Although it’s definitely on the tourist trail, Cesky Krumlov is a breath of fresh air after experiencing the mass tourism of Prague. Sitting in the very southern part of Bohemia close to the border with Austria, the Vltava river meanders majestically around this small town on its way towards Prague. The remarkably well preserved medieval heart of Cesky Krumlov is dominated by a magnificent 13th century castle, and is one of the most picturesque places I’ve ever visited. No wonder UNESCO gave it World Heritage status in 1992.
I’d picked up a hire car in Prague and, after battling my way through rush hour traffic, was soon heading south through rolling countryside. It took about three hours to reach Cesky Krumlov and, as I drove up a hill towards my hotel, I got my first view over the town. That small glimpse was mouth watering. It was still early and I couldn’t wait to start exploring, but first I had to check-in to the hotel. I was staying at the 1st Republic Villa, a small hotel run by a young Czech-New Zealand couple. Cesky Krumlov isn’t short of accommodation options, but if you’re visiting I’d recommend this place.
If you do visit and Cesky Krumlov feels vaguely familiar, it might be because you’re a fan of Egon Schiele’s work. The painter’s mother, Marie Soukupova, was born here and he came here to paint. The sexually provocative, explicit eroticism of his work shocked many in cosmopolitan Vienna, in feudal Cesky Krumlov it caused outrage. He painted some very memorable townscapes and typical scenes of daily life, but his ‘degenerate’ lifestyle scandalised the town. Living with his muse and mistress, Walburga Neuzil, was bad enough, but using the town’s teenage girls as models was beyond tolerable.
The town’s Egon Schiele Art Centrum is well worth a visit for the permanent exhibition which has a small collection of Schiele’s drawings, watercolours and memorabilia. It doesn’t have many original works by Schiele, but if you like his work it’s worth the €7 entrance fee. Schiele’s paintings and sketches still have the power to shock and, as I set off to explore the town, I was left wondering how explosive his presence in a religious and conservative small-town society in the early 20th century must have been.
It was lunch time and it was gloriously sunny. I walked around looking for somewhere to eat and spotted some people sat alongside the river. Down a cobbled street I found the entrance to U Dwau Maryi, The Two Marys, which not only had spectacular views towards the castle but also served up the tastiest food I had during my entire trip. The spicy lentils with salad and flatbread came without a single hunk of pork or any dumplings, something of a novelty in the Czech Republic. Thankfully, it still went well with the local dark beer.
From my riverside table I was able to watch the flow of day tripping tour groups from Prague and across the border in Austria passing over Lazebnický most, the bridge that connects the town with the castle. There seemed to be a lot of people heading to the castle (this is the second most visited town in the Czech Republic after all). I decided to spend a couple of hours wandering the town’s cobbled streets in the hope that most people would be heading home by the time I visited in the late afternoon.
I found my way to the attractive town square, from which a variety of inviting looking streets radiate. I chose one and found myself going up a hill towards the 14th Century church of St. Vitus, before plunging back downhill and into the main square. All roads in Cesky Krumlov seem to lead to the same place. I tried another street this time and ended up in a narrow tangle of lanes that eventually led me back to the river and the wooden Lazebnický most. I crossed over and climbed up some steep steps towards the castle …