Americans visiting the Czech Republic often flock to Prague Castle and the castles surrounding the capital city. But the chateau-specked landscape of northern Bohemia rarely makes it onto tourist itineraries. That's unfortunate, as six chateaux in the region -- all accessible by train or bus from Prague -- are worthy of a day trip.
Five of the six are owned by the National Institute of Monument Protection of Usti nad Labem (www.usti-nl.cz/showdoc.do?docid=497), while the town of Klasterec nad Ohri looks after the chateau by that name. Visiting is easy: There's no need for reservations, and each chateau offers guided tours that last about an hour (the non-fluent can consult an English text as they're led through the buildings; in some cases, you pay 40 cents for the English version).
Notably, these six are chateaux rather than castles. Generally, Czech chateaux hail from the 16th to 19th centuries, while castles were founded between the 12th and 15th centuries. Also, castles were built as fortresses for defense purposes, whereas chateaux were designed for comfortable living and usually are accompanied by a park and garden.
One of the loveliest is Hruby Rohozec (011-420-481-321-012, www.hruby-rohozec.cz; $1.82), set above the valley of the Jizera River in the town of Turnov, part of the Bohemian Paradise region noted for its natural beauty. It was built as a Gothic castle around 1280, then rebuilt three times during the following seven centuries. Each room is decorated according to a different era, with the furnishings illustrating the 16th through 20th centuries.
Pay special mind to the chateau's tower: The clock's small hand shows the minutes, the big hand the hour. Other features include a chapel with three baroque altars with sculptural and painted decoration, centuries-old tapestries and a dining room replete with coats of arms, knight's armor and woodcuttings.
In the Ustecky region, the chateau of Velke Brezno (011-420-475-228-331, www.zamek-vbrezno.cz; $2) is one of the newest in the Czech Republic, and it has a musical pedigree: Composer Franz Liszt paid a visit here. It was built between 1842 and 1845, with the last reconstruction in 1910.
The building looks more like a villa with onion spires and a terrace, but don't let the small size fool you. The interior includes a main hall with stucco decor and a dining room with rich wooden paneling, plus an exquisite table and chairs in the gentleman's room. The library and portrait gallery of the Chotek family, who owned the chateau, are also worth a visit. The chateau's romantic location, nestled on a sloping hill with mountains as the backdrop, includes a lush park that makes its exterior as impressive as its interior.
Magnificent Ploskovice (011-420-416-749-092, www.ploskovice.cz in Czech; $2), constructed between 1720 and 1730, lies in a village near Litomerice. The 11-room tour shows life at the beginning of the 19th century, and one can't help but notice the cracked ceilings and decorations that look dusty and worn. That's misleading, though.
An arcaded hallway features frescoes from Neptune-related mythology and eight baroque statues representing the allegories of the four seasons and the four elements of water, earth, fire and wind. The Engraving Salon is lined with numerous engravings of French chateaux, parks and other popular Parisian landmarks. The Ladies' Study boasts a magnificent painted ceiling, while the dining room -- light and airy in blue, gold and white -- features Thun porcelain. Six paintings of a romantic landscape enhance the Emperor's Salon, while a glance upward in the Emperor's Morning Room reveals a lovely white and green chandelier. Afterward, you can relax in the chateau's park, modeled after the gardens of Versailles.
Not far from Ploskovice is Libochovice (011-420-416-591-443, www.hrady-zamky.cz/zam ek-libochovice in Czech; $2), on the bank of the Ohre River in the town of Libochovice. The chateau sits on the edge of the town's main square and is notable for its 40 paintings, copies of those by the masters Titian, Veronese, Tintoretto and Rubens. Also noteworthy are the many Gobelin tapestries from Brussels. Originally a Renaissance chateau, it was later reconstructed in the baroque style and the tour features 16 rooms.
Between the cities of Usti nad Labem and Litvinov lies Duchcov (011-420-417-835-321, www.duchcov.cz in Czech; $2.40), a chateau connected with three names -- Vaclav Vavrinec Reiner, Matyas Bernard Braun and Giacomo Casanova. Reiner painted many of the beautiful paintings and frescoes. Braun's statues welcome visitors at the main gate, and his work also forms part of the chapel's main altar. Casanova lived in the chateau for 13 years, when he worked as a librarian and a writer. Mozart visited him there, and an invitation to the premiere of "Don Giovanni" in Prague's Estates Theatre is included on the tour. A red rose lies across the pink-and-white-striped chair in which Casanova died in 1798.
Some interesting features of Duchcov include the large canvases lining the Valdstejn Hall of Ancestors, the ceiling fresco in the main hall depicting Bohemian King Premysl Otakar II's troops readying for battle, a Bartholomaeus Spranger painting of Venus and Adonis, etchings of Venice lining the corridor, Casanova's study and library, and the statues decorating the baroque park.
On the same train line as Duchcov, near the German border, is Klasterec nad Ohri (011-420-474-375-436, www.pruvodce.com/klasterecna dohri; $2), a pink neo-gothic 16th-century chateau housing the Museum of Czech Porcelain. Spanning from the 17th century to present day, the exhibition includes many fine pieces, including a small statue of an obese Victorian-dressed woman beating her meek husband. Sketches, paintings and period furniture round out the exhibit.
Even more enticing than the museum is the chateau's park on the Ohre riverbank. With a pond, pathways and statues by Jan Brokoff, it's a wonderful place to relax or take a stroll.
-- Tracy A. Burns
For info on travel to the Czech Republic: Czech Tourist Authority, 212-288-0830, www.czechtourism.com.