I was right about a few things regarding this amazing little town. Český Krumlov is indeed an amazingly well-preserved, stunningly beautiful, medieval town. But what I got wrong about this place, is that this town is a well-kept secret. That is very, very, big-time, absolutely not the case.
When I arrived on the overnight bus from Venice, I stepped off the coach and took my first steps into the city at about 7 am. There was a light fog drifting over the hillsides and castle, and as I wandered the streets in the crisp cool air of the morning, the only sound I heard was that of my hiking boots stumbling over the cobblestones as I searched for my hostel. I was completely disoriented and though I spent over an hour lost, I loved every second of it. I was gasping with eurogasms as I wondered the deserted, perfect, medieval alleyways and only occasionally sighting a shopkeeper sweeping the street or setting up their outdoor café.
That was 7 am.
By 10 am the buses started arriving, and by noon the town was completely overrun with tourists. Locally they call them ‘day-trippers.’ Tourists from Prague that hop on a bus to spend the day in what is very much the second-most visited place in the country. The irony that I thought of these tourists as locusts was not lost on me. I am one myself. While they descend in hoards and bring a slight bit of chaos to what I had thought was my personal little discovery, within the six hours they are here, they drop bundles of cash, and then en masse, depart.
This didn’t diminish how much I loved this place, I just had to come up with a strategy to maximize my personal one-on-one time with Český Krumlov, avoiding the peak tourist times.
7 am – I wake up, shower and I am out the door, running for the castle to get as many photos of the grounds as I can without crowds of people. It is amazing the quantity of photos you can take in two hours knowing the serene scenes will soon be chaos, and your time is limited.
10:30 am – I take the 2-hour Free Walking Tour of Český Krumlov and learned some of the intensely dark history of the city, some of the stories that were passed in this tour are not in any of the glossy tourist publications. The guides of these tours do not charge any money, but at the end of the 2 hours, they ask that if you enjoyed the experience, please consider giving them a tip. So for the full tour, these guides are working their butts off to not only tell you as much about the city as can possibly be told, but they also keep the walk lively and entertaining at every step. They really work for every Czech Crown you can give them.
The tour took us through the Český Krumlov castle and all five courtyards, the Castle Tower, Renaissance Town Hall, Former Jesuit Hall of Residence and Seminary, Bear’s Moat (yes, a castle moat filled with bears), Cloak Bridge, Castle Baroque Theatre, Former Prelate, Jesuit Garden, Kaplanka, Gothic Church of St. Vit, Barber’s House (amazingly tragic story here), Plague Column, Former Rosenberg’s Hospital and St. Jost Church, Old Town Brewery, and probably a few more things I can’t remember. Needless to say, that is an awful lot of information for two hours.
What I found the most interesting during the tour though was the little bits of history that are definitely not part of the tourist marketing for the town. The guide told stories of dishonest alchemists that cheated the townspeople with promises of good health until one day one of them cheated the Lord of the town and spent the rest of his days in prison.
I did some research and found many of these darker stories HERE.
The most terrorizing story though was the saga of Don Julius D´Austria and his schizophrenic obsession with a young girl in the village. This is the part of the tour listed above as ‘The Barber’s house.’ Funny how times haven’t changed in the respect that immensely rich people can slip their way into government and terrorize the people.
For the full horrific story of Don Julius, you can read that HERE.
2:00 pm – I now have several hours to slip into a medieval beer cellar, have a $2 massive lunch and drink endless $0.30 beers until I am done editing photos and using the pub’s free wi-fi to catch up on my social media.
6:00 pm – I step out of my underground bunker and back into the street where the last few tourists are heading back to their busses and by 8pm the streets are completely cleared, except for the few locals once again cleaning the streets and the very small handful of tourists that have, like me, decided to spend their night in the town to soak up it’s true character.
During the day the cafés that are open and busy have tourist-enticing names like Café Mozart, Pension Marie, or unpronounceable names in Czech, but when the tourists have vacated the city, the locals directed me to ‘The Gorilla Bar,’ a small pub on the fringe of the town center with a tattered American flag waving at the door, and even cheaper drinks. I’m the only one in the room that nobody knows. The locals will eventually become curious and ask what the hell I am doing in their bar. It makes it so much easier when you can get the locals to break the ice for you.
Outside of Český Krumlov, there are also things to see and some great adventures to have. For a completely unique day, spend about $8 and take a kayak a few hours downstream to the town of Trisov. From there you can take a short hike to the castle ruins Hrad Dívčí Kámen. Then, take a long hike up the radio tower hill ‘Klet‘ and rent a kickbike to ride downhill for 1.5 hours all the way back to Český Krumlov.
On my last full day in Český Krumlov, I took the Baroque Theatre tour. This only happens once per day at 10 am, and I definitely didn’t want to miss this. The Baroque Theatre in the Český Krumlov castle is not only the oldest but also the most perfectly preserved theatre of its kind in the world. The price of the tour was approximately $10, and it included walking into the theatre and looking at the stage during a lecture, walking under the stage to see all of the gears that made the 12-second complete set changes possible, and finally back out to the theatre to watch a short documentary on the history. Photos were forbidden and they wouldn’t let me try on any powdered wigs. Still worth the effort in going for anyone with any kind of background in theatre. (I’ve stolen a couple of photos from online to show the theatre.)
Watch: Baroque Theatre Video
One more bit of info on Český Krumlov before I end this post. They also have another very unique theatre experience available in this town. There exists a ‘Revolving Theatre‘ in which the entire audience turns 180* to see action taking place all around them. Sadly I am not in the area to experience this during the show season, but I am eager to come back some day to see one of their productions. It looks absolutely amazing. Here is a video online showing this theatre in action.
Watch: Revolving Theatre Video
Aside from the tourist stuff, I made my first friends on this trip in Český Krumlov. They had taken the same ‘Free Tour’ as I had and we talked about the amazing history of the town and also about current world affairs. No Facebook friend exchanges, just great conversation and then sad goodbyes.
In closing, it is important to realize that the only reason these amazing towns seem so lost in time, is that they had to endure centuries of complete economic stagnation. If there had been money in the town, there would have been development, and any development would have completely ruined the perfectly preserved atmosphere of these gems. The fact that there are swarms of tourists descending into these towns is absolutely amazing and the fact that the town is listed as a UNESCO site means that they will likely keep everything exactly the way it is.
I’ll write more in a few days about the city I am currently in, Karlovy Vary. A completely different experience than Český Krumlov, but I am in love with it just the same.
Receive weekly travel news and special offers.