“Lito…what?”, I exclaimed, when a Czech couple from Olomouc raved about this town during my walking tour in Krakow. I had never heard about Litomysl and I considered myself pretty well versed in the popular attractions of Central Europe. Curiosity drove to me research this relatively unknown town. The Wikitravel page looked interesting; but not enough to shorten my stay in Prague.
A few days later, at Poet’s Corner Hostel in Olomouc, the hostel emphatically praised Litomysl. Fortunately, it piqued my interest and I scheduled an impromptu day-trip to the little-known Litomysl on the way to Prague. Based on my experience, I would go out on a limb to assert that you would not be disappointed if you take a similar leap of faith and include a day-trip to Litomysl from Prague in your itinerary. Most probably, you would agree with my assessment that Litomysl is an undiscovered gem of Europe.
Litomysl Monastery Gardens with sculptures
Two hours of scenic train and bus ride from Olomouc brought me to the heart of Litomysl. As I wandered into town without any map, guides or expectations, I was greeted by a picturesque Gothic Monastery above the city walls. The Monastery area symbolized the essence of Litomysl: charming, colorful and artsy; yet devoid of crowds. The huge lawn in front of the monastery amplified its ambiance with a musical fountain and interesting bronze sculptures.
UNESCO Heritage Renaissance Castle
On the other side of the lawn stood the most ‘well-known’ Litomysl attraction: the remarkable UNESCO Heritage Renaissance arcade castle. The chateau doesn’t look anything special from a distance. In fact, I stood in front of the castle for a while trying to decipher where the castle was. I was looking for an imposing building with domes. It was embarrassing when a passerby smiled wryly and pointed to the chateau behind me. I was disappointed.
However, as I walked around the castle, I was bowled over by the ingenuity and beauty of the chateau. Litomysl castle is constructed from ‘bricks’ adorned with different artistic carvings narrating various legends and fables. Further, sculptures by Olbram Zoubek are installed throughout the castle area distinguish it from other European Castles. I was fortunate to visit on a day when three brides and their families had gathered on the castle hill for photo-shoots. The festive atmosphere and unique nature of the castle etched Litomysl in my memory.
I joined a Czech tour of the castle with English subtitles. The castle rooms were similar to Wawel and other Central European castles with the distinction of a crystal chandelier which was used in the movie Amadeus. However, the highlight of the castle tour was a neoclassical, wooden theater in a dreamy setting that is one the three remaining such structures. It reminded me of the old European movies and is a definite must see. Music lovers might find it interesting that famous composer Bedřich Smetana was born here. However, I didn’t find the rooms dedicated to Smetana worthy of a visit.
The other highlight of the castle is the eerie cellar, which boasts hundreds of his awe-inspiring sculptures including a wax ‘Heart of Love’. It is easy to lose track of time marveling at Zoubek’s imagination in the cold aromatic cellar.
Pastel facades of Litomysl main square
Walking down the hill towards the city square, I noticed a crowded restaurant in a nearly empty square. Half an hour later, I comprehended the reason for the local crowd when I bit into the delicious local fish they served me. One of the best dishes in had tasted in Europe set me back by just 3 USD.
Drowsy from the long day and the delectable meal, I headed to Litomysl main square. Nevertheless, my sluggishness soon vaporized and I started running around like a kid in a candy shop. The beautiful array of pastel colored facades afforded so many different compositions; I just did not know which angles to photograph firt. It is probably one of the prettiest small town square in Central Europe and worth a trip by itself. The array of colors is definitely more vibrant than the main squares of Krakow, Warsaw, Budapest or Olomouc. A Singaporean woman I met in Litomysl mentioned that the collection of colorful facades is larger than even the UNESCO heritage site main square facades in Telc (Czech Republic). The glow of these facades around sunset led to epic photo opportunities since the square is almost devoid of tourists.
Art in Litomysl-Castle cellar, street art, Portmoneum
What makes Litomysl unique is the variety of attractions and an emphasis on art. Awe-inspiring art would greet you in every corner of Litomysl. I have already mentioned the mind-numbing Zoubek sculptures in the castle cellar and gardens. Even the main square boasts photogenic street art on some of the walls. The detailed black and white paintings on reddish orange walls with a view of the cathedral tower impressed even an art ignoramus like me.
However, in my opinion, the most interesting and exclusive art in Litomysl is in a small museum, Portmoneum, dedicated to printmaker, painter and poet Josef Váchal. At the first glance, the museum looks like one big mess; Vachal painted nightmarish murals on every wall,ceiling and furniture of the museum. Once you start understanding the paintings with the help of the included museum guide, you would be amazed by the genius of the artist. I spent about an hour here and think my trip to Litomysl was worth it just to see this museum.
I could go on and on about the deserted cobblestone streets, Monastery gardens, excellent cheap restaurants and the architecture of Litomysl. However, I would let my photos narrate rest of the beauty of Litomysl.
I am interested, how do I get to Litomysl?
The easiest way to reach Litomysl is by train to Ceska Trebova(on the direct line between Prague and Olomouc) and a connecting bus (~10 min) to Litomysl. The total journey time is ~2.5 hours. While other guides mention direct buses to Olomouc, I did not see any listed apart from two buses to Brno.
How do I see in Litomysl in a day?
The best place to start is the castle. Get down from the bus at Litomysl castle instead of the main bus station and enter the visitor center to your right. Ask them for a map that has a self-paced walking tour. Litomysl is compact and it would take around 6-8 hours to hit the main highlights of Litomysl. The main attractions are the castle; the Monastery gardens with Zoubek sculptures; the Cathedral tower with views of the castle, main square and distant yellow canola fields; the main square and Portmoneum.
Where can I stay the night?
I didn’t stay the night; but I did ask the visitor center about it. There were some guesthouses at ~300CZK (2015 prices) and some hotels around the main square of Litomysl for 1000-2000CZK(2015 prices)