70km (43 miles) S of Prague
Castles closer to Prague like Karlstejn and Konopiste get all the attention, but it is worthwhile to take the time to visit Orlík Castle. Set among forests that line the Vltava where it swells from the Orlík Dam, the castle never disappoints. It was built in the 13th century but has burned down several times, only to rise from the ashes with new additions and extensions. Inherited by the Schwarzenberg family in 1719 upon the death of Maria Ernestina, a member of the Habsburg dynasty, the castle was set high up on a hill, overlooking a once-vibrant trade route. It stayed that way until 1962, when water trapped by the Orlík Dam downriver flooded thousands of acres of land, bringing the water level up to the castle's lower walls.
Returned to the Schwarzenberg family in 1992, the castle retains its splendor, while the surrounding area has become one of the most popular lake resorts in the Czech Republic. Orlík is also one of the nicest swimming areas in the country and therefore is a very popular vacation destination for camping.
Getting There -- By car, this is an easy 1-hour drive from Prague. Take Hwy. 4 heading southwest out of the city. Turn right on Hwy. 19 and then right again into Orlík.
Buses headed to Orlík leave from the bus stop Na Knízecí at the Smíchovské nádrazí station. Most buses will require a change, usually in Písek, but be sure to ask the driver. The 2-hour trip will cost around 90Kc each way.
Visitor Information -- There's no real information center in this tiny town, but if you go to the castle gift shop, you can get some basic information.
Exploring the Castle
Castle tours explain the history of the Schwarzenberg family and take you through a fine collection of artifacts celebrating the victory over Napoleon at the Battle of Leipzig in 1815. Keep an eye out for the hand-carved wooden ceiling that took more than 4 years to complete. Admission, including a guided tour in English, is 150Kc for adults and 80Kc for children. Hours are Tuesday to Sunday: June to August, from 9am to 6pm; May and September, from 9am to 5pm; and April and October, from 9am to 4pm. For more information call tel. 382-275-101 or go to www.schwarzenberg.cz/orlik.
Where to Dine
Behind the castle gift shop, the Restaurace U Toryka ★, U zámku 116 (tel. 382-275-181; www.utoryka.cz), surprises you with its high-quality Czech offerings, including a spicy house goulash, though the portions could be a little bigger. Main courses are 90Kc to 240Kc; no credit cards are accepted. It's open daily from 10am to 8pm.
Jumping into the Fourth Dimension
If you're looking for a not-so-cheap thrill or a vacation pick-me-up, Orlík could be the place for you. While most visitors come here for a peaceful walk in nature or a day at the beach, this attraction is of a different kind.
From high above the river on the Zd'ákovský Bridge, near another castle called Zvíkov, fearless men and women, tethered to two cords, jump off of the 50m-high (164-ft.) structure to reach the "fourth dimension." The 4-D jumping is supposed to be better than traditional bungee jumping because it allows you to fall farther before the two cords that tether you start to break your fall.
Many thrill-seekers -- an average of 60 people a day -- have taken the plunge, from an 11-year-old to a 60-year-old man. Each jump costs 900Kc. Weather permitting, you can try it June to September, from 11am to 5pm on Saturday and Sunday. The bridge is on the main highway leading out of town to the southeast (Hwy. 23). For more information, go to www.bungee.cz.