Cesky Krumlov is an incredible place. This gorgeous medieval town, dominated by a magnificent castle sitting on a hill, feels like it may have been transplanted straight out of Grimms’ Fairy Tales into the Bohemian countryside. There has been a castle here for nearly nine hundred years, and the town grew in its shadow. Over those centuries the medieval character of the town has survived almost intact. That would be remarkable in its own right, but the town dramatically nestles in the bends of the Vltava River and between the surrounding wooded hills. It’s nothing short of spectacular.
Cesky Krumlov’s castle is the town’s main attraction, and it has a long, proud history. The aristocratic families who owned the castle were at the centre of European politics, and were some of the most powerful people in Central Europe. Remarkably, over nine centuries of its existence, only three families have owned the castle: the Rozmberks, Eggenbergs and Schwarzenbergs. The Rozmberk’s ran the town for nearly 300 years and it’s to them that the castle’s most famous ghost story is attached – the White Lady of Cesky Krumlov.
In the mid-15th century, the ruler of Cesky Krumlov, Oldrich II, married his daughter, Perchta, against her will to Jan of Lichtenstein. He treated her miserably and she was stuck in an abusive marriage for thirty years. It’s claimed she refused to forgive Jan his sins against her, so on his deathbed he cursed her. She’s said to roam the castle still. If that seems both unfair and far fetched, it’s also said that the Rozmberk’s attempted to grow gold in the castle gardens by planting coins. The Schwarzenberg family crest is a Turks severed head being pecked by a raven.
This is the sort of history that encouraged me to climb up the steps to the castle. You can tour the castle grounds and gardens independently. If you want to see the interior of the castle you have to take a guided tour. The options were confusing and the ticket staff incredibly unhelpful, but eventually I bought a ticket that would take me through the Cloak Bridge. The dramatic three-storied Cloak Bridge is built on massive stone arches over what was once the moat, and connects the castle to the tranquil gardens.
I went to the start point of the tour and waited with a small group of Czechs for our guide to show up. My experience of guided tours in historic buildings hadn’t prepared me for our guide: a lady in her sixties wearing bright red high heels, fishnet stockings and wielding a red rose like a conductor’s baton. It was clear from the reaction of the Czechs on the tour (no photos allowed) that it was entertainingly eccentric. Sadly, it was entirely in Czech and completely lost on me. I had to put up with a boring printed guide in English.
The tour of the Schwarzenberg family rooms, the last family to own the castle, was interesting. Adolph Schwarzenberg, with his wife Princess Hilda of Luxembourg ,was the very last of the family to live there. He was vastly wealthy and an outspoken critic of the Nazis as they rose to power. He owned a palace in Vienna, and it’s said that when the Anschluss occurred he flew black flags above the palace; when the Nazi authorities banned Jews from Vienna’s public parks, Schwarzenberg is reputed to have opened the palace gardens to Jews.
He also donated a lot of money to the defence of Czechoslovakia. This opposition to the Nazi regime meant that when German forces annexed the country in 1939 he had to flee, first to Italy and then to the United States. That was the last time he would see the castle of Cesky Krumlov. After the war the Communist authorities claimed it for the nation, a state in which it has remained until the present day. The rooms felt a little in need of maintenance, but the furnishings and personal objects were fascinating.
I went for a walk through the lovely gardens before returning to the town. The sun was setting and most day trippers had left for the day. Cesky Krumlov’s deserted medieval streets were impossibly atmospheric. I stopped at one of the bars on the main square and watched the sky turned pink and then the stars come out. After dinner I strolled through empty streets back to my hotel and took in one final view over the town. In the morning I’d be leaving early for Moravia.