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29km (18 miles) SW of Prague

By far the most popular destination in the Czech Republic after Prague, Karlstejn Castle is an easy day trip for those interested in getting out of the city. Charles IV built this medieval castle from 1348 to 1357 to safeguard the crown jewels of the Holy Roman Empire. Although the castle had been changed over the years, with such additions as late Gothic staircases and bridges, renovators have removed these additions, restoring the castle to its original medieval state.

As you approach, little can prepare you for your first view: a spectacular Disney-like castle perched on a hill, surrounded by lush forests and vineyards. In its early days, the king's jewels housed within enhanced the castle's importance and reputation. Vandalism having forced several of its finest rooms to close, these days the castle is most spectacular from the outside. Unfortunately, many of the more interesting restored rooms are kept off-limits and open only for special guests.

Getting There -- The best way to get to Karlstejn is by train (there's no bus service). Trains leave regularly from either Prague's Main Station (at the Hlavní nádrazí metro stop on line C) or from Smíchovské nádrazí, metro line B, and take about 40 minutes to reach Karlstejn. The one-way, second-class fare is 49Kc. It's a short, relaxing trip along the Berounka River. On the way you pass through Revnice, Martina Navrátilová's birthplace. Keep your eyes open for your first glimpse of the majestic castle. Once you arrive at Karlstejn train station, it's a 20- to 30-minute hike up the road to the castle. While you're at the station, mark down the return times for trains to Prague to better plan your trip back.

You can also drive along one of two routes, both of which take 30 minutes. Here's the more scenic one: Leave Prague from the southwest along Highway 4 in the direction of Strakonice and take the Karlstejn cutoff, following the signs (and traffic!). The second, much less scenic route follows the main highway leading out of Prague from the west as if you were going to Plzen. About 20 minutes down the road is the well-marked cutoff for Karlstejn. (You can tell you have missed the cutoff if you get to the town of Beroun. If that happens, take any exit and head back the other way; the signs to Karlstejn are also marked heading toward Prague.)

A trip to Karlstejn can easily be combined with a visit to Krivoklát .

Visitor Information -- The ticket/castle information booth (tel. 311-681-370) can help you, as can any of the restaurants or stores. The castle website at www.hradkarlstejn.cz is easy to navigate and has lots of useful information on the castle's history as well as tours and opening hours. You can also book tour tickets online.

Exploring the Castle

Since Karlstejn's beauty lies more in its facade and environs than in the castle itself, the 20- to 30-minute walk up the hill is, along with the view, one of the main features that makes the trip spectacular. It's an excursion well worth making if you can't get farther out of Prague to see some of the other castles. Seeing hordes of visitors coming, locals have discovered the value of fixing up the facades of their homes and opening small businesses (even if they have gone a little overboard on the number of outlets selling crystal!). Restaurants have improved tremendously. When you finally do reach the top, take some time to look out over the town and down the Well Tower.

To see the interior of the castle, you can choose from one of two tours. The 50-minute Tour 1 will take you through the Imperial Palace, Hall of Knights, Chapel of St. Nicholas, Royal Bedroom, and Audience Hall. Tour 2, which lasts 70 minutes, offers a look at the Holy Rood Chapel, famous for the more than 2,000 precious and semiprecious inlaid gems adorning its walls; the Chapel of St. Catherine, Charles IV's own private oratory; the Church of Our Lady; and the library. Note that you need to make a reservation to visit the Holy Rood Chapel on Tour 2 (tel. 274-008-154; fax 274-008-152; www.hradkarlstejn.cz). You can buy tickets and make reservations online.

The shorter Tour 1 costs 250Kc adults, 150Kc students, 20Kc children under 6. Tour 2 with the Holy Rood Chapel costs 300Kc adults, 200Kc students, free for children under 6. The castle is open Tuesday to Sunday: May, June, and September 9am to noon and 12:30 to 5pm; July and August 9am to noon and 12:30 to 6pm; April and October 9am to noon and 1 to 4pm; November, December, and March 9am to noon and 1 to 3pm; closed January and February.

A Castle-Viewing Tip -- Karlstejn is probably best seen from a distance, so take time to browse in the stores, enjoy the fresh air, and sit out on one of the restaurant patios or down by the riverside. Buy a bottle of the locally grown Karlstejn wine, a vintage started by King Charles IV, and admire the view.

