South Bohemia (from the Southbohemian)
A little invitation for our Lithuanian and French friends. Not a descriptive tourist guide, but an attempt at amateur characterization of the region from the typical Southbohemian.
Czech republic is not a large country – it has 79 000 km2 and 10,5 mil. people (Lithuania is similarly large, about 65 000 km2, but has fewer people – over 3 mil.; France has sextuple area and population). In such a small country there are of course not big differences between regions. The main and explicit difference is primarily between historical countries of Czech republic – Bohemia, Moravia and Silesia (to Czech republic belong only very small part of historical Silesia).
The differences between regions inside Bohemia are not so strong. But in some ways South Bohemian region is very specific and exceptional.
Landscape and people
South Bohemia is a region of water and forests with clean nature (there has never been a lot of industry or mining) and beautiful landscape – very typical are low hills mixed with flatlands with pond systems and marshes. At borders with Germany and Austria South Bohemia is framed by low mountains with deep and empty forests – National park Šumava and Novohradské hory.
South Bohemia has the greatest extent of water areas, the greatest extent of forests and the lowest density of population of all 14 self-governing regions of Czech republic. Only 625 000 people live in the area of 10 000 km2. Clean nature, rivers, ponds, castles and beautiful small historical towns (and two places in UNESCO World Heritage List) made South Bohemia very popular for inland tourists and among foreigners too (but foreign tourists prefer mostly only the main UNESCO place, historical town of Český Krumlov).
South Bohemia has strong agricultural or rural character with many small towns and little villages – often really tiny: over 2000 villages and towns are organized to 600 self-governing municipalities. Only city of České Budějovice with population of 95 000 is large (in Czech republic scale). Then there are only 2 towns of about 30 000 inhabitants in South Bohemia, 2 of about 20 000 and cca 10 of about 10 000. The rest is smaller.
Southbohemian countryside has its own unique and very typical architecture called rustical baroque (due to decorated houses). Village of Holašovice with best extant houses is the second Southbohemian place in UNESCO World Heritage List. Southbohemian farmers have never been rich as their colleagues in plentiful areas in Moravia or in central and northern part of Bohemia. But they have always been very proud and stubborn and conservative and suspicious to new things too.
Something of this character outlasts among Southbohemians until today. Southbohemians periodically come out from opinion polls as the most patriotic people of Czech republic very tightly bonded with their region. Southbohemians migrate the least of all Czechs to other regions and if they do so, they often later come back. (Why should we move, when we are here so well?)
Southbohemians also need longer time to accept new things than others due to our conservatism and carefulness. (I’m a typical example. I always do everything in my way despite others advising me to do the same in a better way. Only after unsuccessful attempts of my way I follow their advices…) It’s very hard to convice Southbohemians – especially for people who are not from South Bohemia.
But can I talk about something as “Southbohemian” character if differences between Bohemian regions are not strong? I think so, because not only geographic character of the region is exceptional, but also history of the region and its administration is unusual in the context of Czech republic.
In some way South Bohemia region has a specific history. In times of Feudalism and until Great War it had been always mostly unified under rule of only one powerful noble house. (Others Bohemian regions had always been shattered among many noble houses.) In Middle Ages and Renaissance House of Rožmberk (Rosenberg in German) was dominant in South Bohemia, in the 17th century it was House of Eggenbergs and later until modern times House of Schwarzenberg. (Against this powerful hegemony of strong feudals there had been opposition from royal cities and towns, which were built to support the central power – at first Bohemian kings, then from the 16th century Habsburg emperors from Vienna. České Budějovice had been the main royal city in the region).
- House of Rožmberk – one of five branches of House of Vítkovci (Witikoids), called to-gether Lords of the Rose. Because the legend says that the founder of the family, Vítek, di-vided his dominion among his five sons and each of them has a rose in his coat of arms. Rožmberks had red rose in white undercoat – their capital was at first the castle of Rožmberk and then the town and the castle of Český Krumlov. Another important branch Lords of Hradec (present-day town Jindřichův Hradec) had gold rose in blue undercoat and other branches in similar way. Except Rožmberks and Lords of Hradec all branches of Witikoids died out in Middle Ages, Rožmberks and Lords of Hradec became extinct about 1600. But their heritage is wonderful. They were the founders of most of the Southbohemian ponds that have changed the local landscape forever. Castles of Český Krumlov and Jindřichův Hradec are the second and the third largest castles in Czech republic after Prague castle, residence of Bohemian kings (which is one of the largest castles in the world). Rožmberks were the most powerful noble house in Bohemian kingdom in the 16th century, including Moravia, Silesia and Lusatia (S. and L. had belonged to Lands of the Bohemian Crown from 14th to 18th century).
