ABOARD THE VIKING VILJHAM– Today’s adventure takes us to Cesky Krumlov, slightly more than an hour and a half away from Linz, Austria where we are docked.
Cesky Krumlov rates just a small and meek dot on the map of the Czech Republic – – politically inconsequential. But she’s a mighty tourist cauldron, simmering a mixture of Medieval, Renaissance, baroque and rococo in a rich pilsner beer broth. And the kettle bubbles over.
I first visited Cesky Krumlov eleven years ago and loved the little red-roofed hamlet encircled by the Vltava River. No cars allowed on the cobblestone alleys and bridges that course around medieval townhouses like a maze.
Back in the early 2000s, the UNESCO World Heritage site was sadly fraying, bursting at the seams from a deluge of visitors. I am thrilled to report renovations and a hamlet that seems to be on the rise, likely due to UNESCO’s support and the Czech Republic becoming part of the European Union.
Buses must park out of town, so my cruise excursion group walked up to the formal gardens to begin our tour. I’d missed what turned out to be an impressive horticultural display on my previous trip. The path from the greenery descends gradually down to the town, but some of the best views come early. A concrete viewing platform has been added, a perfect perch for photo-worthy panoramic shots including the horseshoe bend in the river coursing through the town. Below lies the signature landmark, the castle’s decoratively pastel painted tower. The tall cylinder looks as if Botticelli frescoed it using the same colors and clamshells chose for his masterpiece, “Birth of Venus.”
Our guide told of the families who ruled the Moravian village – – from the Rosenbergs to the Schwarzenbergs. The Rosenbergs, ranked among the most powerful aristocratic families in Bohemia, their members repeatedly holding the highest offices in the land.
Cesky Krumlov passed to the Eggenbergs who held it until 1719. Later, under Eggenberg rule, castle and townhouses were remodeled in the Baroque style. Then the Schwarzenbergs took over until 1947. The last important changes, by the Schwarzenberg family, came in the second half of the 18th century. Since then Cesky Krumlov has preserved the romantic atmosphere that attracts many tourists every year.
The decorative painting on the exterior buildings surrounding the upper courtyard had been repainted since my previous visit- an excellent touch.
We came to the main castle courtyard, and then we crossed the drawbridge over a pit where, until recently, two brown bears lived; one has died. Since the 16th century, the bears have provided the protection usually offered by water in a moat. They also symbolized a link with royalty. It seems the castle owners added a bear motif to the coat of arms to flaunt their relationship to the “Orsini” line – a noble Italian family. “Orsa” means she-bear in Italian, so they began keeping the real deal.
Beyond the castle, jewelry shops, souvenir stands, and cafes line the narrow alleyways. They lead to another bridge and up toward the main town square that swarms with bedraggled backpackers, a thick potage of the camera frenzied, a smidgen of European families and we cruisers.
After our tour, we found a restaurant behind a hotel alongside the river and ordered wood-grilled local specialties and a refreshing pint of Eggenberg beer. The cool brew did nothing to damage the well-earned reputation of Czech beers, beating an early heat wave in June.
We meandered around, zapped of energy, deciding to skip the climb to the castle tower. Unfortunately, the museums are closed on Mondays. Raft tours on the river coursing through the city’ are wonderful, but I didn’t find them open either.
No matter, more angles for delightful photos hid behind corners, stairwells and perches until we met up with a couple from the cruise for another refreshing drink.
Cesky Krumlov is a photographer’s delight, a fairy-tale village that rightly attracts and pleases. If you take the Viking cruise, be sure to add the excursion to this Czech masterpiece.