After leaving Sopron in Hungary (well it did seem the best place for it!), the next step on our journey was the Czech Republic. We made our way to the hotel we had booked in a little town called Frymburk, on Lake Lipno, called Hotel Vltava.
The main purpose of our visit here was to see the town of CESKY KRUMLOV,
but we didn’t want to stay in the town itself. Frymburk was perfect for us; a beautiful little hotel in a picturesque and peaceful little lakeside village only 20 minutes from CK.
Cesky Krumlov was one of the highlights of our holiday, somewhere we were really looking forward to seeing. We were not disappointed.
After Prague, CESKY KRUMLOV is the best preserved old town in Bohemia and is designated as one of UNESCO’s World Monuments. And all this despite being seriously neglected when under communist rule (there’s a surprise). Since the political transformation of 1989, a great deal of effort has been put into renovating the historic centre.
The website for the town is very good and has an interactive map which details almost all the buildings in the old town, giving images and some history of each of them. It also has links for hotels, restaurants and all the sites of interest, as well as giving a very detailed history.
We parked our car on the edge of the old town, high on a hill above the river, and proceeded to walk towards the centre. As we approached the road leading into town, some of the views opened up to us. We could look down into the jumble of narrow, medieval streets and the irregular confusion of red-tiled rooftops almost completely surrounded by the river – and all dwarfed by the brooding castle overlooking the whole scene. Magnificent. An intriguing, medieval town, set in impressive fairy-tale surroundings. A Kodak moment.
We arrived there early in the morning and it was very pleasant wandering around while the streets were still relatively quiet. Our first port of call was the tourist office, which is in the main square, at the Town Hall. The staff were very helpful and supplied us with maps and info about the town. In the cellars below the Town Hall is the Museum of Torture where we spent a damp, chilly and only slightly spooky, thirty minutes before making our way to our next port of call, a bank.
One of the less intelligent members of our party (who, if brains were dynamite, wouldn’t have enough to blow his nose, apparently),
had inadvertently taken too much money out of an ATM in Hungary. Try as we might, we just couldn’t spend it all. I had forgotten to change it at the border on leaving Hungary, and no-one at the Czech border would change it into Czech money. So it was that we handed over nearly $600 for exchange. This took quite a long time as every single note had to be checked under the UV light, cross-matched with charts and then double-checked by another member of staff. After finally consulting with, and getting approval from, the manager, we eventually got our Czech Crowns.
So, pockets stuffed with readies, we continued on our way.
The town is a maze of narrow streets and tight, dark alleys, so following any sort of route was a bit haphazard. No matter, it is quite a small area and relatively flat, so even though we wandered aimlessly around, we still covered pretty much everywhere.
Stunning panoramas open up at almost every turn and we had to circumnavigate the huge number of people sitting sketching and painting these views. It was like one vast art class.
Tourism may not have been a feature here under the communists, but they had lost no time in making up for it since. Not that it is tacky, in fact there were very few shops selling the usual, made in the Far East, type of rubbish. It was more noticeable in the number of bars and cafes, the amount of buildings turned over to tourist accommodation, and the types of shops. (I can’t remember seeing any everyday shops selling groceries etc.) In fact the town did not have a lived-in feel at all.
Most of the shopping was given over to ‘arts & crafts’
with some excellent pottery, glassware, wood carvings and wooden toys. There were also a number of shops that specialized in puppets and, though I was tempted to buy a singin’, dancin’ Pinnochio, I just couldn’t resist a puppet of ‘The Good Soldier Svejk’, complete with mug of beer in hand. (My hero!) We bought quite a few bits and pieces but still couldn’t make a dent in our cash.
There are quite a few museums in town but it was such a lovely day, and the streets and buildings were so beautiful in themselves that it seemed a shame not to be outdoors and so we were quite content to meander from shop to cafe to viewpoint and then start all over again.
There are many restaurants and bars so finding somewhere for lunch was not a problem. We settled on a restaurant with a riverside terrace and spent a very relaxing hour watching the fish swimming below the deck of the terrace, and craning our necks up towards the imposing castle atop the sheer cliffs on the opposite bank. Next door was a music shop and we were regaled with Rachmaninov’s second piano concerto as we leisurely nibbled on our lunch and washed it all down with some fabulous fruity beer – appropriately named Nectar. As lunchtime breaks go, it wasn’t too shabby.
By this time, half the tourists in Europe had descended on the town and it was, to say the least, extremely busy. So, in the late afternoon, we headed back to our hotel, showered, freshened up and returned for a second visit. A bit of a mistake really. We had decided to go up to the castle and by the time we got there, it was closed. Well, not exactly closed, you could still walk around the grounds and gardens, but the tours of the castle stop at 5pm. However, the views over the town and the surrounding countryside from the castle were spectacular and it was worth the climb up for that alone.
The town quietened down markedly as the sun was setting and became very peaceful again. We had a bite to eat at a cafe in the main square and slightly regretted that we hadn’t chose to stay at a hotel in the Old Town. The castle is illuminated at night and I’m sure it would have been pretty impressive. Having said that, many of the hotels had ‘no vacancy’ signs displayed and the hotel we were staying at WAS an absolute cracker. Besides, I’ve seen a castle illuminated at night before, so overall, no regrets.
Cesky Krumlov is an absolute gem of a town. Historic, picturesque, friendly and generally welcoming, it is a place well worth visiting, although a day IS probably enough.