Why Dreamy Loket & its 13th Century Castle Attracts Film Makers & Celebs

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It was as if I entered a dreamy storybook when Loket greeted me for the first time. Walking over the bridge that crosses the atmospheric River Ohre, it was easy to see why this quaint gingerbread-like town attracts so many film producers and celebrities. Loket’s astonishingly old castle, which has been around since the early 13th century is certainly a draw, but it’s more likely the romantic town square with its precious fountains, the Baroque Town Hall and Church and its natural amphitheatre that add to Loket’s appeal. I don’t know the real reason that Ron Howard and his crew set up shop here to film the National Geographic series Genius, but their presence took over the entire town when we were there, so much so that Czech security guards shouted our way with a “oh no you don’t” signal as we snapped photos of the main square.
Photo credit: Loket.cz
Indeed, the town square is the main pulse of the town….

Ron Howard & Einstein Take Over the Town

While I didn’t spot any super stars on the set, apparently Geoffrey Rush and Johnny Flynn both play Einstein at different points in his life. Perhaps the producer was worried about us unveiling too much of the series with our visuals, however I was far more interested in the beautiful fountains and architecture than capturing shots of well known celebs.  Apparently, its first season is an adaptation of Walter Isaacson‘s biography Einstein: His Life and Universe, a chunk of which is based on Einstein’s personal letters.
Along the main drag, this is part of the set that Genius production crew set up…..

Rather than feed their fears although it was tempting, I made my way through the edge of T.G. Masaryka Town Square so I could see what I came there to see. You see, as a photographer, artist and writer myself, I understand Loket’s draw and why not just film producers flock here, but artists and poets as well. For example, German poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe spent time here in the 1800’s, inspired by the area and perhaps the White Horse Hotel (also known as Hotel Bily Kun) where he stayed. While that may not matter to most, one of his quotes is taped to my computer monitor so I have read a lot of his work.

“Just Trust Yourself and You Will Know How To Truly Live.” — Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Another of Goethe’s quotes which has inspired me over the years is this insightful one: “The way you see people is the way you treat them, and the way you treat them is what they become.”  Frankly, I wanted to find a little outdoor cafe somewhere where I could watch locals pass by and write, but most places were closed and I knew we soon had lunch plans at the nearby Cisar Ferdinand Restaurant and Brewery, where apparently a freshly cooked pig on a spit was waiting for our group. As I pondered the historical relevance of this rural Czech town and meandered through its charming side streets, a local cat made his way around my legs, clearly looking for attention. He finally settled in a comfy spot in front of an entryway gate where I could see the resident’s bike parked inside. Despite the fact that a film crew was in full swing, it was quite easy to find bare streets without a soul in sight within a few minute walk.

Getting lost in Loket…

Loket Castle

We were also slated to visit the historical castle which was founded in 1230.  Inside, you’ll find the Cursed Meteorite of Loket which is apparently the oldest documented meteorite in the world, known to be betwitched and weighs more than 100 kilometers. There’s also a torture chamber deep in the castle’s subterranean dungeon. At the time, the castle served a few purposes, as protection of the merchant’s path leading from Prague through Cheb to Plauen and Erfurt and later on, as a frontier fortress. Loket means elbow btw, which is significant because the castle is shaped like one as is the local Ohre River. The shape is more like a human arm bent at the elbow and as you wander through, you’ll catch a variety of fascinating things, from the meteorite and the torture chamber to a ceremonial hall, historical arms, a Romanesque Rotunda, a wedding hall, an exposition of porcelain and the tower itself.  A Romanesque, 26 meter-high tower of a square ground, which along with the remnants of a living space conceals the Loket Dragon! The dragon bears a resemblance to a snake and a lizard and up to the present, Loket housewives have been coming to him to get fire for the kindling in their stoves.
I can only imagine the medieval dinners they had here…
There are old friction gadgets, little stands for toothpicks shaped into little figures, porcelain doll heads, sculptures in the Art Deco style, decorations from old sketchbooks, utility china and old spa cups which are part of the porcelain exhibition.  Tombstones coming from the former Loket cemetery at St. John’s Church and rabbi Benjamin’s Renaissance tombstone from the extinct Jewish cemetery are arranged in a row around Margrave’s House inside.