- Eggenbergs took over Rožmberk’s dominion in the 17th century, but they had ruled only for one century. Their importance lies at first in making the castle of Český Krumlov more noble and luxury and keeping the Rožmberk’s Southbohemian dominion unified.
- Schwarzenbergs had formed South Bohemia from the 17th until half of the 20th century, expanding and developing heritage of Rožmberks and Eggenbergs. They were very good rulers and they modernized local industry and agriculture and also cared about forests and ponds (but they often fought against prejudices of Southbohemian stubborn villagers…). They were the most powerful noble house in Lands of Bohemian Crown as Rožmberks. The actual ruler of House of Schwarzenberg is the current Czech minister of foreign affairs Karel Schwarzenberg. They own one of the two main seats castles – the Hluboká castle, 10 km from Budweis, rebuilt in the 19th in English romantic gothic style, is after the Prague castle and the Český Krumlov castle the third most visited castle in Czech republic. Many fairy tales were filmed in this romantic castle, including very popular Pyšná princezna (Proud Princess, from 50’s, but popular until today), where the Land of King Miroslav occured. Lithuanians know very well our private legend about this fairy kingdom. (We renamed Lithuania to the Land of King Miroslav, because of the beautiful girls there.) I can only emphasize that the Hluboká castle in this film was a center of the sad and unhappy Midnight Kingdom, where singing was forbidden and taxes were high and government unjust, while the shots from the totally happy, content and completely satisfied Midday Kingdom ruled by fair-minded king Miroslav were filmed in České Budějovice! (It’s very symptomatic for today – in Hluboká lives the capo di tutti capi who has destroyed local politics and changed it from service for citizens to service for him.)
But now let’s forget the fairy tales and the capo and concentrate on the history and character of South Bohemia again.
Because of all this historical things I’ve mentioned above most of the Southbohemians had similar history contrary to the other present-day administrative regions which have not been so internally knitted during the course of history.
And another thing I must emphasize – from most parts of South Bohemia it is longer way to Prague than to Upper Austria or Bavaria. Because of this South Bohemia had been, until the end of Austrian-Hungarian Empire, economically and culturally more oriented to its foreign neighbours than to the official Czech center Prague. (In some way it lasts until today – for example we rather go skiing to Austrian Alps than to Bohemian mountains and Southbohemians often rather visit Ikea in Linz than in Prague .
More specific historical influences in South Bohemia (sometimes only local, not outlasting until today, but interesting):
- Buquoys – noble house with French descent, they gained land in Novohradské hory in Thirty Years War and had ruled there until 2nd World War. They were progressive and modern rulers as Schwarzenbergs. They are famous for their glassworks of the 19th century, where were world unique black glass called „hyalit„ produced. This unique glass does not transmit light. Unfortunately, the recipe of production has been lost.
- Hussites – South Bohemia is the place of birth of the ideological leader of Hussites Jan Hus and the famous military leader of Hussites Jan Žižka (Hussites were religious rebels and reformators, in some way 15th century predecessors of Huguenots and Lutherans of 16th century). Hussites have also founded the second largest Southbohemian city of Tábor. They were not only religious fighters but they also experimented with early forms of socialism. All founders of the city of Tábor gave their property to barrels which belonged to the community…
- Knights of Malta – this is not in reality an influence, but only an interesting thing. Part of South Bohemia, the town of Strakonice (now an industrial town in the northern part of the region) and neighbouring villages had been for long time property of Maltese Order.
Now we leave history and we will aim at another important elements of South Bohemia and additional things which are specific to our region.
Water is a very very typical element of South Bohemia. The highest number of ponds in Czech republic and maybe in Europe (and also the largest ponds in our country, including the largest pond in Central Europe Rožmberk – named after most important Bohemian noble house) is situated in our region. Almost every Southbohemian village has its own little pond on the village square.
