Český Krumlov - an island of unreality


Český Krumlov is a small town situated in the far south of Bohemia, about 25km from the city of České Budějovice. Bordering the Šumava region, the UNESCO World Heritage site is surrounded by a countryside of gentle, rolling hills. Despite its hidden-away location, Český Krumlov has become a major tourist destination for nearby Germans, Austrians, for countless global tourists visiting the country – and also for many Czechs.

Photo: Barbora KmentováPhoto: Barbora Kmentová The historic town feels like a version of Prague’s Malá Strana without the surrounding city. Or like a larger version of the small town of Loket in western Bohemia. Situated along the banks of the winding river Vltava, the historic centre is built inside an extreme meander. The banks of the river fall steeply, creating a kind of bowl effect for the entire historic town. Inside this meander are a multitude of narrow streets and alleyways, similar in style to those found in Prague’s Old Town.

And just like in Prague, the scene is dominated by the imposing presence of a large castle above on the other side of the river. Český Krumlov Castle, dating back to the 13th century, spans more than six hectares, offering visitors endless walks through its vast grounds, which include a baroque theatre, chapels and countless other historical wonders. Perhaps the most striking feature is the so-called 17th and 18th century-era “Cloak Bridge”, a multi-story arched stone bridge which connects two of the castle’s courtyards and towers imposingly above Český Krumlov on one side and a large park on the other.

Photo: Barbora KmentováPhoto: Barbora Kmentová During the day, a visit to the castle is delightful enough, but it is at night when the place really takes on a kind of unusual magic. The castle grounds remain open, and the surreal, fairytale-like scene can be capped off with an encounter with a couple of real live bears sleeping in a moat, guarding the castle in a tradition which dates back to the 16th century.

Such a beautiful historical backdrop has hardly turned Český Krumlov into a place of mere quiet reflection and somber archeological investigation. Quite the reverse. For Český Krumlov at its heart has really become a party town. A city that never sleeps. It’s really quite unreal in this regard. The historical centre has been entirely given over to tourism, meaning stores, pubs and restaurants. There are plenty of high quality hotels, with high prices to match, and often with no vacancies at all during peak seasons. For backpackers and budget travelers there are a number of guest houses (or pensions) and hostels. And on the banks of the Vltava in summer, just a few minutes from the centre, one also finds camping grounds.

Photo: Barbora KmentováPhoto: Barbora Kmentová Apart from the dozens, perhaps hundreds of pubs here, there’s even a night club on the banks of the Vltava (in the English sense of the word - in Czech, a “night club” usually means a brothel) for revelers to dance to loud music until the early hours.

And quite surprisingly, one sees Czech revelers here, too, travelling here from across the region and country in a manner no different than international visitors.

Český Krumlov also boasts a vibrant cultural scene for tourists, hosting a number of festivals throughout the summer, for example the International Music Festival Český Krumlov between July and August. Summer is certainly the busiest time in Český Krumlov, but it may also be the best time to visit this fascinating island of unreality.