In the few hours I had to wander around Cesky Krumlov in the Czech Republic I somehow managed to take over 300 photos.
And okay, it’s hard to tell you about Cesky Krumlov in depth when I was there for less than a day. But it’s a teeny village, with a small population, and you will come to know it fairly quickly.
You likely already know about my ongoing love affair with Prague. But Cesky Krumlov, man. I had a hard time saying good-bye to that place. (For now. I’m going back next month.)
It’s beautiful night and day
I arrived when it was dark. I went out for a walk with some friends who insisted the town was still beautiful at night. They were right about that.
There was light snow falling as we strolled though the streets and across the bridge leading to the castle. Europe does a really fantastic job of lighting its historic buildings, and I thought, if it’s this beautiful at night, how will it look in the morning?
Spectacular, turns out.
It’s never very crowded
I awoke on Sunday morning and set out bright and early to take advantage of the few hours I had before my shuttle arrived to whisk me back to Berlin.
I looped my way around cobblestoned alleyways and through the town square. I passed lime-green buildings with Dutch gabling and centuries-old shops with miniature doors.
Walking up the hill towards Cesky Krumlov Castle, I became very much aware of the silence. I’ve missed that silence in Berlin — a certain stillness you won’t find in a grand city at any point in the day.
I walked through open courtyards and past defunct cannons. I stopped at a look-out and snapped photos. And the whole time, I was gloriously alone. Perhaps two or three people met me on my journey, and they smiled and said “good morning.”
Where else will you find yourself alone, at an ancient castle?
I asked Carolyn, the owner of my hostel, if it gets crazy in the summer months. Surprisingly, she said no. There’s limited hotel capacity in town, and most people swing by on day trips.
You can stay in a 400-year-old former bakery
Speaking of hostels, I stayed in a tiny one named Krumlov House. While most hostels have become tedious and dull to me, Krumlov House was anything but.
Down a winding wooden staircase, I found my bedroom. My room key was one of those classic medieval ones, the kind you’ll find Cinderella’s evil stepmother using to lock Cinderella in the attic.
The place had all the character you’d expect from a 400-year-old building — an attic with low beams, a secret passageway to another house, a window seat where I could curl up with my laptop for awhile. The owners, Carolyn and Cal, are lovely and treated me like a queen. They don’t know it yet, but I’m moving in forever.
You can learn about mad Princess Eleonore, and the castle’s vampire origins
Experts suspect that Bram Stoker’s Dracula might have been originally influenced by Cesky Krumlov. Archaeologists have unearthed numerous skeletons buried with stones in their mouths — apparently an attempt to keep the dead from biting others. And Stoker was known to have travelled in the area.
Then there’s the curious lifestyle of Princess Eleonore, who lived in the castle in the 1700s. She was known to own wolves, and to drink wolf milk.
There are bears living in the castle moat
As I walking across the bridge, I noticed a sign in English, Czech, and German. It said: “Please do not feed the bears!” I laughed, thinking it was a joke, or a wrong translation.
But then I leaned over the bridge and poked my head through the gate, and noticed gigantic footprints in the snow. There are indeed bears living at the castle.
You can visit one of only two baroque theatres in the world
The Krumlov Baroque Theatre was closed for the season, but I’m told it’s one of two remaining baroque theatres in the world.
Everything here is preserved: the building, auditorium, orchestra pit, stage, technology, machinery, decorations, costumes, props. Even the fire extinguishers. The stage is designed so that performers can move flawlessly between scenes in a matter of five minutes, changing set designs at an amazing speed.
Guests get to sit on cozy wooden benches without backs. (“Cozy” is sarcastic.)
The restaurants are not what you’re used to
I was delighted when Carolyn went to open the tiny squat door of the restaurant she had chosen for us, only to find it was closed.
Never mind; it’s hard to go wrong in Krumlov. As we continued our journey, we paused in the street to listen to a gypsy band playing in a small bar.
I felt like I was back in the 1800s, standing on the cold street, watching the warm scene unfold inside. A server bustled between a handful of tables while old men sat talking and drinking beer, the smoke from their cigarettes curling around the candlelight. Musicians played a loud upbeat ballad, accompanied by accordion and fiddle.
We eventually arrived at Tavern Šatlava with heaps of firewood piled up outside the front door. Inside: long tables with benches, candlelight, and a giant wood-fired grill at the centre of it all. The server was piling grilled sausage and pork onto plates.
So naturally I ordered a bratwurst, and French onion soup in a bread bowl. The perfect meal for minus temperatures.
You can get really acquainted with Czech history and culture
You can’t go inside the castle in the winter months — it costs too much to heat that draughty ‘ol thing. But the museum is open, where the castle’s rooms are replicated to perfection. You can also climb the tower for a bird’s eye view of Krumlov.
Go to Josef Seidel’s photography museum. He was a well-known photographer in the early 1900s, with an eye for capturing portraits. The museum contains his photography, and his perfect preserved work studio.
In the winter months, the town square turns into a Christmas market. In February, carnival comes out to play. In fact, festivals occur all year around. So much so that even Cal expressed frustration with their frequent occurrences.
There are regularly scheduled free walking tours as well, which might be your best bet for a little historical introduction.
I visited Cesky Krumlov with Daytrip, a service that provides day trips between Eastern European cities. They’re a good option if you find yourself in Prague with a desire to reach Cesky Krumlov!