Photo by Lorraine Seal
If you’re driving from Prague to Salzburg, or if you’re simply looking for a weekend excursion from Salzburg, Český Krumlov offers a fascinating place for an overnight stay in Bohemia. A UNESCO World Heritage site, this tiny late medieval town sits on a bend in the River Vltava (Moldau in German), the same river that flows through Prague.
The town is for the most part contained within a small, almost perfectly round, peninsula in the river. Towering on the far bank of the Vltava is a large, elaborately painted castle. After Prague Castle, its castle is the second largest in the Czech Republic. From one of the castle’s many courtyards rises a clock tower, elaborately painted in pastel-coloured, trompe-l’oeil designs. Against the vivid blue sky, the castle with its painted towers creates a startling image, like a picture from a fairy tale set in an exotic but legendary country.
Not far from the castle with its tower, on the hills surrounding the town’s old core, stand garish coloured mid-twentieth century apartment blocks, relics of Soviet times. Glowering at the medieval town from the distance, they reinforce the idea that Český Krumlov may well be a village awakened after decades lost in time.
Český Krumlov, despite its many visitors, has a serene air about it. The encircling river seems to cut it off from more than simply the mainland; it seems to cut it off from the here and now, taking the visitor back to a mythical time and place.
Few cars are permitted on the insular peninsula itself. Visitors park in one of three remote lots. A wooden bridge leads from Car Park Lot One, which has easiest access to the town, over a rushing stream at the back of the castle, then through an arch that supports a arcaded passageway above. Its high arches, like domes carved against the sky, create a surreal image, white and stark, carving domes against the sky.
Inside the town’s small core, there are quaint cobbled streets to be explored. They’re lined with small museums, boutiques, gift shops and restaurants. A broad central square is surrounded by Baroque facades. Here you’ll find several hotels and cafes where you can enjoy a meal or a coffee. Overhead, on a hill opposite the castle with its tower, the tall Gothic spire of the church looms.
The river rushes, for the most part, as it passes the town, but near the old mill on its banks, it widens into a calm pool. This pool is the source of one of the most popular activities for visitors to Český Krumlov. From here, kayaks and inflatable rafts ride over a spillway into the rapids below, as shrieks rise from them. Often the crafts overturn, and their passengers scramble to retrieve oars and set the boats upright again.
For those more inclined toward modern art, there is a museum in honour of expressionist artist Egon Schiele, who briefly made his home in Český Krumlov. It offers displays on his life and work as well as exhibitions of contemporary art. Other galleries sell original art, art-glass and reproductions.
Český Krumlov sports a plethora of shops, B&Bs, hotels and restaurants. It makes a pleasant stopover on the drive from Prague. Or, at slightly more than two hours’ drive from Salzburg, it offers a charming, if slightly surreal, weekend break from the high culture of Mozart’s birthplace.