From the moment we stepped off the bus at the station in Český Krumlov, it felt as though we were stepping into a fairy tale. The sweeping views of a medieval town nestled into rolling hills with the vibrant colors of autumn were like those one could find in a story book. And of course, no fairy tale would be complete without a castle, and the Krumlov Castle does not disappoint. It even has a moat filled not with water, but with bears. Minus the bears, I imagine this is what Snow White’s kingdom would have looked like.
We visited Český Krumlov, a UNESCO World Heritage site, on our fourth day in the Czech Republic this past November. We traveled from Prague in the early morning, taking a RegioJet bus to the South Bohemia region of the country. On the three-hour bus ride, the girls slept while I watched the scenery of Central Bohemia pass by. The route took us through frost-covered fields glistening in the early morning light. It was pleasant to watch the sunrise over the countryside with its towering evergreens and ponds, while not having to worry about driving.
After stops in Písek and České Budějovice, we arrived in Český Krumlov around 9 am. Much of the town was still closed, as it was the off season in late November. In the summer, Český Krumlov is a relatively popular tourist destination with hiking and rafting down the picturesque Vltava River, however this is not the case in the cold of winter, and even entry to the inside of the castle and its towers were limited. Fortunately though, there are many cute cafes that stay open, and Emily found a very nice one for breakfast.
After walking about a kilometer over beautiful cobbled streets and across the bridge over the Vltava, we arrived at the Kolektiv Cafe Bistro and Wine Bar. This elegant breakfast spot was perfect for our family to enjoy a hearty meal before exploring the town. In addition to good coffee, desserts, and wine, the restaurant has a number of vegetarian options on the menu. While the husband and the girls had the brunch which included eggs, potato pancakes, and bacon, I opted for the three-egg omelette. The food was delicious, and the company even better.
After breakfast, we made our way through the town and to Krumlov Castle. The girls were most eager to see the bear moat. It is thought that bears were kept in the moat, which like many were originally constructed to serve as protection, since the early 1700s. Today, there are three bears living in the moat: Marie Terezie and brother-and-sister pair, Vilem and Polyxena. The bears were asleep when we first crossed over the moat, much to the girls’ disappointment. They could see one of the bears sleeping in the moat, with the other two nowhere to be found. After waiting a few minutes with some mild heckling directed at who they thought could be Vilem based on his size, we walked on.
There was much to see within the castle grounds. While the interior rooms were closed for the winter starting November 1, the museum and outside areas remained open to visitors. We took our first sets of photos from the second floor of the famed Cloak Bridge, a three-story arch bridge that spans the moat on the western side of the upper castle. Built over a period of over 100 years in the late 17th and 18th centuries, the stone bridge was a marvel of engineering’s the time, connecting different parts of the castle.
The view from the second floor of the Cloak Bridge offered some romantic views of the quiet town and the bending Vltava below. The golden glow of the mid morning sun over the Gothic and Baroque influenced buildings only served to enhance the magical feel of Český Krumlov.
After taking many photos and spinning the Pokéstops atop the bridge, we meandered down to the castle gardens. Though the rose bushes were cut back for the winter, I could imagine the the gardens would be lovely in the warmer months. Even with the flowers bare, the gardens were still pretty with the autumn leaves. We found the palace pond and watched the ducks floating on the water. Soon after, the girls were getting hungry after the walk, and we were ready for some coffee and a light lunch.
We started out walk down toward the town, and were arrested at the bear moat by the sight of two of the three bears up and playing. To make the experience even more memorable, it was lunch time for the bears as well, and Emily filmed as the bears feeder threw a variety of vegetables and what looked to be cheese to the waiting bears below.
While the girls watched and filmed the bears for their Instagrams, Michael checked out the courtyard. There were some cool old cannons, and he found that the museum was open. We decided against going in, and walked around a bit more while searching up a place to sit and have lunch. We ended up at Drunken Coffee, a nice little cafe and bar right by the river, and not far from the bottom of the Cloak Bridge. There we enjoyed some nice toasts and dessert along with hot cider.
After our break, we walked around the town bit more. Český Krumlov is only about 8.5 square miles in area and is easy to traverse. I took photos of the Plague Column, a structure built in remembrance of the plague epidemic that struck the town from 1680-1682. Sculptures of saints of protection adorn the hexagonal fountain, with an image of the Virgin Mary set atop the column.
All too soon it was time to make the three-hour journey back to Prague. We loaded our princesses back onto the bus, with the mid-afternoon glowing gold over the town and said good-bye to the enchanted city. My wistfulness didn’t last too long though; I fell asleep not long after reaching České Budějovice while Emily worked on schoolwork. I hope one day to be able to return, perhaps in the summer to explore a happy trail in a truly magical place.