Bohemian Rhapsody: Cesky Krumlov

 

We set off from our temporary home in Prague one sunny morning and drove south through the countryside of the Czech Republic, heading for the small town of Český Krumlov close to the Czech-Austrian border. The landscapes of the Bohemian region were the kind that artists dream of: blue skies with wisps of clouds, rural farmhouses and fields freshly tilled or planted with various crops in checkered hues alternating with huge swaths of bright yellow canola well over two feet high. Time passed by almost dreamily, as we gazed out the car windows at mile after mile of flat land and gentle hills and places where timber logging and sawmills seemed to be the main industry. In some areas, we tunneled through thick woods growing almost to the shoulderless, two-lane road. Here and there the highway wound through picture-postcard towns of small businesses and houses, many at least a century old, set close together, with steeply pitched roofs to discourage the accumulation of winter snow.  White lace curtains hung in the windows, like a throwback to some gentler time.

 

 

The GPS took us right to the little pension we’d reserved for two nights, Hotel Krásné Údolí, dating from 1568.  The smiling owner opened heavy wooden doors that had us guessing how old they might be and we entered into a cobblestoned enclosure.  Straight ahead was the owner’s apartment, to the right was the dining room for guests and at our left was a steep set of stairs leading to the hotel’s six rooms.  Walking down the short hallway we had a chance to peek in the rooms and were totally charmed as each room had its own beautifully painted mural featuring a fair maiden from long ago and a country landscape embellished with flowers. The en-suite bathroom had an ultra-modern, glassed in shower with multiple jets, the Wi-Fi was acceptable and there was even a little dorm style fridge and a comfortable sitting area.  Throw in an ample breakfast that was included in the price of 53 US dollars a night and an innkeeper who did his best to answer our questions and we were doing a happy dance!

 

 

And then there was the town of Český Krumlov itself which topped the quaintness scale and then some.  Called “one of the most picturesque towns in Europe,” this jaw-droppingly, beautiful medieval town situated on both banks of the Vltava River is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, due largely to its intact architectural heritage spanning more than five centuries.

 

 

With more than 300 Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque houses, most of which date back to the 14th through 17th centuries, the passage of time has not done much to alter Český Krumlov’s appearance.  Careful renovations have preserved details that had us swiveling our heads: an assortment of gabled roof profiles, frescoes painted across many facades, ornate sundials, shutters, and decorative iron grills over windows and the pleasing harmony of red-tiled roofs.

 

 

Inside many of the former grand houses are restaurants serving delicious Czech dishes, boutique hotels, souvenir shops, museums, jewelry stores offering the semi-precious Moldavite stones found only in the Czech Republic, and shops selling traditional Czech crafts such as wooden toys, Czech puppets and sparkling crystal.  The street layout follows the horseshoe bends of the Vltava River which flows through the medieval town and the feeling is like stepping back a few centuries.  We strolled about the narrow and winding streets, admiring various houses, window shopping, stopping for a drink here and a meal there, in no rush to be anywhere but exactly where we were.

 

Plague Column

Eventually, all the streets we wandered would lead us back to the central town square, flanked by colorfully painted buildings with a fountain and tall Baroque sculpture anchoring one of the corners. Known as the Marian Column or the Plague Column, the statue dates from 1714 and commemorates the victims of the 1680-1682 plague epidemic. At its top and wearing a golden halo, is the Virgin Mary accompanied by the eight patron saints of the town.

 

But then, we’re getting ahead of ourselves because, before and during the evolution of the town, came the State Castle and Chateau Český Krumlov.  Built on a rocky outcrop alongside the river Vltava, the castle overlooks and dominates the old town which was built around it.  Second in size only to the Prague castle, the original buildings date all the way back to 1240 while additional palatial buildings were added between the 14th and 19th centuries.  The massive complex of Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque structures totals an impressive forty structures with a covered bridge, gardens and five courtyards.

 

 

Of all these eye-popping gems, however, the stupendous mid-13th century Renaissance tower which stands out at its 178-feet height and magnificent, beautifully restored frescoes in all their pastel beauty.  A cheap admission of about $2.50 will pay the entrance fee to the tower for the privilege of climbing the 162-steps of the spiral staircase to the very top for a heart-stopping panoramic view of the city.  Two of the four bells hanging in the tower date back to 1406 and other small bells known as clock bells are estimated to be four-hundred-plus years old.

