellers and lovesick locals from plummeting to the pavement - a habit that at one point occurred almost monthly. OPEN 10 a.m. - 18.00, 10 CZK.

Dominican Monastery
The construction of the Dominican Church began in 1265 and was finished in the 14th century. The Dominican Order had its seat here till the 16th century, then it was used by the mint. Several years later the Dominican order came back, till 1785. From 1885 to the 20th century the order of Redemptorists used the monastery. Just north-west of the square Mo-Sa 10:00-12:00, 14:00-19:00, Su 9:30-12:00. 14:00-19:00.

Horse Railway Station
One of the symbols of this city is the horse-drawn railway, which used to connect Ceské Budejovice with Linz, the first "train connection" on mainland Europe. In Budejovice some of the sights of railway route can still be visited and are mapped out in the museum itself, which contains a small exhibition. Anecdotally, it is interesting to note Ceské Budejovice's history as a transport hub, both by rail and of course by river - the major conduit for the salt trade in past centuries. Today, the region is characterized by the rest of the country for being "slow" - and, in fact, there is not a single kilometer of 4-lane highway in the whole of southern Bohemia! Just walk south from the tourist office until you hit the ring road. You will see the station by the side of the road. Mánesova Tu-Su 9:00-17:30 6 CZK

Out of Town
Ceské Budejovice is the perfect launch pad for regional excursions. Rudolfov is a silver mining village from the 16th and 17th centuries, where you can visit St. Vitus' Church, a small castle, Baroque ammunitions stores and the Rudolfov Museum.

Only 8 km from Budejovice lies the town of Hluboká nad Vltavou, where you can visit the Hluboká nad Vltavou Castle, rebuilt as a copy of Windsor Castle in Britain between 1840 and 1871 in Neo-Gothic style, the Charles Castle (14th century) and many other interesting monuments. Hluboká also boasts the smallest zoo in central Europe - but it´s very pretty and the animals are well looked after. You can get there by car, train, bus or/and bike. Frequent buses depart from Ceské Budejovice for Borsov nad Vltavou, with the Porici Castle, the St. Jacob the Bigger Church. From here you can visit the Vltava Valley, the ruins of the Castle Maskovec, the monastery in Zlatá Koruna and the Dívci Kámen Castle. Just 5 km from Budejovice lies the village of Dobrá Voda, a pilgrimage destination and spa resort, where you can visit the Baroque Suffering Holy Virgin's Church and the small chapel with curative waters.

Food & Drink
Ceské Budejovice will never be taken for a capital of haute cuisine, but it does feature decent food at low prices and more than a few happy surprises.

Brand new and already a darling lunchtime favorite, Modré Dvere offers good and ever-improving Czech-Mex food, Jazz on most Thursdays, and the best service in town. Oh, and they play good recorded music all day! Most of the small staff speak English and you can say hello to Marek, the owner (fluent English), who is in residence 7 days a week and - he promises - 365 days a year!

Zeppelin Heaven Bar, 3 stories above the square, affords the best view in town. Popular as both a nightstop and for casual meetings, the restaurant offers good pizzas and a wide array of typical Czech dishes until 11 p.m. A perfect place to unwind around sunset, as you watch the locals strolling (summer) or scurrying (winter) home from work.

If you are near the train or bus station and hankering for something Indian, maybe the biggest surprise in town is Pravá Indická Kuchyn. Family run, it offers food considerably better than that of most Indian restaurants in Prague and at a fraction of the price. Be careful though, because if you ask for vindaloo (hot) you will actually get vindaloo. There is a variety of offerings for vegetarians as well.

There is plenty to choose from all around the square, ranging from 1000 - 3000 Kc. While Hotel Zvon is the city's most famous hotel, we recommend others at the high end instead, especially Hotel Malý Pivovar around the corner, with its spacious rooms, elegant interior and friendly staff. Prices range from 1,950 CZK for a single room to 2,850 for a double. Suites are also possible.

There is also Penzion Klika, a minute's walk from the square and on the river, featuring good views and one of the city's finest restaurant downstairs. A single room here costs 1,450 CZK a double 1,950 Kc and a triple 2,450 Kc

Hotel Amadeus, also right off the square on a small cobbled street, offers rooms starting at 1,100 CZK.

Addresses & Phone Numbers

Tourist Office
Námestí Premysla Otakara II
Tel: 387 312 840
Modré Dvere
Biskupská 1
Tel: 386 359 958

Zeppelin Heaven Bar
Námestí Premysla Otakara II
Tel: 386 352 681

Pravá Indická Kuchyn
Chelcického 10
Tel: 386 359 355

Hotel Malý Pivovar
Karla IV 8-10
Tel. 386 360 471

Klika Penzion
Hroznová 25
Tel. 387 318 171

Hotel Amadeus
Matice Školce 9
Tel. 386 352 160