The medieval magnificence of Cesky Krumlov

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 castle, Czech Republic

Cesky Krumlov castle, Czech Republic

Cesky Krumlov, Czech Republic

Cesky Krumlov, Czech Republic

Cesky Krumlov castle, Czech Republic

Cesky Krumlov castle, Czech Republic

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.

Cesky Krumlov, Czech Republic

Cesky Krumlov, Czech Republic

Cesky Krumlov, Czech Republic

Cesky Krumlov, Czech Republic

Cesky Krumlov, Czech Republic

Cesky Krumlov, Czech Republic

Cesky Krumlov castle, Czech Republic

Cesky Krumlov castle, Czech Republic

Cesky Krumlov castle, Czech Republic

Cesky Krumlov castle, Czech Republic

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.

Cesky Krumlov, Czech Republic

Cesky Krumlov, Czech Republic

Cloak Bridge, Cesky Krumlov castle, Czech Republic

Cloak Bridge, Cesky Krumlov castle, Czech Republic

Cloak Bridge, Cesky Krumlov castle, Czech Republic

Cloak Bridge, Cesky Krumlov castle, Czech Republic

Cesky Krumlov castle gardens, Czech Republic

Cesky Krumlov castle gardens, Czech Republic

Cesky Krumlov castle, Czech Republic

Cesky Krumlov castle, Czech Republic

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.

Bohemian rhapsody, the delights of Cesky Krumlov

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.

Cesky Krumlov, Czech Republic

Cesky Krumlov, Czech Republic

Cesky Krumlov, Czech Republic

Cesky Krumlov, Czech Republic

River Vltava and castle, Cesky Krumlov, Czech Republic

River Vltava and castle, Cesky Krumlov, Czech Republic

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.

Cesky Krumlov, Czech Republic

Cesky Krumlov, Czech Republic

Cesky Krumlov, Czech Republic

Cesky Krumlov, Czech Republic

Cesky Krumlov, Czech Republic

Cesky Krumlov, Czech Republic

Cesky Krumlov, Czech Republic

Cesky Krumlov, Czech Republic

Castle, Cesky Krumlov, Czech Republic

Castle, Cesky Krumlov, Czech Republic

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 …

Cesky Krumlov, Czech Republic

Cesky Krumlov, Czech Republic

Cesky Krumlov, Czech Republic

Cesky Krumlov, Czech Republic

Castle, Cesky Krumlov, Czech Republic

Castle, Cesky Krumlov, Czech Republic

Cesky Krumlov, Czech Republic

Cesky Krumlov, Czech Republic

Cesky Krumlov, Czech Republic

Cesky Krumlov, Czech Republic