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Fish are flipping, flopping, and flying through the air as I watch the start of the annual carp harvest in the Czech Republic.
It’s the first weekend of October and a large crowd has gathered on the shore of Rožmberk Pond, the biggest of almost 1,000 artificial ponds in the Třeboň wetlands. Rožmberk is so big that locals jokingly refer to it as the South Bohemia Sea.
“People have been fishing carp since 1584 at this pond,” says Jan Regenda, a university professor who comes every year to watch.
Three weeks earlier, fishers began to drain the pond and pump oxygen into the water to lure the carp closer to the shore. Now, the fishers – mostly men dressed in rubber rain gear and gloves – scoop up the squirming carp, weigh and sort them.
The mood is festive. People mingle, drink beer and dip deep-fried carp ‘chips’ into mayonnaise. “One hundred years ago, they sent a special train from Prague,” Jan adds. Today, it’s an easy 1.5-hour drive south of the capital.
Most of the fish will be kept alive until Christmas, when eating carp is a Czech tradition. Keeping a dried carp scale in your wallet year-round is another one. “For good luck,” smiles our guide, taking out a scale the size of a guitar pick.
Later, we enjoy carp at Šupina a Šupinka, a restaurant in Třeboň, then walk to the tomb of the Schwarzenberg family, the noble family that once owned the Třeboň wetlands.
The French have their croissants and crepes, Austrians love their apple strudel and Czechs would be remiss if they went a day without eating kolache.
The sweet pastry is made from a yeasted dough and filled with cheese, fruit or nuts. During Covid, when rents in Prague’s historic Old Town plummeted, Patrick Novak opened Kolacherie, a bakery specializing in the traditional treat.
Novak got the idea for his business after visiting Texas, of all places. Czech expats there have started kolache bakeries and often make the fillings savoury. “When I saw the jalapeño ones with chorizo sausage I was like ‘oh yeah,’” says Novak. At his kolacherie in Prague he offers both savoury and sweet. His berry kolache with cream cheese still proves most popular.
One time, he says, a Czech expat from Manitoba visited, “and she was so happy, like ‘finally, I tasted kolache again!’”
A country of castles
“I come here every year with my children,” says Irena Švajcarova my tour guide from Prague.
“Here” is the delightful town of Český Krumlov with its winding-cobblestone streets, its melange of medieval buildings, and – most especially – its enormous castle, the second largest in the country after Prague’s.
Indeed, the Czech Republic is a country of castles, with roughly 2,500, and it’s easy to see why Czechs love them.
The castle at Český Krumlov – now owned by the state – boasts a colourful tower overlooking the Vltava River, 350 rooms – some with luxurious furnishings and tapestries, five courtyards, seven hectares of gardens and a moat with three brown bears. That’s right, three bears; two females and a male. It seems bizarre, but bears have been bred and kept in moats here for more than 300 years.
A noble family that owned the castle for several centuries started the tradition to signify their connection to the Italian Orsini family. ‘Orsini’ comes from the Italian word ‘orso’ meaning ‘bear.’
Another day I visit the privately owned Castle Blatná, which also has peculiarities. One of the owner’s ancestors – a man named Ferdinand Hildprandt – loved to hunt, and in one room all the furniture and rugs are made from his hunting trophies. Deer antlers form the backs and arms of chairs. The floor is covered in hides, including a cheetah’s, while four badger hides with heads are stitched together to form a freakish semi-circle. And sticking prominently off one wall are the heads of seals shot in the Netherlands.
Beer lovers rejoice
“We are the biggest beer drinkers in the world,” Jann Votrel tells me. The teacher and tour guide in Český Krumlov adds proudly, “140 litres per person, per year.”
The country’s tourism office points out, it’s not about binge drinking, rather, appreciating a beverage that’s been brewed here for more than a thousand years, starting with thirsty monks.
In Pilsen, where the world-famous Pilsner-Urquell lager was born, there’s a microbrewery that uses a recipe predating Pilsner’s by more than a few hundred years. I’m not a beer afficionado, but when I learn that Purkmistr also has a beer spa, my ears perk up.
So, on a drizzly October morning I find myself not just drinking beer but soaking in it. In the spa, a large wooden bathtub filled with a special brew awaits me. Warmed to 37 degrees C, it smells like beer and looks murky, a bit like Purkmistr beer, which is served unfiltered and unpasteurized. This brew is made with the same ingredients – malt, hops, brewer’s yeast and water, but no alcohol.
The B vitamins in the yeast are supposedly good for our immune system and the hops ‘purifying’. Slipping off my robe, I joyfully immerse myself in the silky liquid. Then I sit up and pour myself a cold beer from the keg beside me.
“Wow….so there is heaven on earth!” exclaimed my friend Gord when he saw the photos later. Yes, and not just one. You’ll find beer spas throughout the Czech Republic.
The writer traveled as a guest of Czech Tourism. It did not review or approve this article.
If you go:
Stay: In Prague, Hotel Mozart is an historic hotel with views of Prague castle. https://www.themozart.com
In Český Krumlov, Hotel OLDINN is on the main square close to the castle. https://www.hoteloldinn.cz
Near Pilsen, Purkmistr offers a hotel, restaurant, brewery and spa.
For more information about traveling in the Czech Republic, see https://www.visitczechrepublic.com/en-US