It started with the smell of roasted pork.
As we walked down the meandering pathway from our pension to the old town using the castle tower as our compass, I stopped in my tracks as we passed by a house. The sweet smell of garlic and herbs were wafting from its windows. Despite the full breakfast we just had, this had me grinning from ear to ear, declaring to my boyfriend even before I set foot into the old town: “I love Cesky Krumlov!”
We entered from the south, a leisurely 10-minute walk from our pension where we checked in late the previous night. We were greeted by a viewpoint of the town, where already, several tourists were stationed and taking pictures.
We made a beeline to the tourist information office in the town square, yet, even the shortest distance had us turning into alleys and getting glimpses of multiple angles of the town. There were no main roads or shortcuts in Cesky Krumlov – only twisted streets and scenic routes that opened into breathtaking vistas.
After claiming our Cesky Krumlov cards, we made our way to the castle grounds. It was a slow trek, partly due to the slight ascent through cobblestone streets, but mainly due to the sights that demanded attention and a hundred clicks of my camera.
The town’s streets were narrow and winding and the buildings were tall and imposing. This meant you couldn’t see far beyond, making each turn a surprise.
I could only take a few steps at a time before finding something to marvel at. Sometimes these were “ordinary” Czech things that my Czech boyfriend took for granted – a trdelnik store, a lamp post, a glass display of Bohemian garnets and moldavites, a row of Gothic houses with colored facades.
But sometimes, even he had to stop and look up and around – like when the narrow street of Radniční suddenly opened to the Lazebnický most, the bridge crossing Vltava on the way to the castle.
It was a 360-degree wonder: reconstructed medieval buildings standing strong along the banks of the river whose waters sparkled under the morning sun, the towering state castle preserved from the 14th century, religious monuments along the bridge, street musicians elevating the ambiance and giving life to a place seemingly frozen in time – all set and thriving on the Vltava, the river that has remained central to the history and development of the town through the centuries.
As we turned left from the Latrán to the Zámek, a pub distracts my boyfriend. He had always been quick to invite me for a beer or a glass of wine (he is Czech, and a Moravian at that), but this time he was offering something different: “Would you like to try the mead?”
Mead? I wasn’t quite sure I heard it right. Was I in a fantasy RPG set in the medieval times? Was I going to run into a treasure chest anytime soon and will there be a save point before I have to face the big boss? (Yes, I was addicted to fantasy RPGs before the Internet came along.)
We shared a glass of mead and went on our way, more intoxicated with the experience, shared by various civilizations since ancient times, than with the alcohol.
The Cesky Krumlov castle grounds
By the time we reached the castle grounds, I was already so in love with the town that I didn’t think it was possible to be even more enamored. But I was wrong.
A quick walk through a passageway led us to the most amazing view I’ve ever seen in my life.
I watched the town going about its day. It was like a living art show or an ongoing historical documentary. I imagined the Rosenbergs and the Schwarzenbergs – some of the notable royal families who have lived in the castle and the adjoining estates since the 1200s – going about their day. I’m pretty sure that whenever they passed by this view, no matter the political or economic climate of the time, they only had one thought: “Life is pretty grand.”
We then made our way to the sprawling castle grounds, walking around the maze, the tree-lined alleys, and around the pond. Everywhere we looked, people were in pairs – holding hands, walking their dogs, sitting on benches. Love was certainly everywhere.
Icons in Cesky Krumlov: The Saint and the Bad Boy
The Minorite Monastery
From the castle grounds we retraced our steps back to Latrán and made our way to the Monastery.
The Minorite Monastery in Cesky Krumlov was first established in 1350 by the Rosenbergs, with the main aim of weakening the Walden movement, a Christian movement gaining popularity in Europe at the time. The Waldensians promoted apostolic poverty, which of course didn’t fly with the Rosenbergs. The royal family loved their indulgences, including religious ones. The monastery was then used by the royal family to accumulate relics and eventually they started to compete with Prague in terms of festivals and religious relics.
The monastery grounds were designed for reflection. Shaded benches and grassy lawns in a peaceful courtyard invited guests to take a moment and slow down.
Our Cesky Krumlov Card granted us access to two exhibits in the monastery, which allowed us a glimpse of how the Minorite monks have been conducting their duties and their lives throughout the centuries. What caught my attention, however, was the tribute to the life of St. Francis of Assisi.