 

 

Perhaps because of its awe-inspiring size, the castle enjoyed centuries of quiet and prosperity and the Vltava River served as an important trade route in Bohemia. The castle and its lands passed peacefully between families from the original Lords of Krumlov in the 13th century to the Lords of Rosenberg who reigned over the region’s Celtic, German and Slavic descendants for three centuries until about 1600 and played host to artists, scientists and merchants from all over Europe. The Castle was sold to the House of Eggenburg and the town became the seat of the Duchy of Krumlov for about a century until it passed in 1719 to the House of Schwarzenberg who governed for over two centuries. Seized by the Nazis from its last private owner, Adolph Schwarzenberg, in 1940 and then confiscated by the Czechoslovak government in 1945 during the Communist era, the castle was neglected and ill-maintained as was the town until after the Velvet Revolution in 1989. Today, careful restoration and its inclusion into the UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1992 has guaranteed that this fairy-tale city and castle can be enjoyed by the citizens of the Czech Republic and people from all over the world.

 

 

As far as we’re concerned, Český Krumlov is a town that zaps you back in time and can only be described in superlatives.  We spent much of our time there gawping, head-swiveling, jaw-dropping, finger-pointing and stretching our lips into wide grins while we rhapsodized over this Bohemian treasure.  Be sure to include it on your “Must See” list and don’t forget to wear your comfortable walking shoes!

 

By Anita Oliver and Richard Nash

 

40 comments

  • Great post. Adding the Czech Republic to our bucket list! How was the wine and food?

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  • What a gorgeous little town! Some of those houses really are pieces of art..

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  • What a gem you found in Český Krumlov! Your photos have become like paintings! What camera are you using? I wonder how pretty the Modalvite stone is and how far the town is from Vienna where we will be next year. Our timeshare in Portugal isn’t available so we may not be in Algarve!

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  • We passed through Czechia twice this summer on our way to and from Romania, yet we missed Cesky Krumlov! There’s just so much to see! It looks like just the kind of town I love to visit.

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  • We always see this town popping up on the list of most picturesque in Europe and your post confirmed why. It would seem that care has been taken to retain and protect the architecture and condition of its wonderful buildings. One of the great pleasures of visiting a place is to feel like you are thrown back in time and Cesky Krumlov obviously did it for you. Like almost everyone else has said – another spot to add to the list of must sees!

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  • Great post Anita and Richard! We have never been to this region and this is our first set of visuals. Very charming indeed and the architecture looks incredible. We really appreciate the inclusion of two maps, the new and the old, as it gave us a point of reference. We are intrigued though by your reference to the restaurants in some of those beautiful older buildings serving delicious dishes. We are not familiar with Czech cuisine, would love to hear more about that.

    Cool murals on the bedroom walls!

    Peta & Ben

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  • I have not yet been to the Czech Republic, but would love to go. I love the idea of being able to see several types of architecture all within the same village. And I really love that map showing the aerial view of the village.

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  • You DO manage to unearth the most charming European gems, Anita. And the pension w the murals – a steal for $53!

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  • Český Krumlov looks lovely. I really need to spend some more time in central Europe.

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  • From your photos and descriptions, I can understand why Český Krumlov is called one of the most picturesque towns in Europe and why you feel it is best described in superlatives. It looks and sounds delightful. I would love to visit. I’m glad that restoration of the castle and the town has happened.

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  • As usual a delightful telling of your personal travel journeys. So very interesting, and what a lovely place.
    Thank you and God Bless,

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  • Cesky Krumlov is quite lovely; would not have ever known. Looks like a great place to see if we get to the Czech Republic.

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  • Forgot to ask: was it busy? when were you there?

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    • We were there during the middle of the week in mid-May and, while there were many tourists, we didn’t feel overwhelmed at all by the usual hordes. We usually try to schedule our travels during the off and shoulder seasons for exactly that reason! The weather was beautiful and all we needed was a sweater, the all-purpose scarf that’s so ubiquitous in Europe and, of course, our comfortable walking shoes!

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  • How incredibly charming and that pension looks like a real find. Another place to add to the continuously expanding list.

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  • Pingback: Bohemian Rhapsody: Cesky Krumlov; Anita & Richard; No Particular Place To Go | All About World Heritage Sites

  • What a picturesque virtual tour! Thank you for sharing. Added to our bucket list of must-see places!

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  • I can totally see why it was jaw dropping😀. I think if you look up the word picturesque in the dictionary, it would be appropriate to see this town. Wow!! I love the pension too. Looks and sounds like an ideal place to stay. Added to the list..l’ll be lucky to make it to 1/3 of the places on the list. Those damn Nazis!! Finger in every pie!

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    • Exactly Kemi on the definition of picturesque. We fell in love with Prague but Český Krumlov just concentrated all of Prague’s beauty, charm and grandeur into a smaller package! They even have the same river, the Vltava, that runs through the center of both cities. Because of the size of the town though, the castle looks even more enormous and its vantage point high on the bluff, makes it look even more formidable. And, haha, that travel wish list just is never going to be done! Still, it’s fun to dream …🙂

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  • Bohemian rhapsody indeed. What a great title, and what a beautiful place. You’ve captured enough of its charm to definitely have me adding it to the ever-growing list! It’s like a fairy tale.
    Alison

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    • As soon as I put Bohemia and the Czech Republic together on the map, that old fabulous song by Queen popped into my mind and I knew I’d be using it somewhere, Alison. Rhapsody describes Český Krumlov perfectly as it really is a fairy tale town that oozes charm everywhere you look. And I know what you mean by that ever-growing list … The more blogs and travel sites we read, the longer the list gets. So much to look forward to!

