View from the Cesky Castle hilltop. Pix by Fazlynn Nadira Azrul Raj
Clockwise from above: Some of the restaurants by the Vltava River; The cobblestoned Old Town and its delightful little shops; One of the shops selling locally made products; The writer at Cesky Castle’s garden; The Cesky Palace courtyard; The goat cheese salad and margherita pizza. Pix by Fazlynn Nadira Azrul Raj

Being a small city surrounded by villages, Cesky Krumlov in the Czech Republic

offers a uniquely European countryside holiday experience

for Fazlynn Nadira Azrul Raj

WHEN I was planning a trip to Munich and a few other cities in Europe, a friend suggested an old city in the Czech Republic.

I quickly searched online and was pleasantly surprised with what I found: A city with 15th century architecture with a mix of Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque styles. I immediately added Cesky Krumlov to the list of cities to visit during my trip.

The day finally came for me to visit Cesky Krumlov. I started my journey to the old city from Salzburg by van. Cesky Krumlov is located about 170km or three hours drive from Prague, Salzburg and Vienna.

The city is easily accessible by bus and van with tickets reasonably priced at about CZK800 (RM140) per person. Very affordable indeed and travelling by road is highly recommended as you’ll get to enjoy the beautiful landscapes of mountains and endless grass fields of the countryside.

Cesky Krumlov lies close to the Austrian and German border, south-west of Czech. Recognised as a Unesco World Heritage Site since 1992, the city boasts classic old-world charm, and is part of Czech’s South Bohemian Region. Home to about 14,000 people, the city is well-known for its picturesque Old Town surrounded by rolling hills and the charming Vltava River. The heart of the town is within a horseshoe bend of the river.

LOVELY, CLASSIC CITY

Closer towards the city, a little stream runs alongside the winding road leading up to the ancient city. In spring and summer, you’ll see locals and visitors alike, swimming, fishing or indulging in water sports such as white water-rafting and kayaking in the river.

The Old Town, which is the main attraction in Cesky Krumlov, should be the first place you visit when you arrive in this lovely city. A classic setting (very much like in the movie Chocolat) awaits at the Old Town which is made up of about 300 protected ancient buildings and the famous Cesky Castle which is the crown of the town, on the top of a hill. Lying on the banks of River Vltava, the old Latran neighbourhood features generations-owned family business, quaint shops, cafes, restaurants, hostels and inns all closely interwoven with one another.

As you walk along the shops and up to the ancient monasteries and churches, look out for unique stone and wooden carvings which are embedded in the walls of the buildings or on some of the wooden doors.

If you’d like to get something special to take home, the must-try or must-have items would be the locally produced honey, fruit-based jams, wooden carvings, crystals, gemstones and handmade jewellery.

There are at least 10 jewellery shops in the Old Town specialising in gem stones (a Cesky Krumlov special). There is a good variety, and you can bargain to get the best price.

After strolling through part of the town, I walk up the hill to the beautiful Cesky Castle, a 13th century castle with Renaissance and Baroque elements which features a 11-hectare garden and a 17th century baroque style theatre. The castle, which is on higher ground and the stroll up the hill lets you make stops at a few viewing stations on the hillside which gives access to panoramic views of the whole Cesky Krumlov city which has layers and layers of classic baroque rooftops and green hills.

The refreshing mountain breeze makes the climb worth it. The clean, fresh air from the surrounding forests and the altitude make me feel like my lungs are thankful for every breath I take! The spectacular view from up the hill is postcard perfect.

Those who are into photography and beautiful landscapes can go on and on snapping photos of the glorious scenery.

As it is quite a small city, I manage to walk through about half of the town in two hours. The locals tell me that I can cover the whole town in a day but I have picked and chosen the places I want to visit, so I take my time at each place.

DINING AT PAPA’S

Cesky Krumlov is the perfect sojourn from the usual attractions in the big cities. The cosy eateries, beautifully decorated restaurants and the sweet smell of fresh crepe and bread greet you at every corner as you walk around the city; you can be assured of glorious food in your tummy.

The restaurants serve delicious western food using fresh ingredients from the villages nearby at a fraction of the price you pay in the bigger cities.

Papa’s Living Restaurant which is located at Latran 13 of the Old Town is my personal favourite, serving the best margherita pizza and goat cheese salad I’ve ever had. Walking through the restaurant’s small entrance, you will be surprised to see the classy and cosy interior which looks totally different from the outside.

While I am not usually a fan of non-meat pizza, I decide to try the Margherita Pizza as I am concerned about halal meat. It is the best decision ever as the pizza is simply amazing.

The wood-fire oven-made pizza has a tasty thin crust, perfectly seasoned (with fresh herbs) tomato sauce spread and a very generous cheese topping. As they have access to fresh cheese in the region, and a variety of them, the pizza is abundantly laid with what I suspect are mozzarella, fontina and parmesan, creating lovely texture and flavourful bursts in every bite.

I don’t know if it is my lucky day, but the salad I have chosen is also heaven-sent. The goat cheese salad is made up of a generous bed of greens on a plate, topped with caramelised onions and the biggest piece of goat cheese in a salad serving I have ever seen.

The goat cheese add a very distinct flavour to the salad which is wonderful with some light dressing. I am also pleasantly surprised to find out that the pizza cost only CZK125 (about RM22) and the goat cheese salad at CZK169 (about RM29) as both came in generous portions. Definitely a steal compared to the prices in cities like Salzburg and Munich.

I recommend the riverside seating which offers a lovely view, especially during the warmer times in the year.

REASONS TO GO BACK

To cover all the main attractions and to explore some hidden spots, a short trip of about two to three days is good enough.

Although I do not have the time to visit, there are a few museums to explore such as the Moldavite Museum, Museum Fotoatelier, a small Wax Museum and the Regional Museum as well as and The Egon Schiele Art Centre (highly recommended by the locals).

If you want to indulge in water sports or spend time catching an opera at the theatre near the castle, reading a book or spending time with your loved ones, about five days would be ideal.

For souvenirs, some of the must-try or must-buy items are the locally-produced honey, fruit-based jams, wooden carvings, crystals, gem stones and handmade jewellery.

There is a good variety of designs available, and you can bargain to get the best price.

Being a small city surrounded by villages, things in Cesky Krumlov are relatively cheaper, so it is a great option for backpackers and budget travellers. For a 3D/2N stay, about RM500 would be enough for budget travellers and RM750 for more comfortable options. Those who like the higher-end options and want to do quite a bit of shopping will probably need about RM1,000.

As always, planning in advance has its advantages and can help you save more. There are many hostels and guesthouses available, with a wide price range.

I personally recommend Hostel Postel, a clean, family-managed, well-equipped hostel with open dormitory or single room options. Prices are reasonable and bookings can be made through email or some popular accommodation websites.

A good time to visit Cesky Krumlov is the end of summer and early autumn. As summer is a popular time for travel around Europe, the small old town can get a little crowded with tourists around that time.

End of summer and early autumn is really ideal, as the beautiful colours of autumn complements the lovely weather, giving you a perfect uniquely European Bohemian countryside holiday experience.

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