Vranov nad Dyj Chateau, Czech Republic photo by Tracy Burns

The Three Top Castles and Chateaus in the Czech Republic:
Vranov nad Dyji Chateau, Bouzov Castle, and Pernstejn Castle

Castles and chateaus are sprinkled throughout the Czech Republic, but my favorites are located in Moravia. Most tourists do not visit Moravia -- they tend to concentrate on Prague and its immediate environs. The trio of castles and chateaus is situated not far from the historically significant cities of Olomouc, Brno and Znojmo. Bouzov Castle has a fairy tale appearance while Pernstejn Castle exudes an imposing, Gothic ambience. Vranov nad Dyji Chateau is more intimate yet just as impressive.

Vranov nad Dyji Chateau

Part of the Podyji National Park in south Moravia, Vranov nad Dyji Chateau, with its mixture of architectural styles, looms high over the tranquil countryside. It began as a wooden fortress, first mentioned during 1100 and later was turned into a stone castle.

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The Swedes' two attempts to conquer the castle during the 17th century Thirty Years' War were unsuccessful. When Michal Johann II von Althann became the owner in the late 17th century, he rebuilt Vranov as a Baroque chateau. It would remain his family's property for more than 100 years. During the 19th century the chateau acquired Neo-Gothic and Romantic features. It became state property in 1945.

The exterior offers astounding views and more. A two-flight Baroque stairway with rich sculptural decoration shows Hercules fighting Antaeus and Prince Aeneas rescuing his father from Troy, as the city is engulfed in flames.

Perhaps the first room on the tour is the most magnificent -- The Hall of Ancestors. Stunning ceiling frescoes pay homage to the Althanns. The figures of Hercules, Odysseus and Perseus make appearances between the oval windows.

The residential rooms have been designed to look as they had looked at the turn of the 19th century. The former private chapel exudes Classicism. Wall hangings are adorned with hunting themes and landscape scenes. The wall fabrics in the Family Salon depict Pompeii and other ancient cities. The Blue Salon boasts exquisite Empire style blue mahogany furniture dating from the 19th century and blue wall hangings.

The Respirium, where residents relaxed after their bath, is adorned with Classicist relief stucco and decoration made from carved wood. In the Oriental Salon a 19th century Chinese scroll shows a poet arriving home after being captured by the Huns during the third century.

The graphics on the walls of the Pompeii Salon display interiors of ancient villas. The ornamentation in the Gentlemen's Salon was influenced by spiritual alchemy. The Picture Gallery exhibits paintings by Dutch and Austrian artists from the 17th to 19th centuries. The library rooms hold 10,000 volumes. Check out Voltaire's collected works in cabinet 13.

However, the chateau is not the only fascinating place on the premises. The Chapel of the Holy Trinity dates from the end of the 17th century. Three altars are featured in the central cylindrical nave with six oval spaces, and there is no centerpiece on the main altar. The fresco in the cupola depicts Archangel Michael. Oval panels above the altars represent Heaven, Paradise and the Last Judgment.

Vranov nad Dyji is accessible by bus from Znojmo, a town with a castle, rotunda, churches and picturesque squares. Some buses set passengers down in the village of Vranov, from which it is a steep climb to the chateau, but with remarkable views along the way.

Bouzov Castle

Romantic Bouzov belongs in a story about princes courting princesses. The dazzling exterior dates from the turn of the 20th century, and its dreamy style was influenced by the late Gothic and early Renaissance architecture of Germany and the Netherlands. Built in the 13th century, Bouzov was the property of the Order of the Teutonic Knights from the late 17th century to the end of World War I. In 1939 the Germans confiscated it, and Bouzov became state property in 1945.

The interior is just as impressive as the exterior.

The Knights' Hall features a Renaissance ceiling and a Neo-Gothic fireplace. Stunning wall paintings and windows with stained glass pictures also adorn the room. The Baroque Grand Master's Bedroom does not disappoint, either, with its woodcut sculptural carvings on furnishings as well as a tiled stove decorated with figures wearing Renaissance style clothes. The biggest Nuremberg chandelier, sporting antlers with wooden figures of people, weighs more than 300 kilograms (660 pounds) and holds 48 candles.

The chapel boasts a late Gothic altar from the 15th century. With four tours to choose from, visitors can stroll through the representative rooms, see the technical features of the castle, climb the tower and explore the cellar spaces. Actors in medieval dress engage crowds with sword-fighting and other activities. Bouzov is about an hour from Olomouc, a city tourists should also get to know. Some buses go to the main square of Bouzov while others let passengers off several kilometers from the castle.

Pernstejn Castle

Pernstejn Castle looms above the idyllic, south Moravian countryside in Gothic splendor. The castle boasts remarkable architectural features, furnishings and artwork from Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque and other periods. Pernstejn, named after its first owners, hails from the 13th century. The Pernstejns sold the castle in 1596 for financial reasons, and later owners carried out various reconstructions.

The castle has withstood wars and catastrophes. Luckily, unlike many others, it was not destroyed by the Swedes in the Thirty Years' War of the 17th century. The depository caught fire in 2005, and in 2010 snow damaged the roof, which has been repaired.

The large Hunting Hall displays a stunning tapestry with countryside scenes. In the Reception Room each Neo-Gothic chair has a different coat-of-arms that can be pulled out and replaced by another, depending on who the guests are. The ceiling of the Big Hall enthralls with 16th century cross vaulting. Early 18th century stucco decoration adorns the space. The Chinese Salon contains a wealth of the blue-and-gold chinoiserie that gives it its name. The library has 28 Baroque bookcases holding 15,000 volumes in various languages.

Take a look at the Gothic diamond vaulting in the entrance hall that hails from the 16th century. Watch your step up a narrow, winding staircase to gaze at the red writing on a wall. When bored on night watch duty in the 16th century, soldiers scribed quotations and personal texts there.

In another room, make sure you do not gaze into the cursed mirror; any woman who looks into it loses her beauty within a year. The Baroque chapel also enthralls, and the towers offer breathtaking views. Situated 40 kilometers from Moravia's capital of Brno, Pernstejn is accessible by bus or car.

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Tracy Burns lives in Prague where she writes travel articles about the Czech Republic for her blog, Tracy's Travels, at taburns25.wordpress.com. She has also written many travel pieces for Private Prague Guide at Private Prague Guide. She writes essays, book reviews and fiction for Kosmas, too. Her articles in English also have been printed in The Washington Post, Czech Business Weekly, Prague Leaders Magazine and The Prague Post, to name a few. Her writings have appeared on the Internet pages of Czech Radio. She has published extensively in Czech. Her works in Czech have appeared in Lidove noviny, Literarni noviny, Listy, Reflex and numerous other publications. In her free time she travels, most often to castles and chateaus in the Czech Republic.

All photos by the author

Published: November 19th, 2013

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