The courtyard is a lovely open area where the famous status of a little man with a big club sits. Story has it that if you touch his nose, you’ll have good luck and if you touch his club, bad luck will befall you, or you can just opt for my plan of action which is to do neither, but strike a yoga pose and meditate for a moment or two.
Story has it that a settlement was built around the castle between the 12th and 13th centuries, and later was raised into a royal town. The castle grew and the former Romanesque building turned into a Gothic stronghold which was often visited by members of the Royal Family. The first written mention of Lokey comes from 1234, when the first known royal Loket burgrave was recorded. Apparently Queen Eliska Premyslovna used to hide in the castle with her children during the upheavals against John of Luxembourg as well as a hiding spot to get away from his temper tantrums. She spent time as a prisoner in Melnik, the dowry castle of Czech queens, although they kept her son Prince Vaclav, later, the Emperor and King Charles IV, in the underground prison of Loket Castle at only three years old. Can you imagine? The castle and the town have a fascinating history that includes fights between families and dramatic royal sagas.
Many statues and artwork remain in the castle today, which gives a thorough history and picture of the Loket of yesteryear!!

Loket Opera/Cultural Festival

Apparently, there’s a popular annual Loket Cultural Festival focused on opera which takes place in a picturesque amphitheatre below Loket Castle, although apparently t hey had to cancel the last one. It was founded in 2000, and opera singer and producer Jan Jezek has been integral. Some performances which have played include Mozart’s Magic Flute, Verdi’s Nabucco, Rigoletto, Aida, Bizet’s Carmen and Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin which have starred prominent Czech and foreign soloists. Among them Nobel Prizes in the field of opera include Thalia Anda-Louise Bogza, Csilla Boross, Ales Briscein, Thomas Black, Eva Dřízgová-Jirušová, Richard Haan, Vladimir hops, Helena Kaupová, Valentin Prolat, Yvon Škvárová, Ludek Vele and Gianluca Zampieri.The natural amphitheater in Loket was built in the late forties of the 20th century and due to its location on the banks of the river with the view of the castle, it is noted as one of the most attractive natural theaters not just in Bohemia, but in all of Europe.  
Photo credit: theblaguefromprague.blogspot.com 

Pig on a Spit For Lunch

I knew that pig was awaiting, but had no idea that we were going to see the piglet being hoisted out of an underground Slavic oven pit. I was thrilled to learn that the Cisar Ferdinand Restaurant and Florian Family Brewery (a bit of a tongue twister if you try to say it too fast), is owned and managed by a woman. She shares a story about how the pig was cooked which has me so intrigued that I decide to shoot a l’il video. I guess they baste the suckling pig in beer from their well known brewery and then cook it on hot coals for six hours or more. If you’re interested in experiencing this culinary spectacle, plan in advance since they only do it on Tuesdays and Thursdays after 5 pm.

Below is some live action from the day…have a listen!

I wanted to sit outside of course because the sun was shining down upon us and it was a glorious September day. They have picnic tables outside which apparently Richard Gere also sat at during his visit to the nearby Karlovy Vary Film Festival last year, which celebrated their 50th year. There was also a brightly painted yellow and salmon colored wall facing us with quotes from various celebrities are apparently been through Loket, including the likes of Benjamin Franklin. While the quotes are a bit distracting at first since they’re all in Czech and you’re dying to know what they say, a quick translation engine will fix that frenzy.  Curious what profound quote Benjamin Franklin left behind? I’m not sure how profound given his genius, but it is ever so humorous and fitting for a place that churns out so many delicious stouts and lagers.

