Cesky Krumlov, the iconic way…
Imagine green-yellow hues of the pastoral countryside of southern Czech Republic. Leading to an enchanting cobbled town cozily hidden within gently sloping hills. And a towering castle straight out of a Bohemian fairytale. Cynic or romantic…Český Krumlov can lure anyone into an endearing 16th-century time warp.
There are no bus-filled bays or bustling queues in sight. Maybe no one gets off with you at the bus station. A secluded road and an equally secluded petrol station in sight. A prick of doubt…are you even at the right place? Which way to the town? And how far? No cabs, cars or public transport to be seen. No signboards anywhere. Quick check with the petrol station. Apparently, its a 5 minute walk across the road. Oversized luggage roll, on your way. Wait, stop, hold it! That view, that view! Lost your heart even before you step into town. Tough competition…huh, Prague?
No grand gate. Just an unassuming entryway along a cluster of red-roofs buildings straight into a charming medieval paradise trapped in time. Homely Pension B&Bs all around. And you realize that the narrow lane you’re trudging on is the main drag. Perspective set right immediately. A few seconds and you’re at the Hotel Ruze. Love, love, love it. Designed like a monastery, complete vaulted ceilings, tall, iron-grill windows, a Knights Dining Hall and servers in vintage velvet gowns. A gorgeous view from the room over Vltava and a park. Ah, those vibrant autumn colors!
You expected crowds…just not that much. There’s a festival in town and people are streaming onto the streets. Go with the mood, melt in, join the revelry. Map-less and agenda-less. Follow the throngs to dip into every iconic flavour of this unique UNESCO World Heritage Site. Delights every step of the way.
Located opposite Hotel Ruze, is the most first photogenic spot to start with…Seminární Zahrada. Did they plan that for wide terrace consciously, just for an eye-popping effect? Such a perfect place to catch up on some reading or finish a project report. Lean on the balustrade and soak in the gorgeousness of the wondrous vista. You could pitch a tent here to spend your life in, with that as a backdrop. Whoever planned this town was a genius.
The main artery of town leads directly to the lively town square, Namesti Svornosti, enclosed by delightful, pastel gabled houses, crookedly huddled together since antiquity. Uncanny resemblance to Prague’s old town square…on a small scale. Aromatic food grills, artisans showcasing local crafts, sweets, wines and Bohemian folk performances. The carnival spirit is infectious…pick up some gingerbread cookies to munch along.
Lazebnický Bridge, the ancient wooden bridge over the rushing river Vitava is no Charles Bridge, but feels more inviting and intimate. Photo-ready and how. The odd street performer or two, souvenir dangling salesmen, portrait painters, the scene is familiar. And there’s the legendary castle (second largest in Czech Republic), clinging to a rocky hill above, owners richer than the Holy Roman Emperor himself. The Rožmberk family ran this town from that spot for three centuries…and they certainly knew how to scout for a location. Who wouldn’t fall in love with this mini Prague?
Mandatory Tridenlik queue-up a a tiny shop ahead for a hand-rolled cinnamon version. Hot and fresh, soft yet crunchy. Tread up a short flight of steps towards the castle entrance. Much less walking and much less steps than in the Prague castle complex. A complex of forty buildings situated around five courtyards and seven-hectare grounds. 13th-century castle with Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque elements. Can’t stop ogling at the finely painted pastel facades of the palace walls. Explore the interiors if you have the time, but don’t miss a sneak peak of the International Gallery of Ceramic works in the Vaclav Cellars located in the 4th castle courtyard. The freestyle artworks of selected Czech artistic ceramicists within vaulted ceilings and rock walls are quirky and inspiring.
Towards the most recognizable landmark of the town…the six-storied cylindrical Castle Tower. Dressed with lovely murals and motifs in pale salmon and mint colours. Negotiating a traffic jam up the 160 steps to the windy, circular arcaded gallery. And being rewarded with 360-degree killer views of the entire town. Who cares about crowds when you get this?
Back to ground level, follow the throngs to the Chain Bridge vantage points. There’s a reason why its so popular…that incredible horseshoe bend of the Vltava river. With two bends so acute that they almost touch, creating an island. The challenge? Jostling the crowds and waiting patiently for free spots to gawk from. Houses spilling down the hill to the river to the New Town, where elaborate merchant houses surround the town square. Tiny people dotting the curving streets. And the commanding tower and spire of St Vitus church standing proudly as a centrepiece of the russet-green landscape. Quintessential Bohemian takeaway? A picture of Cesky Krumlov town, framed in a stone arch…stuff dreams are made of. Stay a bit longer and breathe in the remnants of the past.
High above the town, past the castle complex, away from the selfie sticks and noisy tourist groups, sprawls a massive sanctuary of calm. Does remind you of the Prague castle garden, though. Humungous trees, endless walking paths strewn with russet fallen leaves, carpet-design flower beds, manicured mazes, grand sculptures, lavish fountains. And minuscule figures of you… hopelessly giving in to the fantasy of royal pretence. Find a bench and just watch the clouds float on that generous expanse of blue. The Rožmberks were not the only ones to be privy to this luxury.
One long day and its a wonderful wrap on the castle and its grounds. Mission iconic Cesky accomplished. But satiation status incomplete. There’s a whole town sprawled down there, literally begging to be discovered. So, who’s up for another kind of hunt? This time for quieter, hidden spots…away from the madding crowd. Just you and your restless roving spirit. (To be continued)
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