MORAVSKÝ KRUMLOV, CZECH REPUBLIC
Rick Steves: Tour leader, producer of shows for television and radio, writer of a syndicated travel column, and publisher of over 30 guidebooks via his namesake company (ricksteves.com).
Back when he was a teenager, Rick Steves visited Europe to scope out factories with his father, a piano importer. Now he spends his summers racing across the Continent befriending locals and inspecting up to 20 hotels and 15 restaurants a day.
"It looks like it did the day the Iron Curtain fell," says Steves, of Moravský Krumlov, a small Czech town in a remote eastern corner near Slovakia and Austria. "Nothing has changed. There's a romantic, wistful decrepitude about the place." The main attraction is behind the chipped yellow exterior of the 13th-century Castle Moravský Krumlov: Slav Epic, a series of gigantic, grandiose paintings by Alfons Mucha, who was born in nearby Ivancice. Mucha is known for his wispy, sensual art nouveau posters, but he considered these 20 panels depicting the history of the Slavic people to be his masterpiece, and he spent 18 years creating them. The work then languished in storage for decades after World War II. "When you're there, you feel like you're all alone with these canvases," says Steves. "It's like you discovered a treasure."
Information: Trains to Moravský Krumlov from Prague take four hours, idos.cz, $37; Castle Moravský Krumlov, 1 Zámecká, 011-420/515-322-789, $3. There are plans to move Slav Epic to a new home; it may go to Prague as early as 2009.
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