Another part of water areas are formed by water reservoirs – the largest water reservoir in Czech republic Lipno (it was built at the same time as Kaunas Dam) is located in South Bohemia and it is a very popular tourist destination (recently especially among Dutch). Sometimes it is called “Southbohemian sea” (and that is a result of Czech complex of having no sea shore .
And at last but not least – the rivers. The most important one is Vltava (Moldau in German), Czech national river – it runs through České Budějovice and later through the capital city of Prague. One of our national composers, Bedřich Smetana, devoted to this river second part of his wonderful symphonic poem Má vlast (My country) called – Vltava…(It is a world-famous melody, recently used in Terrence Malick’s Tree of life; another funny thing is that Vltava is very similar to the Israeli national anthem Hatikva.)
(Me and my friends last year also devoted to Vltava our book of historical fantasy called Wilth Ahwa, where the river is something like a spirit or goddess of our land. Wilth Ahwa is an original Germanic name of the river meaning Wild river, which developed to today’s Czech word Vltava – the area of Bohemia used to be settled by Celts, then Germans and finally by Slavs and we wrote in the book short stories about all of these eras).
South Bohemian rivers are also very popular for water tourism – hobby canoeing and rafting. Especially Vltava between Lipno dam and České Budějovice changes every summer to water highway full of boats – it’s most popular Bohemian river in water tourism – you will know…).
Under the Lipno dam there is a passage called Devil’s Streams with high cliffs and big rocks in the river-channel. And every year the gates of the dam open at the end of August and great masses of water run through the river and the Czech championship in white-water racing begins. This oppo-tunity is also welcomed by many non-professional racers who try their luck lower under the official track. Look and enjoy. But don’t be afraid, together we will travel lower on the always-calm river (I went down this part in July with our two chihuahuas…).
Thanks to low population density there are a lot of woods in South Bohemia which are freely accesible. One of the greatest Czech hobbies (except beer drinking) is mushroom hunting – about 70% of Czechs go at least once per year to woods to pick some mushrooms. (But some “specialists” pick up only one kind – the Psilocybe – South Bohemia is quite famous for this kind.)
On the borders with Germany and Austria there are the largest zones of forests – on the west it is Šumava (Bohemian forest, Böhmerwald), where is one of four Czech national parks and the largest of them (in the main valley of Šumava, where the Vltava runs, is the Lipno reservoir), on the south Novohradské hory.
Šumava mouintains (or maybe only hills) are not high, about 1000 meters (the highest peak of Czech republic Sněžka in Krkonoše has 1602 m, while the highest peak of Šumava Plechý has 1378 m) but it’s the coldest area in Czech republic with some more specifics. Some protected animals live in Šumava: lynxs, Western Capercaillies, deers and elks (yes, really, they came from Poland in 70’s – there is a good environment for them in South Bohemia because of the mix of forests and marshes there).
Lipno Lake is very popular in summer for water sports, cycling and walking through the woods and visiting interesting nature landmarks. These could be glacier lakes and seas of stones, made by the continental glacier in the last Ice Age, or Death Mead (or Death Bog or Death marshes in English), a large area of marshes between Warm and Cold Vltava, two main streams connecting later to only one Vltava river.
Šumava is also one of main winter skiing areas in Czech republic. But it’s good only for children, jumping snowboardists or amateurisch Dutch people. For others it is better to go to Austrian Alps or to highest Bohemian mountains Krkonoše. But Austrian Alps are better (for us – and closer too…).
Both Šumava and Novohradské hory became dead zones after the WWII due to expulsion of Germans who used to live there. These areas were part of Iron Curtain (officially protection against „imperialist agents from the West“, in fact it restrained Czechs and Slovaks from escaping from the large communist prison called Czechoslovakia, which had changed to colony of Russian Evil Empire). The German villages remained empty or were destroyed or recolonized mostly by poor Czech people from cities (more precisely: canaille) who were not able to farm and who, in communist uneconomical and uneffective system, left their easy-acquired property to waste away.
