Even after all the castles I had seen in East Bohemia, Nové Hrady came as a surprise. Not far from the town of Litomyšl, this is a beautifully intact rococo castle with formal gardens tumbling down the hillside. No wonder it is known as the “Czech Versailles”.
Nové Hrady: The Czech Versailles
The original castle on this site was built in the 15th century. It was a circular hilltop structure surrounded by a defensive wall. However it was later ruined, and the hillside became a park. Little remains of the old castle today, apart from some small sections of the wall and the fortifications.
In 1767 a series of structures representing the Catholic Stations of the Cross were erected on the side of the hill. The current house – Nové Hrady simply means “New Castle” – was added a few years later. It was intended as a summer residence, designed in the then fashionable rococo style. This led to the epithet of the “Czech Versailles”.
During the Soviet era the new castle fell into disuse and the fabric of the building deteriorated. However, it was purchased by the current owners in 1997. They restored the house and the grounds to their former splendour.
Exploring the Grounds of Nové Hrady
You enter the grounds through an ornate gate, framing the castle in the distance. From here you can walk up the path towards the house and the kitchen garden. Nearby is a modern maze, with four observation towers and a “surprise” at the centre.
The grounds are extensive. There is a French style garden on the hillside, with flower beds, a pond and fountains. You are surrounded by birds and butterflies, and the scent of lavender follows you as you walk. Further up the hill is the English Garden, where you will find the Stations of the Cross and the remains of the Gothic castle.
Inside Nové Hrady
I didn’t have time to explore everything at Nové Hrady – you could easily spend several hours here. There are stables and a deer farm. And even a Cycling Museum in an old granary building.
Although the castle is a private residence, you can take a tour of the interior. You will see displays of historic furniture, and the owners’ private apartment. And when you have finished you can enjoy a drink or traditional Czech cuisine in the restaurant.
The house is used as a venue for a number of events, in particular the annual Smetana Litomyšl opera festival. It is easy to imagine the music flowing through the house and its grounds, a reminder of a grander, more opulent era.