Slavonice, Southern Bohemia

Out-of-Town Dining: Close by the Austrian border, this scenic town's Besídka hotel serves up some pleasant surprises

This article was originally posted on the Czech Please weblog.

I've lived in Prague for years, and I still love it for many reasons. But sometimes, you just need to get out of town. Change the scenery. Leave it all behind.

But where?

Round up the usual suspects: Český Krumlov, Telč, Mikulov, Lednice-Valtice, Rožmberk nad Vltavou, Český ráj, Šumava.

All of these destinations have their charms. But, at this point, they all have multiple entries on the been-there-done-that list.

We were looking for something new and different. Some friends came up with a name I hadn't heard before:

Slavonice -- a small, Renaissance town just one kilometer from the Austrian border. It is about 200 kilometers from Prague, and took us about two-and-half hours in the car.

Our friends wanted to check out the town and, especially, stay at Hotel Besídka. The hotel has a historic facade, but the interior has been completely redone.

Its award-winning, modern art makeover was designed by architect Roman Koucký. My friends had booked it weeks earlier.

There are just a few rooms in the hotel. Until June 1st, a double costs 1,290 CZK -- with a good, hot breakfast included. After that, the rooms are 1,490 CZK. Dogs are allowed for an extra 200 CZK, which was good news for L and Big M.

I only saw one room -- where Big D and H stayed. It is quite different than most hotels and fairly spartan.

The spiral staircase that leads to all of the rooms is wild. It is not for the faint of heart. And dogs don't seem to love it so much.

There are plenty of pictures of different rooms on the hotel's website.

V and I tried to book the Besídka at the last minute, but they were full, so we ended up at Apartmány pod věží (Apartments Under the Tower), just across the street.

This place was reconstructed only four years ago, but the building is about 500 years old.

There is antique furniture, a great, old, stone staircase, along with a modern, but small bathroom.

We loved it.

It also had a bargain of a mini-bar -- a half-liter bottle of Pilsner Urquell for 30 CZK. Who needs TV?

Anyway, let's talk about food.

As we drove through the darkness of southern Bohemia at 10:30pm on Friday night, avoiding small deer and large hare, a call came through with some good news.

H and Big D had landed in Slavonice ahead of us. The Besídka Restaurant's kitchen was open until midnight. We were only 30 minutes away, and I was hungry.

I was also very pleasantly surprised when I saw the menu. This would not be a weekend of only schnitzels, potato pancakes, sausage, and cabbage (although there was some of that). There was a nice list of pizzas, pastas, steaks, fish, and salad.

And there was another happy surprise -- low, low prices.

I could not resist going for my usual -- steak tartare with fried bread (topinky). It was one of the more expensive items on the menu at 210 CZK. But it was a serious amount of meat, maybe even too much.

The minced beef is topped with an egg yolk and surrounded by the following items: chopped onions, salt, black pepper, sweet paprika, mustard, ketchup, and cloves of garlic to rub on the bread.

The meat was fresh, but it had been ground so finely that it had a very creamy, almost non-meat-like texture. I didn't really like this, but V said this was how she was used to having it many years ago and did like it.

It came with a large amount of fried bread. V didn't like it so much. She said it tasted like French fries -- she thought they might have tossed it in the fryer instead of cooking it in fresh oil. I liked it.

It just goes to show how widely opinions can vary on the same dish. Or that we disagree a lot.

Big D got the spaghetti with pesto and pine nuts for 80 CZK. It looked really good. Most of the pastas are less than 100 CZK and they offer a wide variety of sauces and other items to go with them.

A few in the group chose the pizzas, which also have a fair number of toppings to choose from.

You can get a pizza with prosciutto, salami, fresh tomatoes, artichokes, peppers, and more. The crusts are very thin and slightly charred, which I like.

No ketchup pizzas here.

V has a trout for 110 CZK, which she said was not the freshest and was heavily fried.

On another night, I tried the beef carpaccio at 120 CZK. I've been eating a lot of raw meat lately.

It comes with lots of lemon slices, lots of sharp, shaved Parmesan cheese, and lots of black olives. The meat itself is sliced fairly thick, almost roast beef-style, and had streaks of fat through it. Not bad, but nothing too special.

The first night, a small musical group played in the non-smoking room. They sang everything from traditional Czech folk tunes to Leaving on a Jet Plane.

A friend who didn't make the trip with us said that Slavonice is known as something of an outpost for the Prague artistic community. A guy in a car with Prague plates did stop us in the street and asked us for directions.

If you want to make your own art, Besídka also has a store where you can paint, glaze, and fire your own ceramics like coffee mugs and plates. The website shows kids having fun with it.

But Besídka is not just for kids and artists. A newsreader from Czech television sat across from us. The town attracts its fair share of bicycle and motorcycle riders passing through. There was also a small group of American tourists. We drove around a little on the Austrian side of the border, but there was not much to see there.

The Besídka restaurant is not big or too fancy, but it is probably one of the more stylish places you'll find in the whole region.

Yes, that's Jan Amos Komenský's bust next to the subwoofer. On the lower shelves of the bar, they had busts that looked like Charles de Gaulle and Adolphe Menjou.

To me, at least.

The restaurant gets very full at night. Every table was taken, and we were lucky that one opened up for us at 9pm on Saturday night.

We felt sorry for the two waitresses there, who worked every meal -- breakfast, lunch, and dinner -- all weekend.

For breakfast on Saturday, I had smaženka, which is basically bread soaked in egg, fried like an omelet, and then covered with mustard and onions.

I'd say it was a bit too heavy after a night of drinking. It goes for 55 CZK.

A number of people opted for the "hemenex" for 38 CZK. You'll see this word on many Czech breakfast menus.

If you are not from around here and don't know what this word means, try saying it very slowly.

On the menu, this is also called "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern's Last Breakfast."

The menu has a number of creative names for their offerings. There is also a breakfast called "Komandante is dead." For 149 CZK, you get a shot of Bacardi rum, a cigar, and temporary possession of a photo of Fidel Castro.

V is not a big breakfast person. But when she does show up, she can be pretty creative, herself. She had a latte and a glass of sekt with a strawberry. C'est tout.

Restaurant guests get their own special breakfast menu. Non-guests are welcome for breakfast and can pay for the guest menu or order à la carte.

The weather, when we were in Slavonice, was terrific. After breakfast, we all went for a long walk through the bright yellow canola fields outside of town. We passed an old church, inspected some sadly unused concrete defense bunkers from 1937, and followed some logging trails.

Aside from a few stinging nettles, the whole weekend was pure pleasure. The weather certainly helped.

If you are looking for something a little different, Slavonice is a great idea.

Besídka Hotel and Restaurant

Horní náměstí 522

378 81 Slavonice, Czech Republic

Tel: (+420) 384 493 293

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