Autumn holidays in Moravia, the sunniest and warmest Czech region – World Meanderings (n°46)
By Annick Dournes & Frederic de Poligny
After tasting Moravian wines in last week article, let’s discover the other charms of this sunny hilly region, a successful mixture of nature and culture.
Pronouncing Czech names is close to torture for foreigners and the Moravian capital city’s name is a perfect example. Even after carefully listening to Czech people saying it, I still can’t say Brno properly! Anyway, no need to have the right pronunciation to enjoy visiting the second largest town of the Czech Republic. The city is easily reached by car from Prague (127 miles) or from Vienna (82 miles) and roads are in good condition. Brno first became famous in 1805 when Napoleon defeated the Russian and Austrian armies in close by Austerlitz battlefield during the “Battle of the Three Emperors” and later as the birthplace of author Milan Kundera.
Walking through the central pedestrian area is a journey through time. Medieval, Renaissance, baroque, Art Nouveau, Art Deco and Bauhaus style houses and palaces line the streets and squares, making Brno an open book of architecture. With 75,000 students Brno is a very lively town. There are dozens of bars and restaurants serving the rich and tasty Moravian food such as the popular roasted pork knee that with its nice crispy crust perfectly match with a white dry local wine or with one of the countless Czech beers! For a drink go to Dominikanska street that is filled with lively bars and taverns and get the opportunity to meet friendly Czech people.
There are of course plenty of castles to visit in Moravia. Vranov nad Dyji is one of the most spectacular ones. The castle dramatically appears at a turn in the road, perched on top of a high cliff that overlooks the Dyji River. It originally was a medieval fortress but went through several transformations, extensions and smartening up works over the centuries. It now is a museum with guided tours (available in English) that will take you through the baroque rooms preciously furnished and decorated. The highlight of the visit undoubtedly is the “Hall of Ancestors”, a huge oval room entirely covered with paintings made by a famous Austrian baroque artist of the time, Johan Rottmayr and filled with incredible life-size statues of the owner’s ancestors.
The road to Lednice Castle will take you through the Moravian vineyards 35 miles south of Brno. Lednice castle was built, destroyed and rebuilt 5 times between the 14th and the 19th century to suit the desires of its different owners. It first was a Gothic fortress, then a Renaissance Palace, a baroque chateau, a neoclassical style castle, an Empire style castle and finally a Neo-Gothic chateau. This is the castle that we visit today with its huge library and its amazing 92 metres long greenhouse where countless tropical plants flourish. Classical gardens surround the castle and are an ideal place for a picnic or a quiet walk.
Close by, Valtice Castle is a great example of the Czech baroque style. The visit will take you through an almost endless suite of rooms with elegant parquet flooring that will lead you to the richly decorated chapel and to the theatre that has recently been restored and where you will be shown all the machinery of the stage set and of the sound effects. Unusual and interesting! The castle also hosts the National Wine Centre where you can experience an extensive tasting of Czech wines. For more information about it you can read our last week article:
September is harvest time in Moravian vineyards and all month long several festivals take place in many small town of the region such as Znojmo or Mikulov. For a few days the streets are invaded by tourists that crowd around outdoor stands to buy and eat all kind of food, and drink wines, beers and a local beverage called Burcak. This is a fermented young wine that looks and taste like apple juice. People love it or hate it but it leaves no one indifferent! Music bands play typical Czech music in the streets and you will see many people sing along and dance, having the time of their life. And so will you! There are many both warm and cool cafés in Mikulov such as the “Bistro Kafé” run by three nice ladies who cook delicious cookies, cakes and light snacks. Everything is fresh and homemade, and the coffee menu is very creative.
There once used to be a very lively Jewish community in Mikulov but of course it was decimated during WW II. Today the synagogue is a museum with a photo exhibition dedicated to this long gone way of life. However the Jewish cemetery still is a place of pilgrimage for families from the whole world who go there to meditate in a quiet and serene atmosphere. For a very small entrance fee you can too visit the cemetery and thus contribute to its maintenance.
Where to stay in:
In Brno you can choose the newly opened Marriott Courtyard. This contemporary style 4-star hotel is entirely decorated and furnished in sober Scandinavian style. It’s been built in a quiet part of Brno and the city centre is quickly reached by car. http://www.marriott.com/hotels/travel/brqcy-courtyard-brno/
In southern Moravia you can stay at “My Hotel” in Lednice. This simple but comfortable 3-star hotel is at walking distance from the castle and has quiet rooms with garden view. The breakfast buffet offers a wide choice of salted dishes, breads and cakes. One of the best breakfasts we had in Moravia. http://myhotel.cz/en/
More about Moravia: www.czechtourism.com
Text ©Annick Dournes
Photos ©Frederic de Poligny & Annick Dournes