Historic castle setting for students learning Czech language

By Annies Joy

Overlooking the spectacular Elbe River sits the magnificent Poděbrady Castle, owned by Charles University’s Institute for Language and Preparatory Studies, and home for students studying the one-year Czech language course which enables them to go on to complete degrees in a range of subjects.

About an hour outside of central Prague, Poděbrady is an easily accessible little spa town full of quirkiness and character, which Czechs flock to as well as tourists seeking a break in one of the many spas dotted around. The town is known for its natural mineral spring which was first discovered in the second courtyard of the Chateau in 1905.

The castle’s history dates back to before 1223 when records say it was inhabited by Hroznata of the Sezemice Family as the first Lord of Poděbrady, becoming a royal castle later that century and with a descendant serving King Wenceslas IV as Supreme Chamberlain of the Kingdom of Bohemia. Its owners became inextricably linked to the 15th century Hussite struggles and later, during World War II, the Chateau was seized until 1945 to be used by the Hitler Youth (Hitlerjugend) and the Wehrmacht. In 1983 the Chateau was taken over by Charles University for the Institute of Language and Preparatory Studies, and it now houses teaching facilities as well as accommodation for home and foreign students.

The institute runs many courses available to students coming to study in Prague – in economics, engineering, humanities and medicine. These courses are available to students in both Czech and English at different academic levels, plus there is an intense one-year course to learn the Czech language in order to prepare the students to do their degree in Prague. These courses include studying the complexity of the Czech language and culture. There are also summer schools available for keen learners.

There are various different accommodation types dotted around the Chateau where the students can live in, both year-long and short-term. These are twin rooms with common areas of social amenities on each floor and with prices of about CZK500 (about £18) per month.

Despite the number of elderly visitors to the town and incoming and outgoing tourists, there are still many leisure activities for students to engage in.

With its plentitude of town centre public spaces with luscious green grass, colourful flowers, many water fountains and natural mineral water springs, Poděbrady offers a great place in the summer for the students to relax in, reading a book or taking a nice stroll along the banks of the River Elbe, which eventually flows through Germany and into the North Sea near Hamburg.

There are also lots of cute cafés and restaurants offering anything from a warm cup of coffee and cake to traditional Czech food and quality beer served up from enormous copper beer brewing barrels. There is a gentle buzz about the town from morning till evening and

as you walk around you can see the town coming alive in the evenings for young people and adults alike.

A couple of minutes’ walk from the castle walls is the town with several department stores and stationery shops for the students to shop around in. If they do not find what they are looking for, then the town has good transportation links to and from Prague to go for a day out shopping. The town has a direct one-hour train service that offers a single ticket costing as little as CZK88 (approx £3) and the high frequency of the train means there is a train coming and going every hour. This is also very good for students going for a night out in the centre of Prague students as they will be able to find a last train back even in the early hours of the morning.

Nevertheless, Podebrady itself offers its own entertainment and activities for the students to engage themselves in.

Within the castle grounds there is a quirky film café/mini-cinema with a range of hot and cold drinks as well as movie tickets and popcorn. Movies are aired during weekdays from 7pm and weekends from 5pm, including shows for children. Despite being owned by the city, it screens movies for students and locals alike. Often foreign students studying at the Chateau come along with their tutors to watch films relevant to their course, with Czech subtitles. Furthermore, the café is a place that is liked by tourists and is an ideal place for students to hang out and relax in after their studies.

Within the Castle grounds is a museum exhibition brimming with the rich history of the Chateau and Poděbrady. It is a fascinating and informative walk through the history of the castle with many objects and manuscripts from centuries ago. Students can even go into a cellar where they will find three remarkably preserved prehistoric dugout longboats on display, with coins scattered on them like a wishing well. It is certainly a place for students to explore in order to get a better understanding of Poděbrady’s history.

As if this were not plenty already for the students, there is nothing better than taking a boat ride down the beautiful and picturesque Elbe River. The student price for a round-trip of the river is just CZK150 (about £5) with a round of four drinks, a mix of alcoholic and non-alcoholic, coming to just CZK110. This means that on a good summer’s day, the students can sit back, enjoy the beautiful greenery and the gentle waters while unwinding with a nice drink in their hand.

What’s more, about 10 minutes away from the castle after a walk over the bridge is the gorgeous Lake Jezero. With its beautiful sand and clear water, the lake is a simple but effective retreat area for students. You could go for a swim in the lake and will be able to take full advantage of the facilities there for a small price such as using the slides, boats for hire, changing rooms and an outdoor shower area. There are also areas to play tennis, mini golf, take salsa lessons, and more.

Students could also take up a hobby of fishing on the riverbank, a popular pastime. There is a long stretch of path running on either side as well where the students can walk, cycle and even rollerblade along. It is an activity enjoyed by many young people of the town.

When coming to university your mind might be filled with the idea of nightclubs, alcohol and making friends through a typical night out. What Charles University offers the students studying in the Poděbrady Castle is something more than the average student life, something more than the usual tourist hustle of Prague city centre – and it’s a breathtakingly beautiful setting to study.

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