But when I was younger, I used to live and work in landlocked European countries farther north. This summer holiday, my family and I drove up from Rome on a holiday through ‘Mitteleuropa’ and had a great time exploring some of my old haunts, and discovering new places.
We drove the car up from Rome, and were mostly in Austria and the Czech Republic. We visited lots of beautiful places along the way. I’ll include more detailed tips in future posts, but if you’re planning a visit to central Europe, here are some highlights of our recent trip to whet your appetite.
I’m dating myself, but I hadn’t been here in decades – not since I was a kid the same age as my own children. I was afraid I may have built up this little mountain town located in the Salzburg province in my mind. But no, it was as perfect as I remembered it. I had fun showing it to my own kids, and we had a wonderful time hiking its beautiful peaks, biking its kilometers of bike trails, and diving into its thermal waters. Can the mountains get any more beautiful than this? Forget the office, I wanted to buy a flock of sheep, dig in and call it home. Since we’re a family of avid skiiers, we’re all anxious to come back one winter to explore the trails blanketed in white.
Not even the seemingly endless lines of Chinese tour buses spewing out day-trippers could extinguish the charm of this postcard-ready town along a lake. The houses are built into the steep surrounding hillsides, and the charming church spires, squares and flowers spilling from the flower boxes only added to the town’s charm. Like Venice, this is aplace to stay and enjoy once the crowds recede at the end of the day.
I lived in the Czech Republic in the early 90s, and used to visit pretty Cesky Krumlov without the crowds. Now it can feel a bit like Disneyland, but it’s still worth the trip to this pretty city in southern Bohemia, where each corner is picturesque and offers spectacular views over this charming town. I visited the Schwarzenberg castle years ago, but much more has been renovated and opened to the public in the menatime, and it’s well worth a visit when you’re in this idyllic town. Still kicking myself for having missed the Schiele Musuem, but I always try to save something for ‘next time’. As if I really needed an excuse to travel…
This tiny town along the Vltava River, in southern Bohemia, is a miniature Cesky Krumlov. It’s a good place to rent boats and float along the river. It’s also worth taking a castle tour to see the 13th century castle of the Rozmberk family, and later the Schwarzenbergs. This is a nice place to while a way a few hours when you find yourself in southern Bohemia.
This small city, so far to Germany’s east, was overlooked during WWII and avoided large-scale bombing. As a result, the town is perfectly intact and is an architectural gem. Not surprisingly, it’s been discovered by Hollywood, and numerous films have been made here, including The Reader, The Book Thief, and my favorite, Hotel Budapest. My kids got a kick out of the fact that half the town is in Germany and the other half in Poland. They liked to stand in the middle of tne bridge with legs on opposite sides of the imaginary divide. Well worth a visit if you’re in the area, and it makes an easy day trip from Prague.
This little Austrian town along the border with the Czech Republic was a great find. Its pretty medieval streets, walls, and towers are well preserved. And we enjoyed the exhibition in the town’s castle of the post-World War II times when this was part of the Russian protectorate (Austria was divvied up among the French, English, Americans and Russians, and its capital, Vienna, had all four sectors). The town also has a great brewery, and it was the perfect place to stop and relax.
I lived and worked for almost three years in Prague, so I tend to be biased. But Prague is a beautiful city, and it’s fun to be back admiring its history and architecture, and working to revive my long-dormant Czech! I love all the gorgeous turn-of-the-century cafes, and I find myself blinking in their splendour, remember the shabbier versions I frequented two decades ago, albeit with far fewer tourists. There is always lots to see and admire when I’m back to visit, and I always pack a pair of good walking shoes since this is a city perfect for long wanders.
This was once the second most important city in Bohemia (after Prague). The silver mines were in operation from the 13th to then 18th century and the minting factories brought great wealth to the region. This silver wealth is on display in the stupendous Saint Barbara cathedral. Saint Barbara is the patron saint of miners, and they spent their precious free time in this cathedral begging for her mercy. Miners worked 6 days a week, 12 hours a day at depths of up to 500 meters – the deepest mines in the world at the time. The wealthy constructed chapels, and the surving depictions of miners and minters of times long past are impressive. Enjoy a visit to this pretty town, an easy day trip from Prague.
This little town close to Kutna Hora is worth a visit only for its ossuary. This little chapel contains the bones of 40,000 skeletons – mainly victims of the Black Plague and the Hussite wars. The bones have been (artistically? grueseomely?) shaped into arches, towers, candelabra and other decorative devices. Like many chapels, the meaning is clear: Life on earth is fleeting, and worldy vanities ephemeral: lead a good life, with one eye to the afterlife. But the idea of creating the nobile Czech/Hapsbourg Schwarzenberg family shield entirely set in bones was – to say the least- extremely
disturbing creative. One quadrant of the shield depicts the Schwarzenberg prowess in the Crusades. The shield depicts the head of a slaughtered Ottoman, having his eye pecked out by a crow. Bet you never thought you could see that replicated by a skull and bone display, but in Sedlec you can! Can’t help but wonder who the lucky skull is. Don’t miss out on this gruesome/fascinating display when you’re in central Bohemia.
This was my first time in Tabor. In my years of living in Prague, I never managed to get to this interesting Czech city. This city was founded by the Hussites – soldiers who followed Jan Hus, and for some time waged a successful war against Catholicism in Bohemia. Jan Hus himself was burned at the stake in 1415 – and an interesting exhibition marking 600 years from his death explains his importance to the movement to reform the church. The town itself has beautiful architecture, and it’s worth a trip through the impressive series of underground tunnels passing all through the town’s center. The tunnels have been used for everything from shelters, to breweries, to cool storage places for food, and (more worryingly?) a place to lock away ‘annoying wives’. Why did I feel my husband perk up at this piece of information about the Good Ole Days of yore? Don’t miss Tabor when you’re in the Czech Republic.
I’ve always loved this picture-perfect city, and it was fun to visit with my family. Yes, embarrasingly enough, I’ve been a Sound of Music fan since I was a kid, and its always fun to see scenes from this enjoyably schmaltzy film. But Salzburg is one of those ridiculously picturesque cities. Although this was only a short stop-off on our long trip back to Rome, it was well worth the visit. I’ve been here numerous times, and hope to get back many more. Always love the spectacular views from the castle. The hills are alive…
As you can see, there’s lots to see on your travels through Mitteleuropa. Enjoy exploring this interesting region!