CONTRIBUTED BY CALIFORNIA GLOBETROTTER
Just beyond Passau, over the Czech Republic border and about 45 minutes to an hour, through back roads, small villages and country side, you can find one of the most perfectly preserved Medieval towns still left in Europe.
Surrounded by a meandering Vltava River, with an incredibly interesting history, this town is a must see for those who are looking for something a little different than your average city! Founded in the 13th century and once owned by three different families, it escaped the horrors of both world wars and was forgotten about until the 1990s, therefore, preserving its unique appearance earning it a UNESCO World Heritage badge.
After Prague, Český Krumlov is the second most visited town in the Czech Republic, which draws in tourists interested in “Czeching” out the second largest castle in the Czech Republic, which includes 40 buildings! Besides the castle, people are drawn to this fairytale town for the kayaking/canoeing down the Vltava river.
Getting to this town might not always be easy to reach, especially by train if coming from Germany. So, thankfully, we drove our car. Once reaching the outskirts of the town, you will be directed to different parking centers around the town, as you are not allowed to drive in the actual town unless you have special privileges.
Pro Tip: I highly suggest parking in P1, as it is the closest and is only 400m from the entrance of the town center.
Immediately, we were greeted by the beautiful, light blue and white arcaded bridge which links the Krumlov Castle with the Castle Theater. Called the “Cloak Bridge” it derives its name from the fortifications which used to protect the western side of the castle. It was rude to take guests outside when walking to the Castle Theater, therefore they built a covered bridge which dates back to 1777. They say you should walk under the bridge quietly, otherwise it’s bad luck. We would later get to walk over this during our tour.
For the first time, we finally managed to do a Free Walking Tour. We had a fantastic tour guide named Ondřej (Andrew). He was very knowledgeable about the history of the town and knew lots of little legends and funny jokes.
We started out in the Main Square which is called Náměstí Svornosti, which translates to “Conquered Square”. The most impressive building here is the town hall, which was actually two Gothic houses that were combined into one. In the center of the square is a column giving thanks for protecting the town from the plague in 1716.
From there we walked up Horni Street towards the Church of St. Vitus which we were told provides a visual counterbalance between it and the Castle Tower. The church tower symbolizes the might of the holy church, while the Castle Tower, although a tad taller, symbolizes power.
Just behind the church is a small building which is one of the oldest musical institutions in Europe, and is said to be the most haunted place in the entire town. It is said that a teacher used force just a little too hard on a student, who died in the classroom. The mother, so upset by the loss of her only family member, cursed the teacher, who a year later died as well. Our guide told us that supposedly, they brought an exorcist man to the school to rid the school of the student’s spirit, but instead it only brought more spirits. Every teacher has stayed the night to see if it was true, and all have said the next day that there was definitely something spooky about the place.
He walked us over to a small park next to the Former Jesuit Seminary Regional Museum, which offered amazing views over the town facing the castle. While we stopped to enjoy the view, he told us more history of the town and how the town came to be ruled by 3 different families up until 1945. After 1945, the last family, the Schwarzenburgers fled from the town during the Second World War because of their lack of support for Hitler. After the war, the town was under the control of the Communist government.
Next we were taken to a former monastery which was allowed to brew beer. Unfortunately, it burned down so many times, today it stands as a library. However, it was here that they discovered the effects of smoked beer called Nakouřený švihák, or more simply, Eggenberg. Only two places in Europe have smoked beer. Here and in Bamberg, Germany! The tour guide and I had a lovely conversation about Bamberg and the beer. It was like he knew without asking that I had been there.
As we continued, we came upon a beautifully painted building, called the House of J. Krcin no. 54. It was here that we learned how the paintings on the buildings were so perfectly preserved. Apparently, while the plaster was still wet, the artists painted into it, that way the colors dried into it. It was a sign of wealth and soon became very fashionable.
Then, we finally made our way towards the castle. As we crossed the Barber’s Bridge, we were told a very gruesome story about the barber’s daughter who was brutally stabbed and then thrown from the tallest window in the castle by the son of the king. Fortunately she lived, but when the son found out, he put her father in jail and tortured him for 5 weeks, before she finally came to the castle in exchange for his life. She was stabbed again and chopped into tiny pieces and the king finally realized that he was sick with what would later be known as schizophrenia and needed to be locked away.
As you walk up towards the castle, there is a little walkway with people looking over the edge on both sides. That’s because there are 3 bears down in a pit. Since 1707, bears have been kept in the pit, since the time of the Rosenberg family.
We stopped in the castle square and admired the tower. We would later come back after the tour to climb the Castle Tower, which was only 110Kc per person. Because of its beauty, it has earned the nickname “Wedding Cake Tower”. Towering above the town and built into a rocky hillside, the Castle Tower is a six-storied tower. When climbing up it, you will pass the wider bottom two stories with a little museum about the tower. Further up, you will pass the bells before reaching the top of the tower. Well worth the climb, it offers an amazing 360* view over the entire town.
My favorite part of the entire castle was seeing the two courtyards and the amazing painted walls. They look like real stones had been used, but once looking closer, you can see it was the popular style of painting in the wet plaster. There was a moment when I thought I was in Verona, Italy instead with a window reminiscent of the Juliet balcony.
Be forewarned, the Krumlov Castle is soooo large, it has three different tours, as the castle includes 40 buildings! Part of the castle, is one of the most impressive and best preserved Baroque Castle Theater in Europe! The theater is mostly unique in the fact that it still has the furnishings, stage settings, costumes and stage machinery dating back to the 18th century!
Just around the corner from this, the tour ended with the option of “czeching” out the castle gardens, which we were told takes a minimum of 30 minutes to walk around. More similar to gardens found in Vienna with a French look than the medieval time period, it has supposedly caused a lot of controversy with UNESCO because it doesn’t fit with the medieval look. Unfortunately, we didn’t take the time to check this out.
Back down in the town center, we meandered around the town, strolling the medieval streets to see what we could find. We even followed the trail path that surrounds the city and follows the horseshoe shaped river. At one point, we crossed over the river and walked towards a more residential part of town and were surprised to find a pretty good view of the city as well as the Church of St. Vitus!
While doing my research for Český Krumlov, I stumbled upon a recommendation for a great place to eat. When visiting a medieval town, it is only fitting that one should eat a medieval-style meal! So we ate at Krcma v Satlavske. It was rather difficult to find because Google maps was wrong. If you are near the St. Vitus Church, there is a small alley called Masna. Take this small alley and turn left where there is a building with ivy covering the entire corner!
Here you can enjoy a real fire-smoked, medieval meal consisting of different types of meat served on wooden platters. It was by far one of the most delicious meals I’ve ever had. I highly recommend it to anyone checking out Český Krumlov!
Have you been to Český Krumlov? What was your medieval experience like?
California Globetrotter originally published this post on her website in June 2015; we are republishing it here with her permission.
Love the medieval experience but don’t have the time to get out of Germany this weekend? Check out Rothenberg ob der Tauber for another great experience.