“Beer is living proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.” — Benjamin Franklin

They decided to move us inside after the piglet was cut up on a big platter so we could be glutenous I guess in private. There was more room inside to seat all of us of course, and it was all so traditional, that I warmed to the idea, especially as we made our way up to the bar for refills of their beer on tap. Curious what they served? In addition to Grog Punsch and Horka Medovina (essentially, hot mead), they poured Svetly Lezak Helles Lager, Tmavy Lezak Dunkles Dark, Tmavy Uzeny Special Rauchbier (Smoked Beer) and their Rubinovy Special Rubin-Spezial Ruby Special. My favorite? Beer purists may wince, but I mixed the smoked beer and the Tmavy Lezak Dunkles Dark together — oh so delish!
Bily Kun Hotel / White Horse Hotel
Known as one of the oldest hotels in Europe, Bily Kun (White Horse Hotel) was built in the 16th century and still sits today in its original location in Loket’s main square. From here, you get romantic views of the castle, St. Wenceslas, the river and mountains in the distance. They boast large rooms which makes it a good stay if you’re traveling with your entire family in tow.  The place has so much history, it’s hard to know where to start. In the Middle Ages, royal patrons stayed at the hotel, which at the time, was right across from the King’s Castle. Charles IV, the last Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire of Germany who ruled in the 14th Century and as noted above, served as a prisoner in Loket Castle as a child, apparently loved to visit Loket despite that horrific memory. He held diplomatic meetings in Loket, and during his visits, he stayed at Bily Kun. He is known to be one who discovered the hot springs in the area and to found the nearby spa town Horke Lazne, which was later changed to Karlovy Vary, one of the most famous in Bohemia today.
Since the hotel is located right in the town square, it’s hard to miss the view of the Holy Trinity Column, which pretty much dominates the center of town. Baroque style buildings are abound and as Goethe is well known for saying: “Architecture is Silent Music.” I absolutely love this and couldn’t agree more.
Speaking of Goethe, there’s a romance that has a historical moment at the Bily Kun between Baroness Ulrike von Levetzow, with whom he celebrated his 74th birthday on the August 28, 1823. But just as marauders failed to break through the gates of Loket Castle into the city streets, he sadly failed to win the heart of the young noblewoman. Goethe later recounted the frustration of his unrequited love in his Marienbad Elegy: “Loket is beautiful beyond description and is like a work of art which can be admired from all sides.”


Photos: Ulrike von Levetzow, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (courtesy of Czech Tourism)

Another quirky factoid about Loket and the hotel is that you can see it in the distance of a shot taken during the 2006 filming of James Bond film Casino Royale, in which the city “played the role” of a summer resort in Montenegro.

A Natural Wonderland

Even if you care less about movie shoots, James Bond and Ron Howard, or have seen so many ancient castles on your trips to Europe, you can’t bare to walk through another one, Loket is worth a visit, especially if you’re a nature lover. Loket and the surrounding area is perfect for walks, hikes and cycling. There are many hiking and biking paths in the town’s suburbs and they pass through the old forest where you’ll find yourself surrounded by unspoiled nature, rocks and mountain springs. Because town is located on a river, you can also get out ON the water in a canoe or kayak. It’s quite easy to that ‘aha moment’ of the “most adorable town” meets “pure natural beauty” as you walk across the storyland bridge into Loket for the first time.
Additionally, the renowned Svatošské Rocks are only five kilometers from the town center.  The rocks, which can be found along the Ohře (Eger) River between Karlovy Vary and Loket, was declared the national natural monument in 1933.  This group of the massive granite rocks creates remarkable formations, such as the petrified wedding procession, the Venetians’ Grove (artificial cave) and the Old Loket Fort (an ancient settlement on the rocky promontory above the river from the Middle Stone Age).

If you walk around the Svatošské Rocks, you will also come across a popular educational nature trail. The educational nature trail between Loket and Karlovy Vary is ten kilometers long and has twelve stops along the way, of which you’ll learn about geology, archaeology, history and botany at each stop. You can reach the Svatošské Rocks from Loket (by bus or train) or from the Karlovy Vary – Doubí (the public transit bus number 6).

Svatosske Rocks – photo credit: www.karlovy-vary.cz 

Helpful Logistics & Links

  • Loket Castle: Zámecká 67, Loket |http://www.hradloket.cz/en/
  • Loket Festival: http://www.festivalloket.cz/
  • White Horse Hotel aka Bily Kun Hotel: T. G. Masaryka 109/53, 357 33 Loket | http://www.hotel-bilykun.cz/
  • Svatošské Rocks: https://www.karlovyvary.cz/en/svatosske-rocks
  • Karlovy Vary – a must visit (be sure to read my write-up)









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