I won’t lie to you: Litomyšl is a bit of a pain to get to. Located 177 kilometers east of Prague, it takes about two hours by car or train. In the latter case, you will need to go to Česká Třebová and then take a 30 minute bus ride (catch a bus outside the train station) to the destination. Or take a taxi: the 17 km ride will set you back about 200 CZK.
All things considered, getting to Litomyšl is still easier than the trip to the much-touted Český Krumlov, with better returns: a beautiful Renaissance town with a myriád of nice hotels, pensions, restaurants, and cafes, a stunning chateau and lots of fun activites for you and your kids. Minus the tourist busses.
Here are ten reasons to take the trip:
1. Smetana Square
The long main square in Litomyšl – the longest in the country in fact – was actually part of a thousand year old trade route leading from the orient to the Baltic coast. It is ringed by baroque and classicist façades which hide buildings with gothic foundations. Most of the medieval arcades have also survived so today’s shoppers can stay dry when going about their errands in the rain, just like their medieval counterparts. The square, with myriad shops, cafes, museums, and galleries is the pulsing heart of the old town.
2. Sports Center
If after a day of culture, you want to have some healthy fun, walk up the castle hill to the Sports Center where you can reserve a bowling lane, play squash or tennis in an indoor or outdoor court, all for a fraction of what you would pay in Prague.
3. The Chocco Café
One of the most popular spots on the square is the Chocco Kavarna, at house 117. The vaulted interiors have been transformed into a cozy, nonsmoking café where chocolate is king. From the moment you walk in the door, you will be tantalized by the smell of cocoa, along with a glass case full of pralines, all made from the wholesome ingredients right on the premises. You can take your pick from 40 types, ranging from the favorite milk chocolate and walnut to the exotic dark chocolate and Absinth or even pepper and chili flavors. http://www.ceskepralinky.cz
4. Klub Kotelna
If you want to party the night away, there’s no better place to do it than the Kotelna club, located about a ten minute’s walk from Smetana Square at Kapitána Jaroše No. 1129. Every Saturday night, there’s something going on at this music club known for its retro-parties, revivals, and concerts. http://mckotelna.cz/web/
5. The Doll Museum
Off the main square in Jiráskova No. 4, you will find a collection of dollhouses, dolls, and toys from 1850 to the present. The collection of doll houses is truly impressive, with a medieval kitchen, American farms, country cottages, stores and palaces fit for a princess, such as Princess Diana, the museum’s latest inhabitant. Resplendent in a white gown hung with pearls and a pearl tiara, she rules the Barbie collection. Boys and tomboys will also come into their own with train sets, cars, and even a circus. http://www.muzeum-domecku-panenek.cz
6. The Portmoneum
Imagine the Sistine Chapel, Aladdin’s cave, and Dante’s Inferno all rolled into one and you get the house of Josef Portman. In 1920, the retired Litomyšl accountant and art lover asked his friend, the idiosyncratic painter, graphic artist, book maker, and part-time demonologist Josef Váchal to decorate his house, and he got exactly what he deserved: a labyrinth of sprites, spirits and ghosts. If you’re not a Váchal fan don’t even try to make sense of this fantasmagoria, just have fun wandering around this murky cavern adorned from floor to ceiling with benevolent saints and merry sinners, prodded along by assorted little good-natured devils. http://www.portmoneum.cz
7. Smetanova Litomyšl
It’s the country’s best-kept secret. The oldest Czech opera festival, held in honor of the town’s most famous son, composer Bedřich Smetana, has been going on for sixty five years. From the end of June to the beginning of July, operas are held in the arcaded castle courtyard, along with gala concerts, oratorios, cantatas and song evenings in the town’s numerous churches, parks and promenades. http://www.smetanovalitomysl.cz/
8. Monastery Gardens
Located on the hill above the old town, just a stone’s throw from the castle, the former monastery gardens are still a place of practical use and spiritual renewal. Enclosed by old limestone walls, once the city ramparts, in summer the gardens offer hedges of wildflowers and lavender a-buzz with bumblebees. Kids will love the “endless” wading pool with a mist fountain and sculptures donated by modern Czech sculptor Olbram Zoubek. From the terrace of the café, formerly the carriage house, their parents can savor the view of the roofs of Litomyšl while listening to strains of Bedřich Smetana’s music late into the night.
9. Toulovcovy Maštale (Toulovec Stables)
The nature park is said to be the hiding place of the robber barron Lawrence Toulovec who used to hide out in this labyrinth of limestone cliffs, deep gorges and rock formations with his partners in crime. The actual “stables” – rooms and passages carved into a huge massif – still baffle archaeologists today. The park is a 20 kilometer bike ride from the center of Litomyšl. (You can rent a bike at the Dům Sportu on Smetanovo Square 91, Tel: 461 615 121) Along the way, stop for lunch in the old pub in the village of Budislav.
10. The Castle
With its courtyard surrounded by two tiers of arcades, Litomyšl Castle is one of the finest Italian-style Renaissance chateaus east of the Rhine. Built in the 16th century, it is adorned outside with gorgeous (and somewhat naughty) sgraffito paintings. A shady terrace, watched over by Baroque statues of the Virtues and Vices overlooks the old town. Inside, the most interesting feature is an antique theatre from 1796-97. Constructed entirely of wood, it can seat 150 spectators in nine loggias and its lower floor. The original auditorium, stage decorations, and stage machinery have all survived intact. Adults will appreciate the castle’s gothic cellars where they can sip excellent wine from the Chateau Litomyšl series while viewing the ethereal sculptures of Olbram Zoubek.
Which city/town/village is the Czech Republic’s best-kept secret?