48km (30 miles) S of Prague
A 17th-century castle-turned-hunting-lodge built by the Habsburgs, Konopiste was the Club Med of its time. Here, the nobility relaxed amid the well-stocked hunting grounds surrounding the castle. In 1887, the castle became the property of Habsburg heir to the throne, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, who was particularly enamored of hunting until that fateful day in Sarajevo when he and his wife, Sophie, became the prey. It was Franz Ferdinand's assassination, after all, in 1914 that set off the Europe-wide conflagration of World War I.
If you're driving, you can see both Konopiste and Ceský Sternberk in 1 day.
Getting There -- If you're driving, leave Prague on the D1 expressway heading south and exit at the Benesov cutoff. From there, turn right at the signs for Konopiste. Watch out: The turn sneaks up on you. The trip takes 45 minutes in average traffic. Note that the parking lot just outside the castle is your best bet, at 50Kc. There aren't any closer lots, and police are vigilant about ticketing or booting cars parked at the side of the road. The minimum fine is 1,000Kc.
If you don't have a car, the bus is the next-best option. Several buses run daily from a small commuter bus station at the Roztyly metro stop on metro line C (red) and let you off not far from the castle (tell the driver where you want to go) or go to nearby Benesov where you catch another bus to Konopiste. Purchase tickets at the Florenc bus station or directly from the driver. The 1-hour trip costs around 54Kc.
It's a little trickier to get here by train since the closest station is in nearby Benesov. The trip takes 50 minutes and costs 68Kc for a one-way, second-class fare. From Benesov you'll have to catch a local bus or taxi to the castle.
Exploring the Castle & Hunting Grounds
Since hunting on the grounds is no longer an option, Tour 1 at Konopiste will have to suffice. You'll know what I mean as soon as you begin the tour: Hundreds of antlers, bears, wild boars, and birds of prey practically jump off the walls, catching unsuspecting sweaters and dazzling children. The main hall is a testament to the archduke, who reportedly bagged tens of thousands of animals -- only an estimated 1% of his total hunting collection is on display, and it still ranks as one of Europe's largest collections. Tour 1 also takes you through the castle's parlors, which have been restored with great attention to detail. Note the handcrafted wooden Italian cabinets with wonderfully detailed inlays and the collection of Meissen porcelain. Tour 1, lasting about 50 minutes, costs 200Kc for adults and 130Kc for children, and includes an English-speaking guide.
Tour 2 (for which you must buy tickets separately) is a little longer at 55 minutes and takes you through the weapons room, the chapel, and the party room, where only men were allowed. This tour is also 200Kc for adults and 130Kc for children, including a guide.
Tour 3 takes you through Ferdinand's private rooms. It lasts only about 10 minutes longer than the other tours and costs 300Kc for adults and 200Kc for children. While the third tour is interesting, unless you're a die-hard castle fan, it's not worth the money.
After exploring the castle's interior, wander around the manicured gardens where quails, pheasants, and peacocks roam freely. Children enjoy the moat, home to two bears who wander in circles for hours at a time. Down below the castle is a large pond where some people go swimming, though the water quality is questionable; I'd advise against it. Several large, open areas beg for a blanket, some sandwiches, and a nice bottle of red Frankovka wine. Picnicking is allowed, but stock up before coming since there's no place to get groceries near the castle.
The castle is open in April from Tuesday to Friday from 9am to noon and 1 to 3pm, Saturday and Sunday 9am to noon and 1 to 4pm; May to August Tuesday to Sunday from 9am to noon and 1 to 5pm; September Tuesday to Friday from 9am to noon and 1 to 4pm, Saturday and Sunday 9am to 5pm; October Tuesday to Friday from 9am to noon and 1 to 3pm, Saturday and Sunday 9am to 4pm; and November Saturday and Sunday from 9am to noon and 1 to 3pm. The castle grounds are open 24 hours year-round. For more information, visit www.zamek-konopiste.cz or call tel. 317-721-366.
Where to Stay & Dine
Connections are not that great to Prague and if you have to stay the night, there's a decent motel just a short work from the castle. The Amber Hotel Konopiste (tel. 317-722-732) resembles a mountain motor lodge. Rooms are on the small size, but very cute with rustic decor and well outfitted. The hotel has a small restaurant inside and a more comfortable, traditional grill restaurant, the Stodola, out front. Doubles (no singles) range from 1,500Kc to 1,700Kc. The Stodola restaurant is open daily from 6pm to 1am and accepts American Express, Diners Club, MasterCard, and Visa.
On the castle grounds, Stará Myslivna (tel. 317-700-280; www.staramyslivna.com) has recently undergone a thorough facelift and is by far the nicest place to eat within shouting distance. Not surprisingly, given the archduke's proclivities, the menu focuses on game, with several variations of pheasant, venison, and other forest animals, usually served in traditional Czech style with a sauce and dumplings. When the sun is out, sit outside on the terrace; in winter, there's usually a roaring fire in the fireplace. Main courses run from 140Kc to 240Kc; major credit cards are accepted. Open daily 10am to 10pm.