One of the best kept secrets among Czech castles and historic sites is the gorgeous Kozel Chateau founded in the late 18th century in western Bohemia. Founded by nobleman Jan Vojtěch Černín, a member of Emperor Joseph II’s court, the stone residence served an as exquisite hunting chateau and today is one of the best examples of Classicist architecture in Bohemia. The site is surrounded by fine lawns, a beautiful park and forests perfect for visits in the spring and summer. What’s more, Kozel is only an hour or so away from Prague and just minutes from nearby Pilsen.
Jaroslava Ulčová has been a guide at Kozel for almost ten years.
“We often ask ourselves what it is that makes Kozel special. Although it’s only - only in quotation marks - a hunting chateau, it is atypical in having such beautiful interiors. This is something really enjoyed by visitors. We’re not Karlštejn but we hold our own: we get some 150, 000 visitors per season.”
The nobleman Jan Vojtěch Černín was influenced by the French philosopher Jean Jacques Rousseau, says the guide, stressing that the idea of a return to nature left a grand impression on the nobility: a country seat like Kozel Chateau represented - in many ways – not only an idyll but an idealized view of country life. The exteriors were austere, strict, the chateau made up only of a ground floor. But within? Richly-decorated interiors, designed by the painter Antonín Tuvora. The rooms often reveal floral motifs in the Rococo style or serene scenes from nature, as well as mythological figures. Each of the rooms served a particular purpose: for staff, for guest nobility, and the owners’ personal quarters. All have been perfectly preserved. Jaroslava Ulčová again:
“When you enter through the main entrance, the front wing was originally for the servants. The side wings were for the guests. And the back – the double rooms – were for the owners. Two-thirds of the furniture at Kozel are original pieces; one third was brought from other sites but are also historic items. After 1945, when the chateau was nationalized, and after the Communist takeover in 1948, many castles in the country were plundered and often items were sold off for a pittance. Even here. Luckily Kozel was not badly hit.”
Furniture in the chateau ranges from the Baroque to Rococo and Louis XVI (or Classicist style) as well as Empire – with Egyptian motifs from sphinx paws to stoic female forms that were the rage during the age of Napoleon. Many of the rooms are stunning. Each, by the way, features its own tiled stove for heating. For good reason.
“Every room needed its own heating. It is, after all, a stone building. Visitors come in the summer in their t-shirts and shorts but I always tell them to take note of what the guide is wearing. Sometimes it gets so cool, you could put on furs! The heating was important when you consider the décolleté or low neckline that was the fashion for noble women at the time the chateau was built.”
So what about the rooms? All are memorable: an entrance hall into the owner’s quarters, featuring painted motifs of fake stone and vine; a room for guests features portraits of children – members of the nobility long forgotten. The original owner, Jan Vojtěch Černín never had children of his own, but later owners from the Wallenstein family had many. For them, too, Kozel Chateau was likely a remarkable place. Guide Jaroslava Ulčová again:
“Černín never had children but the Wallensteins had many and there is even a kind of log cabin or small cottage near here that was built for them. Their kids probably enjoyed this country home the way we enjoy our own cottages today.”
One room in the chateau, a former stable under Černín, was used by the later owners as a personal theatre. Once lit by candles and later oil lamps, it’s tiny but magical, with a small stage with many props.
“It was a theatre used only by the family for personal and private events: Christmas and Easter or when the children wanted to put on plays. No professional ever performed here, it was strictly a family affair. The family, a la Marie Antoinette, would dress up like commoners and play at being country folk. Or the children, simply, would put together performances for their parents.”
No hunting chateau would be complete without a huntsmen’s room, including a number of racked firearms and a number of mounted trophies – although by comparison the number of those compared to other castles is fairly modest. For the nobility, there was also a billiards room. A large Russian table is found in the centre of it. This set featured not only billiard balls but also lost figures that were used in the game. Our guide informs us the rules remain unknown, most likely lost among dozens of different variants.
Another room features this music box, which plays, believe it or not, a variation of the Marseillaise.
Kozel Chateau is highly-recommended for a daytrip – not an obvious pick for tourists but a site that has made it onto numerous Best of… lists. Kozel means billy goat in Czech = the name may not sound attractive but the site certainly is. Where does the original name come from? Jaroslava Ulčová explains:
“The top of the hill where the chateau lies was a sacrificial site in pagan times. During the spring equinox it was common practice to sacrifice a billy goat here to the pagan gods. The name stuck, although it wasn’t used by the owners. But it was revived after the war.”