In 1996, Jan Horal, a member of the RAF during World War II, took a trip to Český Krumlov. It was a place he remembered from his childhood. The owner of Hotel Duo in Prague, Horal was shocked to see the condition of Český Krumlov’s large, 16th-century, landmark hotel (which he described as “a horror”) overlooking the Old Town. Standing in front of it, he muttered, “If I owned this hotel, I would take better care of it!”
A man standing behind Horal stepped forward and introduced himself. It was the mayor of Český Krumlov, and he told Horal that the hotel was for sale by the town. “Three and a half hours later,” Horal remembers, “I was the owner of a hotel.” (Horal later also bought the Old Inn Hotel, down the street from the Hotel Růže).
Horal implemented a massive reconstruction project. Sets of three rooms were turned into two rooms, with the room in the middle divided in half so that two bathrooms could be built from it. Redecorated in a Renaissance era-style, the rooms feature dark wood and red fabrics – some of the bedrooms even have flowing, period designs painted on one of their walls – and the floors and ceilings are wood.
But the rooms offer all the modern conveniences, masked by Renaissance design: minibars and televisions are set into wooden cabinets, radiators and air conditioners are hidden by tasteful wooden covers. Even some of the bathrooms have an amusing touch created by their Renaissance-style wooden furniture.
Asked where the Renaissance-era furniture came from, Horal replies, “We built it.” Horal took his carpenter to museums and showed him pictures in books on Renaissance-era furniture, pointing out which pieces he wanted. “It wasn’t difficult,” he states. “Renaissance furniture is very simple.” Even with all the changes made to transform the hotel from what Horal describes as “Neo-Stalinist Renaissance style” into a top-quality, five-star hotel, the project only took six months to complete before the hotel was ready for business. Of the hotel’s 70 rooms, 40 have sweeping views of the town; the rest face the interior courtyard, which still displays the original, 16th-century paintings and sgraffito on the exterior walls.
A convoluted history
The four-wing hotel is a former Jesuit college. Its patrons, Wilhelm von Rosenberg and his fourth wife, Polyxena, bought six Gothic buildings standing on the site and destroyed them in order to build the college. Architect Baldassare Maggi d’Arogno, who moved to Bohemia from his native Italy in 1575, constructed the building based on plans by Alexander Vojtov, then rector of the Jesuit college in Prague. Construction began in 1586 and was completed in 1588; the college’s 59 windows required 16,695 individual pieces of glass.In 1773, Filip Holger remodeled the building for use as an army barracks, a function it performed until the late 1880s. Then in 1889, a license was granted to turn the premises into the Hotel Růže. The facade was restored and the staircase in the left wing was remodeled. The right wing and theater hall were renovated in 1906, and new rafters were built over the left and rear wings following a fire in 1919.
Even in more recent times, the building has experienced some interesting changes of fortune: during the First Republic, it was also the social center of the Czech minority in Český Krumlov, which at that time was predominantly German. But during World War II, it was used as a rehabilitation center for members of the German SS. In 1948, the hotel was nationalized, becoming a “government showpiece,” in the words of the current owner. Many rooms lacked even the most basic amenities, such as bathrooms. During the 1960s, ’80s, and ’90s, restoration work was performed to maintain the original character of the building. Amazingly,given the number of times the building has changed owners, none of them violated the original Renaissance flavor of the buildings.Anna Putová, a friend of Horal’s, assisted in decorating the walls by creating copies of works by such artists as Brueghel and Holbein. She was so successful that a German art expert attempted to buy one of the replicas for a large sum of money, convinced that it was original. Horal says that approximately 50% of the paintings in the hotel are original, and the rest are Putová’s copies.
The first floor contains the “Jesuit Hall,” now used for special occasions (conferences, concerts, wedding parties). The use of this area of the hotel is free of charge for certain organizations. Horal also hosts gatherings for his RAF friends in the hotel.
Český Krumlov is approximately 25 km from the Austrian border, and around 60 km from the German border, which meant that a high number of German-speaking tourists traditionally visited the area. But during the past four or five years, Germans have become a little scarcer; many of those who still visit prefer to stay in smaller lodgings. Recently more Japanese tourists have been inundating the town, but communication isn’t a problem as most Japanese visitors speak English, which Horal refers to as “functional Esperanto.” He adds that many local tourism workers are learning Japanese, and his own staff members speak several languages.
VIP guests have included Karl Gustav of Sweden, Princess Margaret of Denmark, opera singer Eva Urbanová, and many politicians. When films are shot in the town or in the area, the Hotel Růže often hosts the cast and crew.
With a population of only 14,000, Český Krumlov hosts around 1.2 million visitors each year. Wilhelm and Polyxena would be amazed.