Touring the port town you’re docked in is part and parcel of cruising, but some cruise lines do onshore excursions better than others. As Monique Ceccato found, this is where Tauck really excels.
It’s a brisk autumn morning, just five degrees and raining steadily. You’d think we were in a more balmy, Barbados-esque climate, though, given our guide has just arrived wearing a t-shirt, polka-dot mini and Birkenstocks. Apparently, when you’re born and raised in the Southern Bohemian region of the Czech Republic, you’re granted immunity to its seasonal changes.
Oldriska Balouskova (Oli for short) is showing us around her hometown of Český Krumlov, a village consistently voted one of the country’s prettiest. The walking tour is one of today’s onshore excursion options on Tauck’s Blue Danube river cruise, and we’re given a brief overview of what to expect for the next few hours — a visit to Krumlov Castle and a short introduction to the town.
Entering Krumlov Castle
Krumlov Castle stands proud over the township, sitting atop a rocky ridge carved out by the Vltava River. Construction on the 41-building Renaissance and Baroque complex began as early as 1240, and it’s home to one of the world’s most comprehensively preserved Baroque theatres.
As we’ve come to Český Krumlov at the tail end of the tourism season, the castle and its theatre aren’t open to visitors. While admiring the painted façade from one of the five courtyards, Oli disappears momentarily, returning with two jangling piles of keys. Be it her reputation, Tauck’s reputation, or a combination of both, we’ve not only been granted access to the closed castle, but we’ve had the keys handed to us, too.
Just as we had Budapest’s Hungarian State Opera all to ourselves prior to opening time, we also had the run of Krumlov Castle. There’s ample space to snap photos of the colourful and comedic characters painted around the Rococo Masquerade Hall without a stranger’s head or hand sneaking into the frame. We even have the privilege of learning the history of Castle Theatre from the royal box — an area cordoned off from the crowds during regular visiting hours.
Unexpected animal sightings
Český Krumlov is full of surprises. If the exclusive castle access wasn’t enough, there are also bears.
Four brown bears live in the castle’s moat, and as we make our way towards town, one of them waddles out from under the footbridge. It’s the last place you’d ever expect to see them, but a little history lesson helps to make sense of it. Bears have been kept in the moat since 1707 when the last Rosenbergs (Bohemia’s prominent noble family) ruled. Since then, several acquisitions from aristocrats and registered zoos have ensured that the castle has almost always had bear inhabitants.
Gingerbread for all
In the persistent drizzle, the bears retreat to drier ground, and so do we.
Oli leads us into a Renaissance-style cottage store at the end of the cobblestone street. It smells of cinnamon and allspice, just like grandma’s kitchen. The culprit? Perníčky, the Czech equivalent of gingerbread. Only Český Krumlov Originál’s version is soft and pillowy, made to the specifications of a 16th-century recipe.
A platter of the chocolate-topped, marmalade-filled perníčky circles around, a surprise treat courtesy of the Tauck team. We’ve received many unexpected gifts from them—known as ‘lagniappes’ in Tauck talk—but, for me, this one takes the cake. Washed down with shots of homemade apricot brandy (AKA ‘fire water’), they’re the perfect warming treat.
On the hour-long coach ride back to the ship, we get one final lagniappe for the day. Our tour director has purchased a bottle of Becherovka to share, the Czech digestif made from over 20 herbs and spices; its recipe is more heavily guarded than Colonel Sanders’. A little helping of the traditional spirit, and we nod off, arriving back at our Danube River port well rested and content.
*All images (except opening shot) by Monique Ceccato.
The writer Monique Ceccato was hosted by Tauck as a guest on this recent 12-day ‘Blue Danube’ river cruise.
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