As Bohemian rhapsodies go, it was pretty simple, really: a man on a bridge over the Vltava River with a barrel organ, turning the handle so it spilled out a little Czech melody. It sounded like summer; but the air was so bitingly cold and clear, that you could still hear the tinkling melody from the top of the Castle Tower, 86 metres above.
The 162 step climb beats that cold out of you; then stuns you with its picture perfect panorama way below. There it is: the medieval city of Český Krumlov nestling cosily in the meanders of the river that runs through it; with its rooves of terracotta and touches of Baroque, Renaissance and Gothic influences. It looks tiny from up here, of course, but this town really is small, and perfectly formed.
More than a million people amble through this place every year; but we’ve chosen January. It’s cold, yes, but quieter; you can stroll crowd-free through the cobbled streets and browse the pretty town’s gift shops or stop for a coffee. And while there are plenty of both; you don’t head here for the snacks or souvenirs: this is a place packed with history and culture, so precious that it’s now a UNESCO world heritage site.
In fact, the towering, imposing Český Krumlov Castle is the second largest castle complex in the country, with more than 40 buildings, whose architecture spans six centuries. Add to that the town’s monastery, linked to the castle by a 900 metre connecting ‘corridor’, museums (including, surprisingly in such a friendly place, one dedicated to torture and our personal favourite – the Seidel photographic museum), galleries, churches, and houses, and you soon realise that this deserves way more than a day trip.
There’s a wide range of hotels to accommodate you here if you stay. And if the barrel organ man’s not for turning when you plan your visit; there’s other music, too. We stopped for a drink at the Egon Schiele Cafe on our first night and caught Skippy’s Band–a folk group; we thought. But they were soon hammering out Stevie Wonder’s exceedingly funky, rather than folksy, ‘Sir Duke’.
But then; as anyone who’s spotted the real live bears in the moat under the town castle can tell you– Český Krumlov’s not just surprisingly beautiful…it’s beautifully surprising, too.
Three top tips to make the most of your visit:
- If you’re already visiting Prague, why not add a couple of days in Český Krumlov to your trip? We got a comfortable bus between the two locations, which took just under three hours. There was a toilet on board, and a flight-style entertainment screen (headphones provided) if you want to listen to music or catch a movie. There are free hot drinks on board, too.
- You could kick off your stay with a tour by a town guide. Ours provided us with a private, two hour walk around the town, pointing out details we might otherwise have missed.
- Consider a Český Krumlov Card which can save money if you’re visiting a number of attractions. Pop into the tourist office for information on both … it’s in the main town square. Or contact them online in advance.