The thousand-year old city of Melnik has been a gathering place for royalty since its inception. A short visit there quickly reveals why this very quaint town became a favorite of queens over the centuries and remains the home of Czech Republic royalty even today. But no story of royalty goes without some mention of tragedy, scandal and redemption, and Melnik is no exception.
Melnik had the distinction of being named a Dowry Town in the 1400s. These were the towns known for being the most beautiful in the region, that were given by the king to his queen. Dowry towns were an important place for both refuge and income that the queen earned through taxation. The unfortunate side of this was that over time Melnik became the sad residence of queens and princesses to be sent to live following the deaths of their husbands. That fate also gave rise to several characteristics of the place that continues to make it one of the most picturesque areas to visit on a day trip from Prague.
The town of Melnik is home to only 19,000 residents, which includes the Czech Republic’s royal Lobkowicz family. As you can imagine, as the home for royalty over a span of hundreds of years the place does not look run-down. A stroll around the town reveals narrow cobbled streets and beautifully manicured lawns. All with the backdrop of a lush growing area situated on the confluence of the rivers Labe (Elbe) and Vltava. And the town’s main square is brightly colored in the fashion that became popular after the fall of the iron curtain where every effort was made to remove the uniform gray buildings and mood that came and left with the end of communist rule.
Every Queen Needs A Castle
At the end of World War II, the communists took control of the country and members of the aristocracy were forced to flee, leaving their land and possessions behind. After the end of 41 years of communist control, the Lobkowicz family returned from exile and regained ownership of the Melnik Castle. Jiří Lobkowicz and his wife Bettina were able to move back into the castle in the early 1990s and began the arduous process of restoring the property. You can visit it now and enjoy its stunning views, take a spin on the dance floor, sip wine in their private cellar or view an expansive art works including one of the world’s most impressive collection of hand-drawn maps dating back to the 17th Century.
But what you can’t do in the castle is visit with Bettina, who was unfortunately replaced by a much younger opera singer and now current wife to Prince Jiří. Not taking her dismissal lightly, Bettina took her sour grapes and moved away – but only by a few hundred feet.
Let there be wine!
The former princess took the knowledge that she gained in running the palace and overseeing the family’s famous wine production just down the street. She is now overseeing her own successful winery where you can meet her and taste revenge. I’ve been there – it tastes pretty good.
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Thanks to JayWay Travel, specialists in custom tour packages to Central & Eastern Europe, who sponsored our time in Prague and introduced us to Melnik. As always, all our opinions are our own.