Trains from Prague to Ceske Budejovice (two hours and 40 minutes) link with trains to Cesky Krumlov (less than an hour). More: raileurope.com.au. Cesky Krumlov Tourist Office (Infocentrum) offers local ticket sales, Cesky Krumlov Card valid for 30 days, bookshop and internet. Infocentrum staff and official guides are among the rare Englishspeakers. More: Namesti Svornosti 2; ckrumlov.cz/info. The history of Cesky Krumlov hovers between the aristocratic world of the Lords of Krumlov and the lives of the people at their feet. Today, it’s still a steep climb from Cesky Krumlov’s medieval Old Town, built around the meandering Vltava River, to the castle complex. The fortified castle, seat of the Rozmberks, Eggenbergs and Schwarzenbergs, is a labyrinth of 40 buildings interlaced with courtyards — upper and lower castles, tower, music pavilion, winter and summer riding schools, brewery, stables, baroque apartments, chapels and galleries.
Its oldest building dates from 1253, with the latest additions from the 16th century. The Gestapo confiscated the castle from the last Schwarzenberg in 1940.
The Castle Museum, opened last year, is a series of apartments packed with elaborate decorations, furnishings and artefacts from the House of Rozmberk.
Ticketed sightseeing routes and guided tours with foreign commentary are about CZK240 ($12). More: castle.ckrumlov.cz.
Painted in 1748, the castle’s rococo Masquerade Hall is a riot of colour and trompe l’oeil tricks.
Around the walls, aristocrats and actors cavort in costume ( commedia dell’arte, Spanish and Turkish folk dress) under chandeliers and on balustraded balconies. The castle’s Guided Tour 1 includes some originals of costumes and instruments painted on the walls.
The Baroque Theatre ( occasionally the scene of performances in authentic costumes and powdered wigs) retains its original auditorium, orchestra pit, stage, machinery and librettos (theatre tours, CZK380).
Czech garnets and Baltic amber-and-silver jewellery are everywhere, flamboyantly huge (for the Russians, I’m told) or stylishly modern. At Praha-Collection (Latran 45) the Croatian shopkeeper has interesting stories to tell and a range of designs at less than Prague prices. At Manus Odevni Galerie (Dlouha 92) designer Vanda Plasilova makes clothes, quirky hats (some in felt) and bags by hand. Upmarket collectors will find porcelain Hapsburg Empire clocks at Sterzinger Antik (Kajovska 62).
Visit St Vitus’s Cathedral, beneath the spindly white tower that can be seen from just about everywhere in the Old Town, for 15th-century frescoes, the early Baroque altar and gilded wooden pulpit stairs. The eeriest presences are the entombed hearts of some of the Schwarzenberg clan, as well as Wilhelm von Rozmberk and his third wife, buried beneath red-marble Renaissance tombstones.
EXPRESSIONS OF INTEREST
Radical expressionist painter Egon Schiele attracts the attention of art lovers around the world. When he moved here ( his mother’s home town) from Vienna in 1910, he soon attracted the notice of scandalised small-town conservatives and was later driven out.
Now Gallery Egon Schiele Artcentrum (Siroka 71) exhibits manuscripts, photographs, paintings and an engrossing film about Schiele’s life. There’s also an excellent shop of books, prints and stationery (closed Monday). More: schieleartcentrum.cz.
ALL DOLLED UP
Anyone interested in costume, traditional crafts and the theatre (or even children) will love Muzeum Marionet (Latran 6) run by the national Marionette Theatre. A forest of near life-size, gorgeously costumed, antique and modern puppets dangle from the heavy ceiling beams of St Jobst Church. There’s also a Baroque puppet theatre with functional machinery, stage designs and properties (open daily). More: mozart.cz.
Sip espresso with homemade cakes in a courtyard between gothic houses at Cafe Vlassky dvur (Dlouha 32). Try mulled wine in the colourful ambience of Cafe Van Gogh (Masna 130). Visit the tiny bakery opposite the Egon Schiele gallery for staroceske trdlo (pastry wrapped and baked around a wooden rod, the hollow cylinders rolled in sugar).
Book a table on the candle-lit, riverside terrace at Hotel Dvorak (Radnicni 101) and order delicious traditional dishes (such as pork, duck, bread dumplings, cream sauces, apple strudel) with the Castle Tower looming above. Cross Lazebnicky Bridge from Hotel Dvorak to Bolero Restaurant (Latran 6), for rustic Czech dishes in a woodlined cellar (garlic soup, Czech sausage, salad and beer). More: hoteldvorak.com. Judith Elen was a guest of Rail Europe and Infocentrum Cesky Krumlov.