Bechyně: an idyllic town in southern Bohemia
Southern Bohemia is home to some of the most beautiful and idyllic destinations in the Czech Republic - from the historic town of Tábor to the jewel that is Český Krumlov. One destination in the area, somewhat lesser-known but also attractive that you might consider visiting, is Bechyně, located around forty kilometres from Tábor. Found on a dramatic promontory, the town of just 6,000 features an historic monastery, a fantastic fifty-metre high bridge that spans the nearby Lužnice River, and the oldest ceramics school in the country. It may not be the most obvious choice, but Bechyně is a most satisfying visit in the summer or spring.
The town's castle is the perfect place to start, says Jaroslav Matějka, the town's mayor:
"In the 1990s, following the restitution of property after the communists fell, the castle was returned to its former owners, and then acquired by the organisation Panství. The site underwent repairs and renovation at this time and is now open to the public. That includes the former riding hall which is available for concerts and theatre performances. In the summer, there are sometimes also special events, such as night tours where you can explore the castle's halls but also enjoy an authentic historic meal served in the castle's historic 'black' kitchen. Then, there is a choice of a number of regular daily tours."
Even now organisers in the town have held celebrations in Vok's honour, a number of years ago hosting a re-creation at the castle of his famous wedding, and held a local ball.
What kind of a man was Petr Vok? The nobleman is said to have been famous for his sense of humour, on one occasion poking fun at his young wife: in a famous letter that survived to this day he calls her "granny".
There is one other story often told about the nobleman. Shortly before his death the castle was put under siege by Passau mercenaries who had not been paid their due. Vok asked for payment to be made by Czech King Rudolf II, but in vain. Local historian Jiřina Trčková explained to Radio Prague that - in the end - a different solution was found:
"He took the Rožmberk silver and had it melted down. The Rožmberks regularly minted their own coins, and he did the same with his silver, with which he paid the mercenaries and asked them to leave southern Bohemia, leaving the people and the castle in peace."
Bechyně is also famous for the first electric trail in Bohemia, which runs to this day. Originally, the track was meant for a steam locomotive. Jiřina Trčková once more:
"Czech scientist and inventor František Křižík - who had worked on lighting and electric trams in Prague, pushed through the idea of a local electric train that would run from Bechyně to Tábor. It is not only the oldest electric line in the Czech lands, and was also the first in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. He built the locomotive that pulled the train and it's still fully functional."
"Originally the railway line represented the only link between Tábor and our town. Its still one of the ways visitors can get to Tábor and back. For ten years now we've had historic rides - the original cars from the turn of the century, and this really is a big attraction. Once, in Bechyně I would recommend the walks along the scenic route on the Lužnice River."
"From the bridge you can see a panorama of the whole town and there are scenic look-out spots. Below, along the river, there are areas that are ideal for fishing - I used to fish as well, though I have little time for it now. One of the most beautiful routes then leads along to the area of town known as 'Zářečí'. That quarter has jokingly declared independence: it was hard hit by the floods in 2002 but has been fully repaired now and it is truly one of the nicest areas. In the summer there is a festival when Zářečí celebrates its independence, but of course it's all in fun."
Another attraction that should not be missed, along with the scenic walks, pubs along the river, summer festivals which include performances of outdoor theatre, is most certainly the South-Bohemian Art Gallery of Mikoláš Aleš which houses an amazing collection of world-class international ceramics. Milouš Růžička heads the gallery and explains that ceramics have an extremely long history in the region. The oldest ceramics school was founded there in the late 1800s, and the Aleš gallery houses some of the finest examples from the turn of the century right up to the present.
"One of the most remarkable periods was the period before and following the First World War, the period of the Session, the Art Nouveau. We have samples that show the influence of Vienna and Mittel Europa. Other highlights included Art Deco in the 20s as well as abstract work in the 30s, which was excellent, echoing similar work in painting and photography. Ceramic work was perhaps a bit like Cinderella - a bit overlooked - but some of the pieces here are truly notable and rare throughout Europe. There are very few samples like this."
Certainly Bechyně offers far more than one might expect, and, as one local told us, if you visit expect to spend at least a day- two or three hours are not nearly enough. If you plan on spending the night, keep in mind it's a small and quiet town and aside from a few hotels or nearby camping grounds in the summer, lodgings in the peak season are limited.
The episode featured today was first broadcast on September 20, 2006.