Cesky Krumlov's Topography Offers Many a Breathtaking View

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CESKY KRUMLOV, Czech Republic -- If you could tell clients only two things about this town in the far south of South Bohemia, tell them this: Be sure to include Cesky Krumlov on any itinerary in the area and plan to visit it last.

Make this the last stop because after a sojourn in Cesky Krumlov, other area towns and small cities -- which are charming, too -- will pale by comparison.

Like many counterparts, this town has medieval roots, houses with frescos and sgraffito, bright red tile roofs, a pretty little square, a dramatically placed church (called St. Vitus, in this case) and a castle.

But two differences -- the topography and the size of the castle -- combine to produce an impact of a different order.

First, the topography: The heart of the town sits atop and spills down the sides of a promontory that is ringed on its north, west and south sides by the tightly wound Vltava River.

And, outside this enclave, the river is hugged on its north side by a still steeper cliff; the castle sits astride that cliff and looks far down on the world below.

The result is countless vistas, sometimes breathtaking, seen when looking down on red rooftops and a rushing river below or, from the valley floor, of steeply ascending paths that lead up to elegant church steeples or the ramparts of a castle that looks big enough to accommodate the town's entire population.

And now, about the castle: Containing 300 rooms in 40 buildings, it is the largest castle in the Czech Republic after Prague's.

The first sections were built in the 13th century, roughly the same time the town was founded, and aristocracy owned and used the castle from then until 1947.

Though dating from the 13th century, it was rebuilt in Renaissance style in the 16th.

As if a clifftop site weren't drama enough, that cliff -- and the castle -- are split at one point by a deep chasm that builders bridged with a multilevel, partially enclosed walkway (Plastovy Bridge) that is about 115 feet high.

Catching sight of and then walking through the arch under this construct is impressive indeed.

The castle is open daily April through October, except Mondays, and accessible only with a guide for a one-hour tour costing about $5.

However, my entry was nearly $8 because, when I visited, the castle was the setting for the Festival of Old Music, and all group tours lasted an extra half hour.

We were greeted as we moved from room to room by musicians -- appropriately costumed -- playing instruments and songs representative of different eras in the castle's life.

Eight events ranged from musicians on medieval flutes and drums heard in a rather spare hall evocative of the castle's earliest years to the string instrumentalists playing 18th century music in a theater of like age -- and dressed like our Founding Fathers.

Music may need no translation, but the tour guide spoke Czech, so I shared English-language printed guides with other tourists.

Then, the tour over, I explored the courtyards and crossed Plastovy Bridge, which provides commanding views of the town, reminding me why this town is a Unesco-protected site.

A few other points require making:

  • I stumbled onto the Festival of Old Music (set for July 10 to 19 this year), during which costumed entertainers play historical instruments and music in old cellars, churches and the castle.
  • One event is a period feast with music at the pub called U Dwau Maryi.

    There are other summer events -- a chamber music series (June 28 to July 5) and the Festival of the Five-Petaled Rose, June 19 to 21.

    The latter recalls Cesky Krumlov's Renaissance past, and residents dress accordingly. Events include a parade, a folk art fair, dancing, Renaissance games and an evening "celebration of the solstice."

  • There is fun here for the active traveler: On the day of my visit, the swiftly moving waters of the Vltava had attracted large numbers of water sports enthusiasts, mostly canoeing and rushing the rapids at the small falls created by a series of spillways.
  • It was more delightful for me to take a light lunch in one of several restaurants with seating at the river's edge; there are attractive alternatives, for eating outdoors or just sitting, in the central and other squares.
  • For those who cannot
  • drive, there are two viable alternatives for getting to Cesky Krumlov: packaged tours, which can be as short as a single-day trip out of Prague, or transport by bus from Prague.

    Friends tried both the bus and train; they found the bus, usually involving a connection, more convenient and much faster (at about two hours one way) and not much more expensive (about $6 one way). Service is several times a day.

  • The same friends recommend the Ruze Hotel, a former Jesuit monastery in the heart of the old town with rooms around an inner courtyard. They said it was comfortable, the staff charming and helpful though not fluent in English and the views from some rooms quite beautiful.
  • Rates were around $60 for a double room with breakfast.

    Thirty-seven rooms have private showers and baths, but another 12, former monks' cells, are tiny and without private facilities.

  • An American, Bryce Belcher, is the manager of Czech Impressions here, a ground operator that specializes in cultural excursions for groups in historical sites of Cesky Krumlov and the area.
  • For additional information, contact the firm by telephone/fax at (011) 42-0 337- 61460 or by e-mail at bryce

    @ck.ipex.cz.

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