Another day of travelling brought us to Cesky Krumlov, which has the obligatory UNESCO rating handed out to towns suffering from communist neglect and large castles. Sorry to sound cynical, but while the town and it’s surroundings are delightful, its 18th Century charms were undermined be really poor accommodation and hordes of Japanese tourists, all moving on mass in coach-loads. However, it had one great redeeming feature: a small brewery dating back to the 17th century, which brewed some great stuff and provided a great value tour.

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Actually, I shouldn’t be so unkind, but the limited accommodation and the growing awareness that not all of us were getting a fair go in the room stakes soured things. Barry and Gail, with whom we are becoming very friendly, copped a really bad room in another pension, since the proprietor of the one we were booked in had pocketed the dough and subcontracted the rooms. Breakfast was fairly limited this morning, so it was just as well that last night’s dinner, down near the river, was pretty sound.

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To be at the foot of one of the largest castles in Europe was a surprise — as I discovered, it belonged ultimately to the Schwarzenburg dynasty who were important in the history of the empire and one was the key general at the Battle of Leipzig. They ultimately lost the castle when the communists arrived, although they were lucky not to get it fro the Nazis, because the last of them was a big supporter of Benes. The locals did it tougher. The town is in the Sudentenland, and the population of 9,000 was predominately German before the expulsion of all non-Czechs in 1946. The neglect of the Cold War years and the depopulation probably explains why the town was so untouched.

This morning we toured the castle and discovered a six hundred year old building with a great deal of history and powerful connections to Austria. The Schwarzenburgs were certainly more German than Czech! The original family were the Eggenbergs, who also founded the brewery in the town — there is a story there, apparently, since the original brewery was in the townhouse which one of the 16th Century wives insisted on living in because the castle was so forbidding in those days. We had a great time in the brewery tour last night, but more when we did the mandatory tasting in the brewery restaurant. Dale was in his element but Paula bravely tried their radler (a lemon-flavoured beer) and quite liked it. Rachel, our six-foot four ex-basketballer and Dale’s fiancée, forsook her usual grenadine-laced brew for the real thing. All were happy.

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The castle tour itself took us up to the main tower for a fantastic view over the town, and then through the museum, which revealed just now wealthy and influential the Schwarzenburgs had been. There was even a family holy relic: a complete skeleton in robes and a bejewelled glass case. I hope they never had it on view during formal dining. The schloss was significantly updated and extended during the baroque period, complete with a preserved theatre which is still in use. Walking up the hill, we crossed the river in passageways and rooms which replaced the early bridge and found ourselves in hedge upper castle, which gave on to a beautiful park, complete with a revolving theatre — far too hard to describe, so I will find a link later.

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The gardens rewarded photography! especially around the lake, as it was a perfect day. The adventurous souls (Leigh, Laura, Kimberley, Beverly, Raf, Rachel, Dale, Soheila and me) set off for the rafting expedition. Self-selection turned the two rafts into sociological experiments. Raf, Leigh, Laura and Soheila were lighter but less coherent, especially after the beer and sausage stop at an isolated river camp, while our raft might have been heavier in weight, but we’re having a great time with no arguments.

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If was a fabulous afternoon, with hysterical interludes mostly caused by the relatively small flow in the river as it was autumn and there was no snow melt. At one stage I was standing on top of a wooden barrier trying to drag the raft over the top because the water level was two inches over the weir, not two feet! It was a beautiful and relaxing afternoon, although I had a good upper body workout — great to be out in the wild for a bit.

Our evening meal was interesting, a very traditional menu of country food in which millet seemed to figure, but which turned out to be delicious and much lighter than some of the heavy meals we have been eating. Tomorrow is a long day in minivans through back roads to Vienna, so I’m not looking forward to that so much, but at least the accommodation will be a better standard.

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