Written by Jacy Meyer
The third largest castle in the Czech Republic! We were once a council town! Jindřichův Hradeites are proud of the simple things their town offers. The castle is an excellent reason to visit, but the council town thing isn´t much use to the average visitor. Located in the beautiful South Bohemian region, Jindřichův Hradec offers a variety of things to do and see, as well as being a great base to explore the rest of the area.
There are two main squares; one historic, one spruced-up thanks to a recent infusion of EU money. Náměstí Míru, the “main” main square, is architecturally diverse, offering Baroque, a little Renaissance and some Gothic for good measure. Check out the Old Testament scenes at number 138, Langerův dům. A large lake (Vajgar) and small stream (Nežárka) add to the town´s outdoor activity quotient. A unique quirk in the Czech Republic is the naming of regions after other countries. Here, you can visit Czech Canada. And don´t forget the world´s largest mechanical nativity scene or the opportunity to straddle the 15th meridian. A stop in the tourist info office (Informační středisko, Panská 136, www.jh.cz) will set you up with maps of the region, accommodation options as well as train/bus info and performance tickets.
The big attraction is the afore mentioned third largest castle in the Czech Republic; (after the castles in Prague and Český Krumluv) Hrad a zámek Jindřichův Hradec (Dobrovského 1, email@example.com.) There are more than 300 rooms, 10,000 pieces of art plus about the same number of books, and supposedly 500 keys. Three tours are on offer; if you are only going to do one, take Tour A as this is the one that gains you entrance into the Adam Building. Here you´ll see a range of classic period interiors, including Renaissance, Baroque, Rococo, Empire and Classicism. Design enthusiasts will appreciate the selection of period furniture and original porcelain. Tour B shows off the castle´s Gothic edge, bringing you to the medieval portion of the castle. Items of note include a mural depicting the Legend of St. George that dates back to 1338. Tour C´s highlight is the chance to see the Rotunda, an impressive example of European mannerism, that defies logic a bit compared to its surroundings. But artisans had to do something between the High Renaissance and Baroque periods. For a bird´s eye view of the town and surrounding fish ponds and fields, climb The Black Tower. Night tours are offered on Friday and Saturdays in August. You can wander the courtyard for free; go ahead, peek into the Rotunda´s windows.
The District Museum (Balbínovo nám. 19, www.museum.esnet.cz) housed in a former Jesuit Seminar, might well be cast off as a staid place of dull history, but it´s surprisingly interesting. The main attraction is the world´s largest mechanical nativity scene. It took dedicated burgher and stocking maker Tomáš Krýza more than 60 years to create his masterpiece, which covers an area of 60 square meters and contains nearly 1400 figurines. The actual birth of Christ is sometimes hard to locate, but take time to examine each scene carefully; clever and amusing surprises can be found on all sides. After the show, the Apothecary of Virgin Mary the Helpful is particularly interesting. The room is a treasure trove of items originally contained in 18-century apothecaries. The museum people love the parlor devoted to Emmy Destinn, the country´s most well-known opera diva. It´s nice, but the Firearms and Target Weapons Room has a great selection of 18th and 19th century weapons and painted shooting targets depicting scenes from local history as well as important people. The newest exhibit is one dedicated to showcasing the daily life of 19th century locals, but with a twist. One room is for the middle-class, while the other illustrates the days of the lower-class.
The Narrow Gauge Railway (Trains depart seasonally from the main train station, Nádražní 203, www.jhmd.cz) is a unique way to see the surrounding countryside, while not having to hike or bike it. The rails are a mere 760 millimeters apart and give train aficionados the chance to ride an authentic steam train. Passenger carriages have been retrofitted and the railway does a lot of special requests including the opportunity to ride in an open coal car or the joy of riding in a cattle wagon (cows not included.) Kids especially will dig this adventure, but everyone will enjoy the ride simply for the scenery. The southern route brings you nearly to the border of Austria, while north towards Obrataň shows off the flora and fauna of Czech Canada.
Before heading back out of town to take a ride on the rails – fuel up! Most of the restaurants can be found on Nám. Míru. Italians probably won´t be raving about it, but for Czech pizza it´s pretty good, and locals keep the place packed. Pizzeria Padrino (Nám. Míru 158, www.pizza-pardino.cz) goes mild on the seasonings, but is still a decent effort at your typical Italian bistro menu: pizza, pasta, salads. Cavallino (Dobrovského 4) is one of the better places in town to dine. Next to the castle, it´s worth the two minute walk from Nám. Míru. Mainly Italian, but with crepes and Czech offerings thrown in, no one will be able to say “there´s nothing for me.” It´s not as busy as restaurants on the square but the service is attentive and the quality of food is quite high. Back on Nám. Míru is Restaurace Vajgar (Nám. Míru 102, www.hotel-vajgar.cz) where cheap Czech food is the draw. Surprisingly efficient service and nice-sized portions give one the opportunity to taste some pub grub without much being left to chance. It´s also one of the few restaurants in town that serves the “local” beer, Regent.
There are no direct train routes, so a bus may be your better option. Both trains and buses depart daily and fairly regularly from the Florenc and Roztyly bus stations or the main train station. The town´s bus and train stations are across the street from each other, about a 15 minute walk from the town´s main square of Náměstí Míru. Take Nádražní, until it curves to the left and onto Klášterská. You´ll pass through the town´s other main square of Masarykovo náměstí and onto Panská which will bring you to Náměstí Míru.
If you drive, parking can be found on Náměstí Míru and there´s a car park on Bezručova.
Penzion U tkadlen (384 321 348, Pod Hradem 7, www.utkadlen.wz.cz) Nestled between the river and the castle, this is an idyllic spot. Newly remodeled, the former tannery has room for 61 people, a restaurant (peak season only) and a friendly owner. Parking is available and they often host outside barbecues when the weather is nice. The pension rooms are large for the price, hostel spaces are a step above average, but the décor won´t be winning any prizes.
Na 15 Poledníku (384 363 021, Kostelní 76, www.15polednik.cz.) Located behind Nám. Míru and down the street from the Church of the Assumption of Our Lady, this pension offers large, brightly decorated rooms stocked with amenities you wouldn´t expect for the price (i.e. refrigerator and mini-bar.) The biggest thrill though is picking up a certificate that says you crossed the 15th meridian. No need to be a hotel guest to cash in on this goody.
Hotel Grand (384 361 252, Nám. Míru 165, www.relaxhotel.cz.) Located, as they like to remind you, only 100 meters from the third largest castle in the Czech Republic! The Grand is your basic hotel, all typical amenities, a nice made-to-order breakfast, plus a wellness center for those who must sauna, spa or manicure while in town. The location is ideal, especially for those who tend to get lost, and the friendly, efficient staff will treat you fine.