After the Velvet revolution these borders areas have become a paradise of prostitutes, shops with cheap alcohol and Vietnamese traders with kitsch and trash products – garden gnomes loved by Germans or imitations of consumer goods (for example Adidas with four stripes – “more stripes, more Adidas”). Fortunatelly things have been getting better lately and the border areas have been reviving (in Šumava it is more visible, Novohradské hory are still lovely quiet and mass tourism free).
Here you can find a NICE PHOTOGALLERY of Lipno, Šumava and another parts of South Bohemia for your better imagination of South Bohemian lovely landscapes. (From all links in this article I recommend this especially.)
Industry and other modern things
I said that South Bohemia had been never an industrial region. But we live in industrial times and industry is necessary for development. But Southbohemian industry is typically of “light industry” branches. I will mention only the most important or interesting companies.
Madeta, milk industry – the greatest milk company in the Czech republic. And I swear the Southbohemian butter and milk is the best tasty in the Czech republic.
Rybářství Třeboň (Fishery Třeboň) – the greatest European sweet water fishery, producing and exporting famous Southobohemian carps. This tradition was established in the 16th century.
Koh-i-noor Hardtmuth – producer of office equipment, famous especially for world-known pencils, with long tradition from the 18th century. (Who knows why the company is called after this big diamond made in India. Milan: This is question by Míra, who corrected this article because of my poor English – But I know, maybe. It is because only of marketing, diamond Koh-i-noor was in 19th century symbol of something exceptional.)
Budweiser Budvar – of course, the beer. The second famous beer company in Czech republic after Pilsener Urquell (the latter defined the “Bohemian lager” in the 19th century). There are also another five breweries in South Bohemia.
Temelín nuclear power-plant – the larger of two Czech nuclear power-plants lays in South Bohe-mia. For Czechs and Southbohemian it’s OK, because Czechs mostly support nuclear energy, but we have problem with our Austrian neighbours because of this. In Austria there is a very strong anti-nuclear movement, they often blockade the borders and make another crazy things. But they in fact import our energy. Some stupid Austrians in their opposition to nuclear energy are able to buy “special machines” which you push to power plugs and this machine in plug differentiate the “good” non-nuclear electricity and the “bad” nuclear electricity. It sends the “bad” electricity back to the network and it uses only the “good” one. Sometimes I cannot believe what other people believe…
In Southbohemia there are also many other important food industry companies, woodworking companies and sawmills, fisheries and in the last fifteen years also automotive industry, making components especially for German factories. In České Budějovice there is Robert Bosch company, the economically and personally strongest company in South Bohemia, where are produced not only components but there is also a development and research center, very important to all Bosch concern.
Traffic: be prepared, the roads in Southbohemia are local, not transregional. We have only 17 km of highways (!). The new parts are being built in this time but we were waiting for too long time. It is because the former socialist (social democratic) governments corrupted their voters with expensive “social benefits” instead of investing to something reasonable – as infrastructure, for example. The connection by train is also terrible, it takes about three hours to get to Prague. Do not be surprised if we rather go to Austria than to Prague, like our ancestors in the time of Austrian-Hungarian empire…
But don’t be afraid, too isolated we are not, South Bohemia is not the “middle of nowhere”. Only a little specific region with a little specific people. When you discover it deeper, you will love it.
And last but not least: Southbohemian cuisine
Most popular and typical Czech food is Wiener schnitzel, Hungarian goulash and – fortunatelly – Oldbohemian roasted pork on caraway and garlic with sauerkraut and potato dumplings. Influences from Germany and Austrian-Hungarian Empire are clear. But really unique (and I’m sure also the best) Czech meal is svíčková na smetaně, roasted beef sirloin with cream sauce made from smashed roasted onion, carrot, celery root and parsley root mixed with sweet cream, with leavened dumplings as a side dish and served with cranberry compote. (I cooked it with Pepa at the last Alcoolympics in France, but without allspice, a necessary ingredient which weren’t able to buy in France.)
These dishes are very popular in all Czech republic including South Bohemia. But besides these there are also typical regional specialities. I hope you will taste them. Typical local ingredients originate from character of not so rich agricultural region of forests and water. Meat is typically pork, duck, chicken and fish and also game. Side dishes are usually potatoes or dumplings from leavened and potato paste and white cabbage (in summer fresh and made with sweet taste, in winter sauerkraut).
