Dates: October 9-11, 2015
Route: Drove from Prague.
Many of the unique places we discover, especially in Europe, starts with a search for “fairytale places in _____”. This is how we found places like Dinant in Belgium and the villages of Alsace in France. And that is how we found out about the truly fairytale village that is Český Krumlov. Situated on the banks of the Vltava River about a 2 hour drive from Prague, the town was built around a massive and beautiful 13th-century castle. Bearing Gothic, Baroque, and Renaissance elements, this is a small village that has been preserved through the ages thanks to the Nazis using most of Czech as a vacation retreat. We arrived late on a cold, fall evening, and were greeted by the warm glows of windows from small houses that, even in the dark, promised to deliver on the fairytale-town experience. After a good night's sleep in the cozy and authentic 16th-century Boutique Hotel Romantick, we set off to explore the town on a beautiful fall day. Walking on one of the side streets that leads into the center, we came around a corner and literally gasped at the sight before us; a beautiful and quaint medieval town under a towering castle that was literally out of fairytale books we read as kids. The morning sun was hitting the town just right and we spent some time just admiring the view. Surrounding the castle are cobblestone streets winding among old buildings build in the traditional Gothic style, with stone walls and massive Gable roofs. The colorful buildings of the UNESCO site city center are framed in a omega shape by the Vltava river (the same one that is also in Prague). All of this is in a valley with green mountains serving as the backdrop to this magical place.
We crossed the bridge at the south end of town and entered the narrow, cobblestone streets lined with colorful, buildings on either side. If you look closely, it is easy to see parts of the original building from the Renaissance period still in use and well preserved. Many of the buildings have original paintings of people, animals, and even pseudo brickwork on the outside. These are done utilizing a unique technique where the artist would put down a layer of paint, cover it with another, and then scratch through to create the image. A nearby (tourist) horse carriage along with the smell of baking bread almost transported us back to the Middle Ages. The old town is very walkable, and I highly recommend this as the way to explore. There are a myriad of small shops, restaurants, bars, and boutiques tucked away into narrow streets or on the banks of the river. The pace of life is instantly slowed, and it is a beautiful feeling to just take in the imagery. Given it was fall, many of the trees were in radiant hues of yellow, orange, and red. We spent the morning exploring the streets before making our way to the castle.
The castle is even more massive and imposing up close and I couldn’t help but marvel at how they managed to build structures like that in days before earth movers and modern technology. The castle itself has five courtyards with many palaces and buildings, all surrounded by a massive, well-manicured and maintained garden. We started at the Red Gate which gives entrance to the first courtyard and a path that leads uphill to the rest of the courtyards and castle buildings. The architecture is beautiful and there are many places to take in the view of the town, especially you go higher. At the end is the main castle tower which offers the best views over the town and surrounding countryside. There is also a museum and many guided tours on offer. A final place of note is the Cloak Bridge which is a three-storied, covered-arch bridge supported by massive stone pillars. This resembles a Roman aqueduct and connects the castle with the theater and the gardens.
Given the time of year, many of the restaurants and bars were closed but we managed to find a few, and the food was relatively good given we are vegetarians. The people here are very friendly, which was a surprise given what a big tourist attraction the town is. During the day it is packed with tourists, but most come on day trips from Prague or Vienna. But in the early evening, it is almost deserted and that is the time to explore the old streets and have a drink in one of the cozy bars. Unfortunately, we were only here for a day and a half which was not enough time to explore more slowly. Český is a place we will come back to and spend more time.