Tee Time: Karstejn's Championship Golf Course

Golfers may want to try their luck at the North American-designed Prague Karlstejn Golf Club, a course that hosted its first European PGA tour event 10 years ago. This challenging 27-hole, 10,523-yard course on the hill just across the river from the castle offers some pretty views. At the elevated tee on the second hole, you'll hit toward the castle. It's a breathtaking place to lose a ball. If you want a real challenge, see if you can match former Masters winner German Bernhard Langer's four-round total of 264 (24 under par).

Karlstejn is one of the few courses in the Czech Republic that really challenges a golfer's ability -- narrow fairways, long roughs, and lightning-fast greens. Be prepared to walk uphill between holes. The course is open daily from 8am to sundown, and reservations for weekends should be made a couple of days in advance; call tel. 311-604-999 or go online to www.karlstejn-golf.cz. Be forewarned, however, it's not cheap, especially for visitors who may need to rent clubs and carts: greens fees are 2,000Kc for 18 holes Monday to Friday (slight discount if you tee off before 11am), and 3,000Kc Saturday, Sunday, and holidays. Motorized cart rentals are 1,300Kc per 18 holes, while a pull cart is 200Kc per round. Club rental is 1,000Kc per round.

To get here by car from Prague, take Hwy. 116 south through the castle town of Karlstejn. Once you cross the river and a set of train tracks, stay on the road, which veers right and goes up a hill. You'll see the golf course on the left and an entrance soon after. If you've taken the train, you can walk to the course through town, but be warned that it's an uphill hike. Take a taxi, which should cost 120Kc.

Where to Dine

The Restaurace Blanky z Valois (tel. 608-021-075), on the main street heading up to the castle, serves pizzas and provide the only alternative to standard Czech fare in the area. Pizzas range from 90Kc to 180Kc. The restaurant is open daily from 11am to 10pm. The long wine list includes French and Italian vintages, but try and sample Karlstejn's own. This light, dry wine is surprisingly good considering it's not from Moravia, and it costs less than half the price of the imports.

Further along the main road, away from town and beyond the castle, you'll find the rustic inn Pod Drací skalou (tel. 311-681-177; www.poddraciskalou.eu). This is a great spot for a traditional pub lunch, including lots of dishes featuring wild game like boar, pheasant, and venison. Main courses are 150Kc to 250Kc. The restaurant is open Monday to Saturday 11am to 11pm, Sunday 11am to 8pm.

Restaurace U Janu (tel. 311-681-210), at the top of the village, is another good alternative. If it's hot out, take a seat on the welcoming shady terrace; if it's a chilly winter day, pull up a chair next to the fireplace inside. The menu is basic Czech. The venison specials make a nice change from the usual meat-and-dumpling meals. Main courses are up to 199Kc. It's open daily 9:30am to 10pm.

A Romantic Getaway

If the air and noise of Prague start to grate on your nerves, or if a quiet, romantic, overnight trip to a castle in the country sounds like the perfect getaway, head for the Romantic Hotel Mlýn (Mill Hotel), 267 18 Karlstejn (tel. 311-744-411; fax 311-744-444; www.hotelmlynkarlstejn.cz).

On the river's edge on the bank opposite the castle, the Mlýn is exactly what its name says -- a mill. Converted into a hotel and recently reconstructed, this reasonably priced country inn takes you away from the hustle and bustle of traveling. Its 28 rooms are a little on the small side, but they're quaint and nicely decorated with rustic furniture. At the outdoor patio bar and very good restaurant, you can relax and enjoy the soothing sounds of the river. Service here is a cut above what it is at the other hotels in the area. If you are here for lunch or dinner when the outdoor grill has been fired up, take advantage of it. Use the hotel also as a base for bike and canoe trips along the river. The staff can help you with local tennis courts and reservations for a round of golf.

Rates average around 2,100Kc for a single and 2,600Kc for a double, though they fluctuate according to the season. Check the website for rates on the day you plan to travel. Credit cards are accepted. To get to the hotel, take the bridge across the river that leads to the train station and turn left at the first street. If you cross the rail tracks, you've gone too far.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.