Castles that you can overnight in are not hard to find in Europe. But what if you were the only guests? And the owner sang you happy birthday over a homemade, double-decker strawberry cake on a long candlelit table under Renaissance arches and dorms? My 2007 visit to a privately owned castle in the Bohemian countryside remains one of my most treasured travel memories years later.
A Fairytale Czech Castle Hotel
It’s true that I’m just as inclined to plan an entire trip around a unique experience in an obscure locale as I am to visit a bucket list destination. (I once listened to a podcast about a tiny village in Southern France that was home to just 200 residents and a famous Michelin restaurant and promptly booked a lunch reservation by Skype from the states.)
And that’s how I ended up at a remote 17th-century castle and country estate outside of Prague. I’d been chatting on a home exchange website with Alberto, an Italian working in arts administration, who was renovating said chateau with his partner Eugenio, an architect. When I mentioned that Steve and I would be in Prague and that I was interested in interviewing him for a potential book I wanted to write about home exchange, he invited us.
So, of course, I said yes.
You too can stay at Chateau Trebesice.
In fact, these days they also host weddings and parties here (which would be fantastic). And your stay won’t break the bank. Plus, your cost includes delicious meals! You can check prices and availability here.
If you go, be sure to check out St. Barbara’s Cathedral in historic Kutna Hora just 3.5 miles away.
It’s Called What?
I feel like the Czechs are a little stingy with their vowels. (Kind of like how the Hawaiians have too many.) But it’s really just a weird perception of mine because Trebesice clearly has four. However, if you are an American trying to sound out, say, a street name…or locate a rural chateau, Czech can be a bit non-intuitive. Fortunately, getting to Chateau Trebesice is straight forward. It’s a direct 60-minute train ride from Prague’s city center.
I admit we were just a little concerned when we wrestled our luggage off the train. Fortunately, the stop was clearly marked. But other than that, there were no buildings or streets in view except for the top of a castle tower peeking out of the skyline.
And the occasional brilliant red poppies dotting the train tracks.
So we wrestled our bags down a thin dusty road by foot until we rounded the corner and came face to face with the chateau.
There was an actual moat! A moat filled with lots of muddy water, in fact.
Unfortunately, the bridge across that moat was a work in progress, still under construction. It looked a little iffy with its planks that didn’t exactly meet. I hesitated but one of the Polish stonemasons waved me across, using enthusiastic hand signals and facial expressions to assure me that I wouldn’t die.
That it would be absolutely fine. Which it totally was.
The Castle’s Backstory
Chateau Trebesice dates from the Renaissance, when it was likely owned by Czech nobles. Later, architectural changes were made during the Baroque era. Fast forward to the early 21st century, and thanks to new laws that allowed privatization and resulted in a massive auctioning off of historic properties, Alberto and Eugenio nabbed the property.
The restoration was a labor of love for the two of them for more than a decade. When we visited in 2007, it was well underway, but not completed until 2015. Their vision was a sort of safe haven with residencies for contemporary artists-in-training for passion projects. Which is why they then elected to fill this Renaissance-Baroque chateau with modern furniture and art objects.
Each room was decorated with a different artist’s vision…but with a unifying theme of modern art to contrast with the historic architecture. It seemed like every available space introduced a unique artistic vision.
We spent the first day, just Steve and I, wandering the grounds, eating delicious meals onsite, and smiling at the kitchen staff and grounds crew. We were the only guests. Alberto had said he’d arrive at some point for the interview so we bided our time.
And then, late in the afternoon, we heard the sound of voices…in English. Many voices, in fact. It was Alberto who had brought a whole gaggle of up and coming international artists to see his chateau.
It turned out that he wasn’t just any old arts administrator, but he was one of the hosts of the prestigious Biennial Prague Exhibition currently consuming the city, a reference point for artists and curators from around the globe on the latest in contemporary art. Since several of them didn’t believe he really owned a castle, he brought them by for a look.
A young Italian fashionista and curator from Milan swooned over the art objects in each of the rooms. (“The vision…It’s so pure,” she purred.) A young couple that had just exhibited at LACMA a month prior asked questions about the residencies.
A Whirlwind Tour of the Gardens
When we visited the chateau’s gardens, they were newly planted. Today, however, Chateau Trebesice includes a thriving organic farm. In fact, if you stay, you can eat some magnificent home-cooked meals featuring that produce. But back then, Alberto walked the garden with me and laid out his vision.
He explained that he had traveled all over England, through the most beautiful traditional gardens there, collecting ideas for his own back at the chateau.
A decade later, those gardens are looking pretty impressive. Take a look at them today.
That Birthday I Mentioned?
When booking our visit, I think I’d remarked that our stay would coincide with my birthday. But imagine my surprise when someone swooped out of the kitchen with a beautiful birthday cake baked just for me. Alberto had folded us in with his artist guests and we’d just shared a memorable homemade meal.
And then that beautiful surprise cake emerged from the kitchen amidst singing and so much joy. It was a lovely generous gesture. (But not the only time I had this experience in my travels.)
So. That’s the story of my favorite castle stay ever. You should go!
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