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Although Prague is the main tourist destination within the Czech Republic, the surrounding countryside offers several attractions as well. If you’re a seasoned traveler, you may want to rent a car and drive; otherwise, hotel concierges can provide information on organized excursions to the following attractions.

Karlstejn Castle
Known to the locals as Hrad Karlstejn, this ancient fortress is the most visited landmark beyond Prague’s city limits. And for good reason – Karlstejn is the manifestation of everything you ever imagined a medieval castle would be. In the 14th century, the Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV chose this hilltop, forested location (17 miles miles southwest of Prague) for the stronghold that would safeguard the crown jewels. A portion of the interior of the castle has been devoted to exhibits that reflect the life and times of this founding emperor. Ancient Gothic art is also on display.

Melnik
Situated 20 miles north of Prague, at the convergence of the Elbe and Vltava rivers, this hillside town has been a wine-making center for over a thousand years. The town square itself is a quaint cluster of shops, and the view of the vineyards and the rivers is breathtaking. According to legend, a 9th century princess first used this land for viniculture, and it’s known that Emperor Charles IV imported grape vines from the Burgundy region of France. Despite its standing history, however, the wines produced here are virtually unknown abroad. Tastings are available at wine cellars, taverns, and at Melnik castle.

Karlovy Vary
Lying 80 miles to the west of Prague, this is an elegant spa town, built around a cluster of mineral springs. Through the ages, visitors here have included Karl Marx, Peter the Great, Brahms, Bach, Goethe and Liszt. Because of the town’s former notoriety, it holds a wealth of architectural landmarks and is a small cultural center. During the year visitors may participate in film festivals, concerts, and theatre presentations. There are many cafes, restaurants, and shops as well.

Ceske Budejovice
Established in the 13th century, this picturesque town lies 90 miles south of Prague. It is the regional capital of South Bohemia and a famed brewery town. The central square features a large beer arcade where you can sample the local brews, many shops, and impressive examples of Baroque homes.

Konopiste Castle
Built in the late 13th century, this fortress lies 27 miles southwest of Prague. In 1887, the property was acquired the Austrian Archduke Francis Ferdinand, whose 1914 assassination precipitated World War I. The archduke was a great sportsman who used the country estate as a hunting lodge, and hundreds of his trophies are on display today. He also collected armour, and there is an impressive collection of both armour and the weapons a knight would use.