Bohemian Rhapsody: A Visit to Cesky Krumlov

Do you remember the fairy tales we read as children — the ones that always began with, “Once upon a time, in a faraway land…”? Imagine that place with its larger-than-life castle and village, where people strolled the winding cobblestone streets to the local market. Or, head to the 13th-century town of Cesky Krumlov in southern Bohemia, and visit it firsthand.

This dreamy locale, A UNESCO World Heritage Site, is known for its quaint Old Town, home to 300 medieval buildings and one very large castle — large for a town of 14,000, that is. The Gothic castle is the second largest in the Czech Republic and was founded by the Lords of Krumlov — a branch of the powerful Witigonen family — around 1253.

Surrounded by the Vltava River and rolling green hills, the town of Cesky Krumlov grew up around the castle and prospered as a post in a key Bohemian trade route for nearly 500 years. New buildings were constructed, and both the arts and the farming industry began to flourish. With this new wealth — and new owners, the Eggenberg family — the town received a well-deserved face-lift. The castle’s Gothic style was modified with Baroque character, the gardens were renovated, and the Baroque theater was built.

Unfortunately, good things don’t always last. Cesky Krumlov suffered through the perils of the World Wars, although it was spared battle and bombing damage. Still, life changed in this picturesque place when Nazi Germany annexed Czechoslovakia as part of the Sudetenland.

When the war was over, the country regained its name, but a communist regime took command. The beautiful fairy-tale town in southern Bohemia with its towering castle was overshadowed by nearby Vojna, a labor camp built for (and by) German POWs in World War II. During the dark days of communist rule, it was used to incarcerate political prisoners who were forced to work in the area’s uranium mines, as well as traditional criminals and some whose only offense was trying to leave the country.

Life has come full circle in Cesky Krumlov, thanks to the Velvet Revolution of 1989 and the fall of communism. Much of the town has been restored to its former glory, and it is today considered a popular holiday destination.

What to see and do:

  • Visit Cesky Krumlov Castle and its Baroque theater.
  • Climb the 180-foot castle tower for a stunning view of the Old Town below.
  • Step inside St. Vitus Church, a 15th-century Gothic cathedral with stunning frescoes.
  • Ramble the cobblestone streets in the Old Town.
  • Cruise the Vltava River by wooden raft, canoe, or kayak.
  • Explore the Regional Museum, with its collection of Bohemian antiques and archaeological artifacts, as well as a detailed model of Cesky Krumlov at the beginning of the 19th century.
  • Attend the Five-Petalled Rose Celebrations, a Renaissance festival of sorts, in mid-June.

Take a step back in time and join Vantage Travel on Majestic Rivers of Europe: Castles, Cathedrals & Fairytales.