Our guest blogger Simon, a British expatriate now living in Munich, continues his travels to Eastern Europe. After he found himself fascinated by the urban dynamism of the Polish capital in spring, he has stumbled into a very different place in summer: a little Czech town where time seems to have stood still…
If you were a medieval knight fallen asleep in the forest and cast into five hundred years of enchanted slumber by a mischievous ogre and you then woke up on one of the wooded hilltops that surround Ä�eský Krumlov in 2013, you would probably not, as you emerged from the undergrowth, realise that you had endured anything more than a heavy snooze.
Below, you’d still see the sparkling turrets, spires, and ramparts of this most idyllic of Bohemian cities. The Vltava would still be curving a wide S-bend around a pedestrian-only maze of cobbled streets and brown-tiled roofs; the streets and squares would still be bustling with commerce and prosperity; the massive castle would still be found looking impregnable, perched on a huge rock, dominating the town.
From up on these surrounding hills, the place can be appreciated in all its symmetrical glory. The town forms an almost perfect circle. It’s a really colourful prospect with lots of golds and greens decorating the historical centre and pretty trompe l’oeil patterns covering the castle walls. Standing out starkest of all is the round castle tower rising high up above the town with pure fairy tale looks. It’s the sort of tower you’d expect to find some scarcely glimpsed maiden locked up at the top of.
Even as you climb down the hill and enter the town, there is not much to suggest the 21st century has intruded. There are still brown bears prowling around the castle moat, and you can still get a hearty meal at medieval prices.
Perhaps the first thing that would really shock our imaginary knight would be the sight of the river: In summer it is full of tourists white water rafting badly. Then it might start to dawn that the milling crowds are not badly dressed tradesman peddling their wares, but throngs of visitors enjoying themselves in the sunshine and soaking up the unique atmosphere of this surprisingly little known ‘timepiece’.
The castle complex – which dates back to the 13th century, but was rebuilt and expanded in the 1600s – is the town’s main attraction. It was added to the UNESCO World Heritage list over 20 years ago, putting it on a par with the more famous HradÄ�any in Prague. For a few Koruna, you can get complete access to it’s well-preserved interiors and the chance to climb to the top of the magnificent tower. There are several different guided tours on offer and you could easily take half a day to see everything. Don’t miss the Eggenberg Baroque Theatre. Housed within the castle walls, the theatre boasts elaborate stage machinery that was the CGI of its day and used to wow its aristocratic audiences with enchanting optical illusions and tricks.
The town is becoming ever more popular with domestic tourists from the Czech Republic, as well as continually attracting travellers from all over Europe and beyond. In mid-summer, Ä�eský Krumlov becomes the backdrop to a “medieval” festival, complete with period music, duels, jousting, and feasting.
One other thing that remains “medieval”, is the public transportation in the area. Perhaps this has kept Ä�eský Krumlov off the standard European tour so far. Located in the southwest of the Czech Republic, the town is not really on the way to anywhere and you have to have a car to get there. However, I recommend that you take the trouble. I will definitely be going again; next time I will stay overnight and do a little walking around the very pretty local countryside, not least so that I can get that looking-down-on-Camelot feeling again as I walk back into town on the return journey.
Have you ever come across your own “fairy tale town” during your expat life or international travels?
(Image credits: 1) Ä�eský Krumlov by Wikimedia Commons user Dbenzhuser 2) Tower of Ä�eský Krumlov Castle by Wikimedia Commons user Vitvit 3) Old town of Ä�eský Krumlov in Spring by Wikimedia Commons user Chmee2 4) Crescent of Houses [in Ä�eský Krumlov] by the Austrian Expressionist painter Egon Schiele (1915))