When I was little I had a beautiful fairytale storybook that was filled with colourful and textured pictures of castles with turrets, princesses in silky gowns – diaphanous veils cascading from their pointy cone hats and actual sprinkles of glitter highlighting fairies’ wings🧚♀️ and glistening stars.🌟
What made the book special was that the pages were able to pop up into three-dimensional relief, allowing towers to spring boldly skyward, for the horses to leap proudly from the page and for the flowers and animals to look even tinier and more delicate on the static page.
This is what it feels like to cross the bridge into the streets of Český Krumlov, a place seemingly frozen in time.
Wandering through the narrow, twisted streets of Český Krumlov (pronounced “chess-key” and simply meaning ‘Czech’) it’s easy to forget you’re in the 21st century. Our friends Gary and Athene, whom we’d been visiting in Vienna, persuaded us to take a day trip to Český Krumlov, using Gary as an experienced and accomplished tour guide. It’s an easy three hour drive through pretty scenery, interesting villages and endless, sunshine-yellow rape seed fields.
The Krumlov castle was built in the 14th century and was originally the dwelling place of the royal families of the Rosenbergs, then the Schwarzenbergs, before it became a property of the state. Since 1992, the castle complex has been designated a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage monument.
Aside from being passed through the varying royal families, it was even seized by the Nazis as part of the Sudetenland. Once the War was over, the German speaking part of the population were forced out and Český Krumlov was returned to Czechoslovakia – which eventually split into the Czech Republic and Slovakia.
Showing off with a cobbled town square, towering castle and gorgeous Medieval and Renaissance styled architecture, you would be forgiven for believing in magic and knights on horseback. Heading towards the castle we came across a dry moat with a couple of brown bears on guard. Seeing those poor animals in captivity like that really brought me back to reality, and while bear-keeping is a longstanding tradition of the castle, it’s one I found incredibly sad and cruel. As early as the 16th century, the owners of the castle used bears as part of their coat of arms. 🐻 In line with this symbolism, they’ve kept bears in the castle pretty much ever since. I suppose every fairytale has its wicked aspects.
After strolling past the bears we arrived at the main entrance to the castle. The three-storied covered arched Cloak bridge of the Český Krumlov Castle stands on massive stone pillars and is a technically daring and impressive construction. 🏰 It’s one of the most beautiful and well-preserved castles in Europe, the second largest in the Czech Republic, with magnificent and elaborate facades, and is made up of forty buildings and palaces, situated within five courts. The castle itself offers many sights, yet the most striking one for us was the colourful, round tower, featuring a 162-step climb to the top, from where you have an amazing 360° view.
The turret is impressively painted and from the top you can see the meandering Vltava river sparklingly in the sunshine as it curls around the town. The tower is actually a gallery in itself, decorated with elegant paintings from the bottom to the top. Afterwards, we wandered through the various courtyards, ornately decorated with trompe-l’œil techniques, giving the inner castle walls a unique 3D effect.
The narrow, twisted streets with their cobble-stones, naturally weathered by the millions of footsteps they have endured through the centuries, wind down until suddenly you come upon the frisky Vltava river, which snakes through the town.
As we meandered along the streets beside the river, we came across colorful Gothic houses and interesting shops with unusual window displays of Bohemian garnets and other crafts. There were also plenty of unusual sculptures, artistic benches and bizarre statues that drew our attention.
Czech cuisine is not the lightest fare. It tends to be mostly heapings of stewed meat, heavy dumplings and decadent, dark gravies. I was particularly taken with their traditional dessert though – the trdelnik is a sweet pastry made out of dough. The dough is wrapped around a stick and cooked in front of you and then it’s rolled in cinnamon sugar, crushed walnuts or other toppings. Rather yummy!
Exploring the upper, lower, and different terraces of the castle garden is a delight. There are grand fountains around the gardens as well as a unique open-air revolving theatre. The Castle Gardens are peaceful, solitary and serene and we spent ages exploring the paths and lawns, discovering tall hedges, manicured into smooth shapes; intricately carved and elaborate fountains, and abundant flowers. The path from the gardens winds beyond the castle and back around into town.
These extensive Baroque castle gardens take up over 10 hectares of land and were originally founded in the 17th century. There is so much to explore as you meander through the terraces, courtyards and summer houses all with exquisite attention to detail. We easily spent the bulk of the day lazing around enjoying the beautiful environment, the serene lake and the ancient trees (one of which Gary was able to climb right inside :-))
We really couldn’t get enough of Český Krumlov and understood why Gary had happily accompanied us on his third visit. We were sad to leave as it felt like we’d only caught a glimpse of a town that left us wanting more of its scenic vistas, orange rooftops and bubbling river. We’d been enchanted by it’s magical fairytale atmosphere.