Travel and a bit of shopping
As published in Fair Lady, June 2016
A winding river that encircles the town. A Rapunzel tower. A Gothic fortress converted into a Renaissance chateau. A Gothic town hall, a cobblestoned town square, a castle that dates back to 1240. Loads of cosy pubs that lead out on to the Vltava River.
Spending a few days in Cesky Krumlov in the Czech Republic – rather than visiting this charming little town on a day trip from Prague – is utter bliss. There is enough to see, countless photo opportunities and more than a handful of quaint drinking holes.
According to legend the name Krumlov (Cesky means Czech or Bohemian as the town is situated in the South Bohemia region) is derived from a German word that means Crooked Meadow and this comes from the natural topography of the town due to the meandering river.
The town’s appearance has changed very little since the 18th century. During the Communist era the town was not maintained but since the Velvet Revolution much has been restored to its former glory.
You could marvel at the Cesky Krumlov Castle, spend hours ambling through the historic town centre, visit the Castle Garden and the Church of St Vitus that rivals its namesake in Prague, see art at the Egon Schiele Centre (www.schieleartcentrum.cz), glance at the Synagogue (lovingly restored but often not open) and include at least three museums – the Czech Marionettes Museum (www.marionettemuseum.cz) housed in a deconsecrated church, the Wax Museum (www.ckrumlov.cz/uk/mesto/firmy/t_waxmus.htm) or Voskove Figuriny or the Loutek Puppet Museum (www.czechtourism.com/c/cesky-krumlov-puppet-museum/)in Pohadkova Dum (Fairytale House) as part of your itinerary.
The exterior of the Puppet Museum does not reveal the magic on the inside but their website prepares you for what you are about to experience: “Once upon a time, there was a little town. In that town, there was a house. It was not an ordinary house, though – it was magical. Many creatures lived in it, such as the water spirit ”vodník” with captured souls of drowned men, the bandits of the Blanský Forest and Šumava Forest, a giant or Doctor Faustus and the famous puppet, Kašpárek.”
Some guides claim that Krumlov Castle (http://www.zamek-ceskykrumlov.eu/en/) is haunted. The ghost is known as the White Lady and she lived here in the 13th century. Her real name was Perchta von Roseburg and on his death bed her husband put a curse on her as she would not forgive him for treating her badly.
In stark contrast the pink and yellow Renaissance tower (painted as such in 1591) rises above the town, is visible from most ulices (streets) and is adorned with marble busts and gold trimmings.
Wherever you walk down narrow picturesque lanes you hear the gurgling of the river and every few blocks you cross another foot bridge over the river. Sign posts for guest houses, restaurants and pubs are hand-painted or feature curlicued wrought iron designs, often a pewter beaker dangles on one side, or a medieval lantern casts yellow light.
Creative yet functional burglar bars feature gabled houses; a reclining bare-bosomed lady in a old-fashioned champagne glass, a wine bottle dangling from one hand, a cocktail glass in the other; and the sun with rays protruding.
At Two Marys (U Dwau Maryi) (www.ckrumlov.cz/uk/mesto/rpphv/i_udmary.htm) mead is served in goblets and dishes with buckwheat and millet are made according to old recipes. This former house was originally built between two town walls and two wall paintings of the Virgin Mary were discovered during restoration. The former house owners would have asked the Virgin Mary for protection as was the custom back then.
Monastery Garden offers ice tea and water-pipes; at Laibon Vegetarianska Restaurace (www.laibon.cz) candles flicker on tables under vaulted ceilings; Nonna Gina serves authentic Italian food; Deli 99 specialises in bagels & organic juices (and has wi-fi); Pod Radnici (www.podradnicick.cz) has good local trout; Cesky Pernik (www.ceskykrumlovoriginal.com) has bragging rights to old-Bohemian ginger bread; and many establishments serve trdelnik, a traditional hollow sweet-and-spicy pastry, as well as crepes with baked apples.
It’s impossible not to notice the cheeky face of Svejk above the doorway of this Bohemian gastro-pub (www.svejkck.cz/english/). It’s popular for food and beer amongst locals and tourists alike. The name is taken from a Czech novel, The Good Soldier Svejk, by Jaroslav Hasek.
Cesky Krumlov also has its own beer brewery, Eggenberg (www.eggenberg.cz).
Apotheka Cocktail Bar is, as its name implies, in a converted pharmacy. Cocktails have names like Penicillin and Chateau Balsam or the more classic Hemingway Special, Singapore Sling and Cosmopolitan. More liquor bottles than you can shake a swizzle stick at are displayed in elegant wood-and-glass cabinets harking from the pharmacological era. Although the barman will happily concoct his own cocktail specially for you if you tell him what your favourite ingredients are, you should probably have absinthe whilst here.
Absinthe, also known as La fée verte (The green fairy), is an anise-flavoured spirit, with one of its traditional ingredients the leaves and flowers of wormwood.
Although it’s advisable not to overindulge in absinthe –the absinthe ritual involves dripping ice cold water onto a sugar cube, sometimes set alight, on a flat filigreed spoon to cause the sugar to melt slowly – the words by a critic in the early 1900’s were grossly exaggerated: “Absinthe makes you crazy and criminal, provoking epilepsy and tuberculosis and has killed thousands of people. It makes a ferocious beast of man, a martyr of woman, and a degenerate of the infant, it disorganizes and ruins the family and menaces the future of the country.”
Coming across some weird and intriguing outdoor installations – many by Miroslav Paral – does not mean you’ve had too much absinthe. A garden seat with four inward-turned human feet, a round billboard standing on tiptoe to resemble a kissing couple, another balancing on finger tips, a wooden bench with giant thorns, a table with human legs and a red-handled door keeping itself company on a free-standing stair case make you doubt your sobriety.
At Army-Vylet Czech teenagers and tourists interested in the military buy old-issue berets, badges, camouflage items and outdoor torches from the former Czech-Slovak army.
Dum Ceskych Remesel (House of Czech Crafts) has a wide range of wooden toys and local handicrafts. Siroka Ulice (Broad Street) houses a few alternative butiki. Browse in corner shops and mini-markets for unusual ingredients to incorporate into your next dinner party once back home.
As whimsical as it is, Cesky Krumlov only gets really busy over peak season in the summer months and when they are hosting a festival of which there are a few. If you are intending to visit over this period you will need to book accommodation well in advance; otherwise it is not necessary as there is a pension wherever you happen to cast an eye.