Cesky Krumlov: A Day in a Fairy Tale

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When there’s so much to do in Prague, it may seem like taking a day trip to a small, out-of-the-way town is a waste of time—especially if you’re like most travelers and have limited time to spend in Czechia.  In my travels, though, I’ve almost always found the small towns to be the best times, and the most authentic times.  They haven’t been Americanized and they don’t cater to tourists as much.

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Being a popular day trip from Prague already, Cesky Krumlov is a little bit of both; it’s not going to attract the volume Prague does, but enough people make the effort that there are plenty of tourist shops and subpar restaurants.  If you stay the night, however, you’ll be rewarded: the day trippers don’t get in until after breakfast, and they leave right after dinner, so the town empties out and quiets down outside of these peak hours.

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It was during these off-peak hours, at the end of the day, sitting in the main square with a beer as dusk settled in, waiting for our later dinner reservation, that the magic of Cesky Krumlov started to engulf us.  Sitting on a bench, watching the small Easter market become less and less busy, a man sat down on a bench across from us and started to play the hang (pronounced hahng), a metal hand pan from Switzerland and looks like a lap-sized UFO.  Both tapping and running your fingers around it (as you would a glass of water) give off a mystical, otherworldy sound.  This was our soundtrack (including an interesting rendition of Blue Monday) as we relaxed in the cool Cesky Krumlov evening.

Wandering

We had arrived that morning, after taking the earliest bus possible from Prague.  We walked a short distance from the bus stop to Hotel Villa Beatika, where we were able to get breakfast.  We’d told them we’d be leaving super early the next day in order to drive to the Prague airport, so we wouldn’t be able to take advantage of breakfast the next morning, so they let us have it when we checked in, which was very generous of them.

After fueling up, we dropped off our bags (it was way too early to check in) and walked down into the sleepy little town—still sleepy, as most of the day-trippers hadn’t made it in yet.  Walking down through the town, and especially once you make it up to the castle that overlooks everything, the view of Cesky Krumlov is damn near magical.  I’m not sure anywhere else I’ve been has so totally encapsulated the fairy tale vibe (cliché though it may be) as this little town, even on a cold, overcast April morning.

We walked around the castle a bit, foregoing a guided tour (the timing of the English tours didn’t really mesh with how we wanted to spend our day).  We spent most of our time wandering the garden—as it was a tad cold out and none of the flowers had really bloomed yet, it was a nice and quiet area above the city, tucked away from everything.  Not many on the tour came to the garden—and those who did didn’t stay long when they saw it hadn’t yet bloomed—but we walked almost every foot of it.

Food & Drink

When we weren’t just wandering the streets of the city and marveling at the views from every corner we turned, we were eating (of course).  After the hotel breakfast, we had two meals, and one was planned and reserved in advance.  And once we found out there was a large brewery in town, our lunch was easily decided.  Set on the outskirts of the town, Eggenberg Brewery dates back to 1336.  The dining room was huge—they clearly get the brunt of tourist meals here—and the food and beer was pretty standard Czech.  Refreshing pilsner, food leaden with dumplings, barely a vegetable in sight—nothing different than what we’d been seeing all over Eastern Europe.

Dinner, though, was something else.  Lew Bryson, beer and whiskey writer extraordinaire, had recommended we check out Krčma v Šatlavské, a small cave-like restaurant specializing in grilled meats. Later, when I was scanning my trusty 125 Places to Have a Beer list (though it is 10 years old now), I happened to see Krčma listed on there—perfect.  When we arrived, we quickly realized having a reservation was key, as the place’s reputation seemed well-known.

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We sat catty-corner to a massive open fire in the middle of the restaurant, where a clearly heat-resistant cook worked various cuts of meat all over the impressive flame.  Being our last meal in Czechia, we made it an impressive one.  We started with a bread bowl of soup—the bread quickly absorbed all of the soup, turning the dish into a mass of deliciously soggy garlic cheese bread. LeeAnne ordered some sausage, and I went with a pork knuckle to devour on my own as we drank a few beers (and then some mead—why not?).

Go Visit

After gorging ourselves on grilled meats and beer, we slowly walked back up the hill to our hotel, which now seemed even worse than it had before.  We took to our Jimi Hendrix room—all the rooms at Villa Beatika are based on classic rock legends (and are quite spacious)—and fell asleep quickly, which was fortuitous, as we had a private car to drive us to the Prague airport departing around 3 am.  As it turns out, the amount of sleep I got in the hotel didn’t really matter, as I slept almost the entire car ride.

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Overall, we had a great day in Cesky Krumlov and, like most short stops, I wish it could have been longer.  The pace of life is a tad slower, everyone is a bit more relaxed, and there is enough to keep you busy even if you do prefer the city life.  The idyllic views of the town and the surrounding hills certainly don’t hurt, either.  If you’re going to be in Prague, make your way to Cesky Krumlov, and make a reservation at Krčma v Šatlavské.

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