Chateau Otin

Daria Krstev has embarked on an ambitious project to restore the family home of Frantisek Palacky who is considered the Father of the Czech Nation.

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Daria Krstev, the owner of Chateau Otin
Artiom Ganin of @Castles_and_Palaces talks to Daria Krstev who has bought - by a lucky coincidence - the rundown Chateau Otin in the Czech Republic. She has launched a large-scale restoration project to revive the family home of great Czech politician and historian Frantisek Palacky. The man spent there his happy days after marrying Terezie Mechurova. Daria who comes from the Russian city of Vladivostok in the Far East has a vision for the once glorious castle complex. She wants to have a small and cozy literary hotel, which will offer 12 rooms for the guests. It will have a library named after Frantisek Palacky and a museum in the now dilapidated garden pavilion. The complex will be a great venue for weddings in style too - but first Daria needs to finish renovating the wing which will become her home. We've discussed why these ruins attracted her so much, the overall progress of the restoration and how despite the COVID pandemic she managed to carry on with the works when investors turned their backs on her.

FANTASTIC CHAIN OF EVENTS...

Castles_and_Palaces (CnP): Daria, you've said your story with Chateau Otin started in the fall of 2018 when, by virtue of an almost fantastic chain of events, you signed the purchase contract and Chateau Otin went into your care. What kind of events led to the purchase and why do you call them fantastic?
Daria Krstev (DK): Well, back in to 2018 my thoughts to buy a chateau were more of a fantasy for me. I thought that I had plenty of free time, an interest towards historical buildings and a nice apartment which I could sell one day and use the funds to buy a chateau. So, I started looking for a property without a clear plan to buy it. Then suddenly I came across Chateau Otin. It happened pretty soon, it was only the third castle I checked. And I fell in love with the place. Then to my surprise the bank became unexpectedly generous; the chateau keeper and the former owner of the place suddenly came to an agreement which they failed to achieve for years (they also had a few law suits). Imagine this - my flat was evaluated 50% higher than I expected and almost twice the price I had paid for it just 4 years before. It felt too good to be true. I still had many reservations but I decided if life was bringing something so emphatically to me – it would be a mistake just to walk away.
CnP: It was a fantastic chain of events indeed. The owner and the bank were too happy about the potential deal too! Who was the previous owner?
DK: It belonged to a German company, the main shareholder used to live there but the chateau was abandoned for some 20 years. The keeper didn't do any maintenance works as he wasn't paid. He also presumably had a fake 100-year lease contract so the building couldn't be sold by the owner.
DK: So, the building was completely neglected, on top of that the keeper rented the chateau out to some suspicious people. When I came to Otin for the first time I saw a couple of drunk people here and there, the antique piano was used as an ashtray, dirty clothes were all over the place. The smell was horrible, the property looked bad enough to feel sick right away. At the same time it was gorgeous.
CnP: Please tell me a few words about yourself – how come you've made up your mind and embarked on such a large-scale project.
SGH: I guess I like challenges from time to time. I was born in the Russian city of Vladivostok in the Far East. Back in the Soviet times even Soviet citizens needed a visa to enter the city. So, travelling was off the table when I was a kid. When I finished school, the environment changed completely. Vladivostok was full of tourists from Korea, China and Japan. Those were the first foreign cultures I met, obviously I got fascinated by them and decided to study cultural communication and diplomacy at the university.
DK: I also studied the Korean, the Chinese and the English languages. At the age of 19 I went to the UK for two years. It was a life changing experience. I was young, poor and as free as a bird. I had that strong feeling that I can get anything I want for the first time in my life. So, I decided that I want to pursue a career in the tourist industry. In 2008 I moved to Prague, together with my ex-partner we started a company doing inbound tourism into the Czech Republic. He was also involved in the hospitality business in South Africa, so for the following 8 years my life was split between Prague and Cape Town. I was promoting both South Africa in Eastern Europe and Russia and also cultural tourism into the Czech Republic worldwide. This is how I ended up with Chateau Otin!
CnP: It is interesting that no one claimed - the castle was nationalized after WWII – so the previous owners could get their property back easily. Why didn't they do it?
DK: This is true but the thing is the chateau had been sold via an execution order before. My lawyer told me such kind of procedure prevents the property from being claimed by anybody.
CnP: I see. What was the price for the ruined castle if it is not a secret of course?
DK: Well, it is equivalent to a 150 sq.m apartment in the center of Prague, now when the prices went up probably half of that.

CnP: As one can see from the images on the castle's website the buildings are in a dire state. Can they really be saved?
DK: That's a slightly insulting question! What do you think I am doing here!
CnP: Still, there are hundreds of castles for sale in the Czech Republic. Why did you choose Chateau Otin?
DK: This is true, there are many wonderful castles here for sale. It would be just great if one of your readers will join our community here and become my neighbor! I have to say the people I met since my journey with Chateau Otin has started are one of the most interesting people I've met in my life. I feel very lucky to share such a great company.