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  • Have so much enjoyed your posts along your way…..

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  • I can see why you stopped in Český Krumlov. Beautiful town…and it sounds like the prices are fabulous too!

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  • Well, now we have yet another reason to return to the Czech Republic. A couple of weeks ago we had a 1-hour train change in Prague, traveling from Vienna to Budapest (I think, they’re all starting to blur). It was fun to be back in the city, if even just in the train station for 1 hour. Kind of gave us a quick snap shot of memories.

    When we walked the Camino we stayed in several pensions along the way and they were always nice little accommodations with the nicest hosts.

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    • We too can think of lots of reasons to return to the Czech Republic, Patti. We still had several places left to see on our list around the country and no doubt could have added even more if time allowed. 🙂 For us, the big revelation was how inexpensive it was to travel outside of Prague but really, Prague was reasonable, too. It’s kind of nice to revisit a favorite city again, even briefly, isn’t it? On the other hand, there’s so much out there yet to see that forging ahead is the only way to go! I was wondering when things would start to blur but who cares? Your camera and calendar can help you remember when the odyssey stops. I have no doubt that you and Abi are still having an amazing adventure. One month in and one more to go!

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  • Great photos Anita. Lovely town, we were there there for a long weekend a few years ago and loved it. People a bit warmer than in Prague, the river winding through town is popular (did you notice locals dressed like sailors waving “ahoy” to passerbys?), and home of a really great vegetarian restaurant (Leibon restaurant).
    The only weird thing that happened on that trip: the bus we were taking from Prague was stopped by the police and everyone was checked for ID. We didn’t have our passports with us but luckily had copies which they grudgingly accepted – we were told we should always have ID cards with us. It was one of the strangest things that’s ever happened to us.We read after that they can fine foreigners who don’t have ID cards with them 3000 Czech Crowns.

    Frank (bbqboy)

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    • I was wondering if you’d made it to Český Krumlov, Frank and was going to suggest it while you’re in the Czech Republic if you’d missed it. We were totally bedazzled by the town and, to answer your question, luckily missed seeing the locals in sailor suits! Maybe they wait until the summer to dress up and wave? Like you, when we traveled full-time, we always carried just a color copy of our passports with us when we were out and about and left our passports in our temporary apartment or hotel. I’d read that you’re supposed to but the risk of theft versus a random ID check always seemed higher to us. Still, it must have been some high anxiety moments for the both of you. Now that you have your residency in Croatia, you can carry your ID card which is much smaller and that’ll take care of that problem!

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  • Wow. Really makes me wonder at what I call ‘history’. I am so amazed by people and what they do to the places they live. Thanks for taking me there!

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    • As citizens of the “New World” where the history we learned started with a skim over of the Native Americans and moved quickly to the Pilgrims, we too are astounded at the sheer age and history in Europe. I love seeing these old homes, from the more humble abodes to the wealthy burgher’s palaces and magnificent castles. It’s fun to imagine what it must have been like to live in them. And it was our pleasure to take you with us, Susan!

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  • Lovely place and definitely on our bucket list as well. My family’s heritage is Yugoslavian and Bohemian. Would like to see some places where they came from. Thanks for the lovely post and pics.

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  • Looks wonderful and I have put it on my list!

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    • Great Andrew! Plan on spending a couple of nights there as there’s so much to see and do in Český Krumlov that we didn’t even mention. There are several museums, an amazing tour inside the castle and, if you’re at all adventurous, canoeing and water sports on the river too. And don’t even get us started on the traditional Czech food!

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  • I loved the title of this post, your writing and pictures kept me enthralled. What a gem of a place, a medieval feast for all your senses. Can’t believe how reasonably priced things are? Your hotel sounds a fairy tale dream. I am so glad places like this are Unesco protected, since it must be expensive to maintain it? Having a car to explore the countryside is a such a great way of finding these charming places😄

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    • The Czech Republic was a bargain and even Prague was quite reasonable. Despite the rave reviews the Pension Krásné Údolí received, we were still totally blown away with how charming it was. What a gem! Like you, we too are glad to see that the town of Český Krumlov is on the UNESCO WHS list. Tourism is obviously a big business here which I’m sure helps defray the maintenance costs but it’s obvious that the people who live there take a great deal of pride, and quite rightly so, in the town too! Another place to add to your list, Gilda!

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