There was an entire room dedicated to the saint, with panels of illustrations depicting his life and how he came to be a saint, as well as an audiovisual presentation. It’s all in Czech, though, so either come with someone who can translate everything for you, or just enjoy the illustrations and animations then read up on St. Francis afterwards.
Egon Schiele Art Centrum
From the monastery, our next stop was the Egon Schiele Art Centrum – a tribute to Cesky Krumlov’s resident bad boy.
Egon was definitely “edgy” before it was cool. I’m no art expert but one look at Schiele’s bold strokes and erotically-charged motifs and I knew this guy was bad news – in a dangerously intoxicating way. Think: leather jackets, motorcycles, the guy your mother warned you about. He’s even got the brooding pout down pat.
As it turned out, Egon was the James Dean of the early 1900s Cesky Krumlov. Born in Austria surrounded and influenced by the great (and rebellious!) Viennese minds of Freud, Mahler, and Klimt, he spent a considerable amount of time in the widely conservative town of Cesky Krumlov (his mother’s birth town), doing bad boy things like entertaining a slew of lady “visitors” in his studio and producing defiant erotic artworks, earning the ire of the burghers and elitist artists dominating the art scene in those days. He was a lot more bohemian than this Bohemian town could take.
He died at 28 of Spanish flu (one of the 20,000,000 lives claimed by the pandemic throughout Europe) but not before significantly influencing the art climate with his audacious style that challenged all the norms of his time.
Read more about Egon Schiele’s life and art:
A personal touch to tie it all up
Back in Latrán, the bright bohemian storefront of Cesky Pernik called to us. Inside were shelves of mead in every imaginable flavor, gingerbreads with icing art, and other regional specialties.
The Czech Republic takes great pride in its regional products. There are the Czech beers that you will hear every Czech rave about; the Moravian wines that every Moravian could discuss for hours; and in Cesky Krumlov, they have “certified regional” gingerbreads that come with centuries’ worth of artisanal history. The way they elevate their products to national heritage status is actually enviable – now that’s a unique selling proposition you can’t compete with.
In any case, this marketing strategy worked on me. I inspected each gingerbread on display and read every notation detailing its historical and cultural significance. I watched as one of the shopkeepers decorated the freshly baked breads with icing, and at one point, my boyfriend asked her if I could take a photo. The shopkeeper gave me a better offer: would I like to try drawing on the breads?
So I went behind her table and joined the ranks of historical gingerbread-makers in Cesky Krumlov. Even though I was just writing my and my boyfriend’s names – the kind grade school girls all around the world are doing, with a heart in between the names, of course – I still earned the two shopkeepers’ doting attention.
I thought the gingerbread incident would be the last bit of icing on top of my fairytale town cupcake, but Cesky Krumlov wasn’t done with me. Like an ardent suitor, it had more tricks up its sleeve.
On the way back to our pension, I spotted a rainbow while crossing the bridge. And while chilling in our room, gushing about the day, we heard the unmistakable sound of fireworks.
As we looked out our window at the old town of Cesky Krumlov, the castle shining brighter than the fireworks punctuating the clear evening sky, my boyfriend asked me the most thrilling question of all: “Should we stay another day?”
Yes, yes, a thousand times yes.
|If you’re planning a trip to Cesky Krumlov soon, here’s a comprehensive travel guide to help you plan your trip. You can also download this free PDF guide for easy planning.
If you love road trips and fairytale cities, here’s a road trip you’ll definitely love. It brings you through Prague, Cesky Krumlov, and Hallstatt in Austria.
Lastly, If you liked this post, please bookmark and share with your friends!
Call for recommendations: Top Tips for Travel to Czech Republic
As you probably know fully well by now, I am in love with the Czech Republic. And I want to share this love with the whole world.
I’m going to make a grand list of the top things to do in the Czech Republic – and I want you to contribute! Tell me in the comments below: What was the favorite thing you did/saw/ate in the Czech Republic? Or if you have a favorite snap, post your Instagram links below so we can all check it out, and I’ll include it in the round-up.
You can also email it to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lastly, for more inspiration for your trip to the Czech Republic, check out the VisitCZ Instagram feed – here are some snaps from my recent takeover:
Please tag me (@lizzievsr) in your Instagram snaps of Cesky Krumlov! I’ll have to visit the town vicariously as often as possible until my next actual trip!