A COZY HOTEL, A MUSEUM AND A GARDEN

CnP: So, what's the plan for the chateau and the rest of the estate?
DK: The plan is to open a small literary hotel with an unusual (it is a secret now) library named after Czech historian and politician Frantisek Palacky - the man who is known as 'Father of the Nation'. The garden pavilion - Gloriette - will host an interactive museum "Letters from the past". As for the garden, I am going to open it for public and we also have a little pond there, and I would like to have a summer open-air language school for kids.
CnP: How much will the restoration works cost and what are the deadlines?
DK: It all depends. I am now trying to figure out at least the costs. As for the deadlines I am not in a rush but my goal is to restore at least a few rooms this year – so that I could move in permanently and open the chateau garden for some summer events, mainly weddings. It is worth mentioning that Palacky got married at the chateau in 1827 and spent many happy days with his wife Tereza here. There is this vibe of happy love stories and almost everybody who came to visit me says: 'What a romantic place!' I totally agree.
CnP: Normally such a project should have good repercussions for the region it is located - locals should be happy there's a brave person trying to revive the long-forgotten property, if the project is a success they will get a flow of tourists who will bring money. How do you get along with the locals?
DK: I hope they are happy about that, yes. Before I came over the chateau was only causing problems. So, I guess I got that extra credit of support from the locals because of those dark days in the chateau's history just before me. I hope the neighbors won't change their mind when the tourists arrive. The chateau is going to have only 12 rooms or so, so it couldn't be too annoying. In fact, I believe my project can do a lot of good to the village and to the image of the region from the tourism perspective too.
CnP: To which extent is the state involved in the process – after all, Chateau Otin has close connection to the 'Father of the Czech Nation' and not only him!
DK: We got one grant for to repair the roof in 2019, in 2021 we got some money for the roof too; 80% of the restoration expenses was paid by the state while I paid the other 20% out of my pocket. I am very grateful for that. We also tried to get other grants but we did not succeed. I am doing a proper research now on what kind of subsidies we are untitled to. I feel that the local heritage people like my plans and I hope when they see the results of our work this year [2021] they will be even more keen to help.
CnP: I hope you will impress them! You've started the restoration two years ago – tell me please what has been achieved so far?
DK: You know, the Covid pandemic changed a lot. My business has been on halt since March 2020. The investors I had in mind have their own problems now like everybody else in the hospitality business. So I had to reconsider my plans – before I was more focused on the project, I wrote the concept, ran the chateau's website etc. Now I am there at the front line, doing as much as I can there myself. The plan is to finish the restoration of the left wing and a bit of the garden for which I pay myself. It will allow me to host some events at the chateau next summer and then I can plan things further.
CnP: Will you settle in the chateau after the restoration is completed and your splendid castle is open to public?
DK: Yes, that is a plan! I will occupy a several rooms downstairs in the left wing, I am restoring them now.
CnP: Which part of the chateau suffered from neglect the most?
DK: Basically it is the first floor of the main building. The original carved ceiling was dismantled in 80s, the magnificent entrance, wall decorations, and the ceiling stucco were destroyed. And also the Gloriette – a stunning late baroque garden pavilion - the frescos there were most likely painted by the court architect of Bohemia, the main fortifier of Prague – Kilian Ignaz Dientzenhofer. This poor building doesn't even have the windows or the doors.
CnP: This is really sad. The chateau was labelled as cultural monument by the state in the 1960s – how come the complex was used as a warehouse till the 1970s?
DK: I don't know how to comment... you know I was born in the Soviet Union and such kind of things don't surprise me, it is just very sad indeed.
CnP: What's the oldest part of the chateau?
DK: The cellar dates back to the 14th century.

CnP: Have you found any interesting items during the restoration and what are they?
DK: Yes! I found a silver necklace of the mid-18th century. Perhaps it is just the beginning and more precious finds are coming!
CnP: I know that originally Otin was a Gothic fortress – did you find any artifacts dating back to those times?
DK: No, not yet.
CnP: Do you keep in touch with other owners of old castles who have made the same journey so to speak and who could share their experience?
DK: Yes, they are a big source of inspiration for me. I have also recently become a member of AMHZ (the Association of Castle and Chateau owners) and NextGen (the association for a next generation of historical properties owners across Europe) so I look toward to meet more of the castle owners in person.
CnP: People say such picturesque ruined properties are a great breeding ground for all kind of ghosts! Who is your ghost?

DK: Sure, we have one! Magical Mr. Elfin. A stylish gentleman in his 70s. He is a distant, a bit skeptical man with a warm heart. I am writing a story about him now.
CnP: I'll be happy to read the story once you finish it! Any legends about Chateau Otin which you know and love?
DK: So far I know only one. It is about a secret tunnel which connects Otin to the Predslav church. Apparently this tunnel is full of gold. Still digging, you know!
CnP: Classy! It is a very practical legend! Tell me an interesting fact from the history of your chateau – or anything you think is curios, extraordinary or can't be found in history books!
DK: Let me think… well.. when I bought the chateau and found out about its connection to Frantisek Palacky – I started my big year-long research on him. I tried to "paint" a picture of him as a person (somehow it was very important to me) but the only information I could find was very academical and impersonalized, it was all about his ideals, his plans and achievements in politics and in regards to the history of the country.
DK: Surely, this information is valuable but I wanted to know him as a person. What did he have for breakfast? What did he drink? What was his favorite poem? Then I came across the letters he wrote to his wife Tereza and the letters she wrote back to him from Chateau Otin. It was just before they got married. They were so delicate, so beautiful, he seemed to be a very sensitive and passionate man. I love it!
CnP: How sweet! So, you've covered the first leg of your long journey – what's your piece of advice to those dreamers who would like to follow suit and buy a rundown castle, restore it and transform into an exclusive hotel?
DK: Do you best in keeping the balance: your hot heart VS your cool head. This is actually a very good piece of advice to myself though.
We very much hope that you loved the story told by Daria Krstev, the owner of Chateau Otin in the Czech Republic!

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Photo credits: Chateau Otin

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