For spicing the meals our ancestors used (and so we do) things growing simply in the garden – very common are caraway seeds (Southbohemians were criticised in traveller’s reports already in the 17th century for using too much of caraway), then dill, parsley, lovage, marjoram and vegetables as onion, garlic, carrot, parsley root, celery root and horseradish too (but this only in fresh form). And mushrooms picked up in woods, also blueberries for sweet desserts. An important ingredient, especially in sauces and soups, is cream. Our bread is made from mix of wheat and rye, spiced with caraway.
You can find the following dishes very heavy and fat, but they were ideal for people hard-working on the fields with only few pauses – they full your stomach for many hours. Now they are not so ideal because we are working sitting on chairs in offices and not in fields, so people in cities and towns do not cook them often, only in special cases.)
Now the Southbohemian meals:
Cream dill soup called kulajda – cream, dill, mushrooms and eggs.
White cream cabbage soup called zelnice – cabbage boiled in cream or milk with caraway (of course), served with potatoes with lard or with onion fried on lard. What is particular is that you put the oily potatoes directly to plate with the soup.
Potato soup with mushrooms – potatoes, onion, carrot, celery, mushrooms, eggs, caraway and marjoram. Mushrooms are necessary.
Garlic soup – potatoes, garlic, parsley, caraway and sometimes with fried chopped onion, cheese and always served with fried cubes of bread.
Cabbage – sweet and saur, typically served with roasted pork and duck, always boiled with caraway (sometimes in restaurants it’s made also with mustard seeds, but it’s awful, I guess it’s German style). Sometimes cabbage is soften with onion fried on lard.
Leavened dumplings – mixed flour, yeast, eggs and after one or two hours leavening boiled in loaf form and then cut to slices.
Potato dumplings – the same but from boiled potatoes, flour and eggs and without leavening.
Hairy/furry dumplings, drbanice – smashed raw/uncooked and squezzed potatoes, mixed with flour and eggs. They are always round, not in a loaf form. They are a typical side dish to roasted duck on caraway (with sweet white cabbage).
Fruit dumplings – potato or curd dumplings (from paste where potatoes could be replaced with curd cheese) filled with plums or blueberries or apricots or strawberries or another fruit, sprinkled with curd and hot butter.
Potato pancake, bramborák in Czech, cmunda in Southbohemian dialect – grated raw potatoes mixed with garlic, marjoram, flour and eggs to liquid paste which is fried in pan. Potato pancake is also served as a side dish with sauer cabbage and smoked meat.
Roasted duck – roasted only with caraway, served with furry dumplings and sweet cabbage.
Kočičák (untranslatable, it’s something like “cattish”) – mashed potatoes with cabbage and pork cracklings/cracknels (the rest of making lard from fat white pork meat – fried and dried pieces of this fat meat)
Stuffing baked separately – chopped bread rolls/salted buns soaked in milk mixed with eggs and marjoram. Sometimes smoked meat is added and until today in countryside chopped young nettles too. This stuffing one not stuffs to the chicken but places to baking pan and bakes it in oven separately as a main dish. Sometimes used together with potatoes as a side dish to roasted chicken.
Fishes – it’s a paradox, but in a region of water fishes are not extra popular or typical today. Fish meat is more consumed in restaurants than cooked at home. But very typical is:
Trout roasted on butter, with potatoes.
Battered fried carp – with potato salad (made from boiled potatoes mixed with fresh onion, carrot, celery root, sour cucumber, mayonnaise and mustard). It’s also typical and mostly the only and universal Christmas dish in all Czech republic.
Carp fries – a real carp Southbohemian speciality developed recently – carp “pommes frites”, carp fries (small fried crunchy pieces of clear carp meat without bones).
Blueberry cake – sweet leavened paste with bluberries.
Zelňáky (cabbage flat bread/cake) – It is very Southbohemian speciality made from flour, lard (or lard with cracklings), cabbage and caraway. The paste is rolled and then baked in oven.
The following dishes, not of directly Southbohemian origin but very popular in the region, are: wild pork with rosehip sauce, cream dill or mushroom sauce with boiled beef and leavened dumplings.