Armchair travelogue again this week as I take you to the most picturesque and prettiest little town that I’d ever seen in Bohemia during my visit there … oh months ago now! The town is Ceský Krumlov, a UNESCO Heritage town located just over 3 hours bus ride from Prague city. I wasn’t too captured with it the first few hours I was there, but it grew on me and by the time I left, I was pretty much in love with it!
I was there in late Spring so the trees were sprouting lovely new green leaves and flowers were starting to bloom but we hit a cold spell while I was visitng so the skies were a little dreary.
The primary attraction in Cesky Krumlov is the castle. The medieval castle here is second only to Prague Castle in size in the Czech Republic! When I got there though, I was curious. Where was the castle? There were no towering spires or rocky castle walls, nor was there a huge walled-up compound. It was only when I took the walking tour did I realise that everything I saw across the river (that’s on your left of the photo above) is essentially, the castle. On the right is the town, and they were separated by the Vltava River. Ok, its HUGE!
Getting to Cesky Krumlov from Prague city isn’t hard. In fact, its so easy you can prepare for your trip before you even get there. I was supposed to, but left it too long. Fortunately, there was Wifi in the apartment where I stayed so I managed to make a reservation for the bus ride after doing a bit of research.
You have a few options to get to Cesky Krumlov. There are shuttle taxis that might work out more cost effective if you have a few people in your travel party or lots of luggage. They are pretty costly though. But the most convenient way is a very comfortable bus ride on the Student Agency Bus that costs about €15 a person for a return ticket. Now, don’t be misled by the name, anyone can buy a ticket :)
You can view the website in English and booking was quite simple. I took the 6am bus from Prague Na Knížecí bus station (Metro Andel) and it can be a little confusing when you exit so I recommend that you get there at least 15 minutes early in case you get confused. Once you get to the stop however, its quite easy to spot it because the Student Agency bus is a bright yellow coach, and there will be quite a lot of people waiting there. It is an e-ticket so you will get a booking number. When you get to the Coach doors, someone will check off your number and name and seats are assigned.
The bus ride is about 3 hours give or take and is pretty comfortable through the Bohemian countryside. There are a couple of short stops at towns along the way but nothing too long. Coffee, tea or hot chocolate is served along the ride which is quite nice, and you arrive at the Cesky Krumlov bus station in no time. Note: Get off at the 2nd station when you get to Cesky Krumlov, where the bus terminates. That’s the stop closest to the town.
(1) Close up of the tower at the Cesky Krumlov castle. What looks like sandstone bricks from afar are actually painted on to LOOK like it! (2) Upon arrival, at an outlook point, overlooking the pretty little town (3) COFFEE!!
The bus station to the town centre is a relatively easy 10 minute walk. I will warn you to allow yourself a little more time when leaving the town depending on where you are. I almost missed the bus! :P
But when you cross the main road and enter the cobble-stoned town, you almost feel like you’ve been transported into the past. The town is incredibly well maintained, facades of buildings are restored and brightly painted and it all looks very pretty. I was there on a Monday which apparently isn’t a good idea because the Castle is in fact closed. Cesky Krumlov is a popular town to visit on a weekend, so they take Mondays off. Ah well c’est la vie!
I booked a walking tour from the Town Hall which isn’t very pricey and although I recommend taking one to get a quick orientation of the town, I wasn’t too impressed with my guide. There were just 2 of us in her English speaking party and she wasn’t very helpful telling us the history of the town, preferring to wait till we asked questions. Still, it’s just a small little town you can cover walking in about an hour.
We strolled up to the castle, which is accessible two ways. One by walking up the stairs through the shops (I did that in Prague and that killed my legs on the way because its a really steep climb!) and the other is by a more scenic, winding road walking through the town and crossing the bridge that connects the castle to the town.
The area was once divided. Townspeople stayed in the town, Castlefolk stayed on the castle and they were separated by the winding river. But eventually, the town became one so you can pass quite freely between the two sides.
As you enter the Castle grounds, do look where everyone is peering down and you will be treated to the sight of the resident bear having his mid-morning snack in the Bear Moat. Bears have been kept at the castle since the 16th century so it was in keeping with tradition.
I couldn’t enter the Castle since it was closed, but the walk around the Castle grounds is lovely. The gardens weren’t quite in bloom yet, but you could see the flowers were starting to poke through the ground. I expect it would be much prettier closer to Summer (but a lot hotter too!)
The other walking tour I booked was for a visit to the Eggenberg beer brewery located within the town of Cesky Krumlov itself. The Czechs are huge consumers and brewers of beer and every town has their own brewery. The Eggenberg brewery has been around since the 1500s so as you can imagine, they’ve had a lot of practice. Haa! :P
It was my first time visiting a brewery so it was quite an experience. It can be a little boring, if I’m to be honest, but if you enjoy your drink, it is also interesting to know how it is made, right?
