The Unesco-listed town of Ceský Krumlov, which sits on the banks of the Vltava River, has its historic centre built around a 13th-century castle, writes David Whitley
My Kind of Place: Český Krumlov, Czech Republic
It is 25 years since this little town in southern Bohemia was inscribed on the Unesco World Heritage list, and in that time it has gone from being one of Europe’s best-kept secrets to being a firm fixture on the tourist map. But that doesn’t mean its appeal has dimmed – you would be hard-pushed to find a more beautiful town anywhere on Earth.
Ceský Krumlov is built around a loop in the Vltava River, and most of the buildings in the centre are hundreds of years old. Many architectural styles are represented – from Gothic to rococo – but Renaissance that gets prime billing. From a distance, the town looks like it is coated in elaborate stone and brickwork. But get close, and it is a painted-on mirage.
A comfortable bed
Hotel Ruže is in what was once a Jesuit college, and is regarded as the top address in town. It goes for romantic heavy drapes and dangling mock-candle light fittings, but the spa treatment rooms and surprisingly sizeable indoor pool set it apart. Rooms costs from €102 (Dh448.50).
Hotel Latran is charming and comfortable, with old wooden furniture and bare wood floors covered in plush, rich-red rugs. Old black-and-white portraits of past residents dot the walls, staff are friendly and breakfast is included. Double rooms cost from €56 (Dh246).
Krumlov Mill Apartments are spacious, with kitchenettes, and rather cool beds that hang from unvarnished ceilings on thick iron chains. Large, free-standing baths, leather couches and dining chairs, brimming bookcases and furry faux-bearskin rugs add to the loft-apartment-gone-country vibe. Apartments cost from €208 (Dh915).
Find your feet
Ceský Krumlov’s star draw is its castle, which is the apogee of the painted-building gimmick, sat serenely on the cliff above the river. It is built around a series of courtyards, has sublime viewing terraces and a wealth of detail in the decoration.
The museum inside features period rooms, an armoury and a mint, while the tower is worth the thigh-sapping climb. The highlight, though, is the remarkably well-preserved – and jaw-droppingly pretty – baroque theatre. A bewildering series of combination tickets are available, but it is free to walk around the grounds.
The town’s other museums and restored monasteries aren’t exactly must-sees, but the Museum Fotoatelier Seidel is worth a visit to see the old-time photography studio on the top floor. The building was the home and business premises of renowned, innovative photographer Josef Seidel, and a great number of his glass plates and prints are still there.
Meet the locals
During the winter, locals head into the mountains between Ceský Krumlov and the Austrian border. The main ski resort – practically unknown outside the Czech Republic – is Lipno. For the rest of the year, there is good walking in these parts.
Book a table
Dining leans towards unashamed meat-and-dumplings heartiness in these parts, and Krcma Satlava pulls this off better than most. It plumps for a medieval-tavern vibe, with meats cooked over an open fire by the stack of logs used to fuel it. The mixed grill (290 Czech korunas [Dh49]) with homemade potato pancakes is practically mandatory.
Le Jardin is a more-refined affair, going for white tablecloths rather than bare benches, and serves gamey dishes such as guinea fowl with chanterelle mushrooms, Brussels sprouts and baby carrots in a marsala sauce for 400 korunas (Dh67).
Ceský Krumlov has plenty of iffy souvenir shops, but your wallets shouldn’t necessarily be kept in your pocket. The local semi-precious stone is moldavite, which is sometimes yellow or brown, but most valuable when it is green. The shop at the Moldavite Museumis the most-reliable source of jewellery made from the stone, and provides buyers with certificates of authenticity.
Galerie Na Ostrove (Na Ostrove) offers ceramic mugs, dolls and toiletries, but it really specialises in the sort of cute, old-fashioned wooden toys that grandparents love to buy for their grandchildren in the hope of weaning them away from digital screens.
What to avoid
Many people visit on a day trip from Prague, but that is a mistake – it’s a six-hour round trip, and one of Ceský Krumlov’s great pleasures is idly sitting on a riverside restaurant terrace in the late afternoon/early evening, once the tour buses have gone.
Outside of the winter months, a fine Ceský Krumlov tradition is to hire a boat, then spend a few hours floating down the Vltava in the sunshine. Malecek (www.malecek.cz) is among several agencies that will take you and your hired craft – whether a canoe or a big inflatable raft – to the start point a few kilometres away, then float back into town. Prices range from 160 korunas (Dh27) per person for 2 kilometres on a large raft to 700 korunas (Dh118) for 35km in a canoe.