(1) Eggenberg brewery, Cesky Krumlov (2) Hop and Barley – ingredients for beer (3) Careful, PB don’t fall into the fermenting tubs! (4) The best part – tasting!
Walking around the brewery was quite an experience. Parts of it are so hot, you feel like taking off all your clothes, and other parts in the underground cellars are freezing! I learnt here about the different types of beer available in the Czech Republic and found out to my surprise that although the stockyard was piled with crates of Eggenberg beer, it was only enough for the surrounding area! Not much of it gets out and this is apparently true with many breweries in the Czech Republic. Only the big ones like Pilsner Urquell and Budweiszer make enough to export.
Erm yes, I was quite happy about having free beer included in the package haha! :D
By the time we were done with both walking tours, it was almost 2pm and time for a late lunch! I’d done a little research before I arrived as to where to eat and after checking with the guides, settled on the one that came most highly rated for some traditional local food – the 2 Marys (U Dwau Maryi). Its located down a little side lane with a very unassuming facade but you’re not there for the facade. You’re there because the food is seriously good, affordable and you don’t have to pay a premium to dine by the river!
There is a little garden outside with tables and I can imagine it can get crowded in Summer. But when I was there, there was a table waiting for us and it was quite perfect! The sky was overcast, it was a cold Spring day and I was sitting in the noonday sun but nothing could be better.
Well, except for the food, which was really REALLY good!
Portion sizes are a little smaller than what you get in Prague but so were prices. Significantly smaller!
There was some delicious Garlic Soup (35KC = RM5.50) which was a clear broth lightly flavoured with garlic, leek and croutons. It came piping hot and was perfect to warm me up.
Then there was the Old Bohemia Feast for one of Chicken (145kc = RM23) (They can do you a platter for up to 8 persons and have platters with Rabbit and Pheasant), which had smoked meat, millet, potato cake, dumpling, potatoes and salad. All very delicious!
We were quite filled up at this point, but we didn’t really want to wander around the town aimlessly. We wanted to sit and savour our drinks by the river in the crisp cool air, so we looked around at what other people were eating and saw a few people eating fish. Fish!
So we had it.
Roast Carp Baked Trout with Sage and Potatoes (170kc = RM27). Not my fish of choice at the best of times, but I enjoyed this one. There was no fishy taste or smell, it was very fresh and well done. Crisp on the outside and juicy on the inside, and came with a healthy serving of potato and vegetables. It does take a little while to arrive so do be warned. I had the luxury of time, so I wasn’t fussed.
And finally, looking around, we saw other people order something very interesting that looked like ice cream in a bowl. We weren’t sure so we asked the waitress and she told us it was Zahour – sweet creamy dumplings in a blueberry sauce. Sure, lets have it!
Be warned that this is actually more akin to a dessert. Zahour (98 kc = RM15.60) has pieces of dumplings in a lovely blueberry sauce topped with a generous dollop of whipped cream. The dessert is served warm which is very interesting! I must say its a bit of an acquired taste but I also learned that its not all that easy to find dumplings in a sweet fruit sauce. So I made sure to savour it.
Yes, the 2 Marys gets 2 thumbs up from me!
All in all, I spent almost 3 hours over lunch! (This is why I love travelling free and easy) All we did was sit out in the sun, eating and enjoying the marvellous view. It was perhaps at this time that the twee feeling of the town fell away and I started to appreciate it a little more than I had. As many have commented, Cesky Krumlov is a very pretty little town. Almost too pretty to be true. It looks like it belongs on a set of a Disney cartoon. I thought it reminded me of the little town in Beauty and the Beast! Its that surreal! But yet, while sitting there over my long lunch, looking around and up at the castle. I found myself liking the little town for its surreal medieval feel and the almost too pretty to be believed scenery.
I’d say Cesky Krumlov is quite certainly worth a visit. An overnight stay would be a bit too much if I’m to be honest unless you absolutely love places like this, or have the luxury of time, or are passing through headed elsewhere out of Prague. But for me, a one day trip was more than sufficient to get a feel of the place.
I left at 5pm, running for the bus because I’d underestimated my speed of walking but fortunately, didn’t get too ticked off by the bus attendants. Maybe they did, I wasn’t sure I understood :P Got back into Prague city by 8pm and it was the end of another memorable day :)
This is Part 3 of my chronicles of my visit to Prague, Czech Republic. You can read my suggestions on 10 things to do while visiting Prague here and my visit to Kutna Hora and the Bone Church. Or read more Travel Tales here.