Europe

It’s Time to "Czech” Out Moravia

written by | Posted on January 31st, 2012

For most visitors to the Czech Republic, almost all roads lead no farther than Prague, perhaps adding a day trip from the capital to the wondrous medieval town of Cesky Krumlov and/or a time-out for treatments in the pretty spa town of Marianske Lazne (a.k.a. Marienbad). All three lie in Bohemia, one of the Czech Republic’s two historic areas—the other being Moravia, a bucolic discovery-land of wine and wellness, castles and chateaux, folk culture and natural wonder that lies south and east from Prague.

Discovering Its Treasures

On a recent trip, courtesy of Czech Tourism, our small press group took off from Prague to explore the “Treasures of Moravia,” where we made all sorts of “discoveries” that savvy-traveler clients will enjoy when really getting to know the country. For our first overnight, we headed through the lovely rolling countryside to Brno, the capital of the Moravian region, whose essential attractions fit quite naturally into an overland itinerary linking Prague and Vienna. Brno is a handsome and lively university town, recognized for its beautiful historical center and commanding Spilberk Castle, and acclaimed for its Modernist architecture, including the Tugendhat Villa by architect Mies van der Rohe, now a UNESCO World Heritage site. And from Brno, Moravia’s treasures fan out in every direction.

To the south, between the 17th and 20th centuries, the ruling Dukes of Lichtenstein transformed the twin chateaux towns of Lednice and Valtice into Baroque fantasies and revamped the surrounding domains (some 200 sq. km. of them) in accordance with romantic English-garden architectural guidelines, complete with Greek-style temples and pavilions, creating one of the largest artificial landscapes in Europe that today is an official UNESCO World Heritage site. The wedding cake-like Lednice summer palace introduces visitors to interiors furnished to the hilt with 19th century ostentatiousness, while the exterior accommodates an exotic-species greenhouse and a Turkish-style minaret reflecting in one of the man-made lakes. The 12th century Valtice Castle has no shortage of ballrooms, lavishly decorated private chapels and elaborate frescoes; the huge coach museum houses restored horse-drawn carriages, and the castle cellars are home to the National Wine Center, which offers tastings dedicated to the best Czech wines.

Just 30 minutes away and almost at the Austria border, the hilltop town of Mikulov is a good base for exploring the wine country. Czechs may be known as the world’s largest consumers of beer, but national wines are taking international prizes for their steely dry whites, many of which your clients can sample during informal wine tastings at the top-choice Hotel Templ (approximately $90 dbl), occupying a restored renaissance mansion in the former Jewish quarter. Mikulov is a major stop on the Moravian Wine Trails—an 800-mile-long network of cycling and hiking routes that loop through orchards, vineyards, quaint villages and boutique wineries. Touring here features tasty introductions to local wine varieties and the region’s special wine cellar architecture. Check out the tours offered by Greenways, whose Moravian Wine Routes cycling itineraries range from 50 to 200 miles.

Traveling southeast from Brno, visitors also find that Czech folk culture is best preserved in Moravia’s country villages and that the Moravske Slovacko region is folklore’s spiritual heartland. Straznice, for example, has a skansen (open-air village museum) made up of Slovak-style buildings transported from different areas presenting a rural life setting complete with barns, furnished houses, smithies, wineries, mills and colorfully decorated beehives. The best time to be here is during the last weekend in June when the skansen turns into a grand stage for the International Folk Festival, a 3-day event of folk music and dance performances; a grand costumed processional; and an open-air market chock-full of regional foods, wines and beers, as well as handicrafts. In town, the local museum occupies a gothic castle, showcasing the region’s architectural and cultural heritage.

A Must

One of our favorite Moravia “treasures” was Luhacovice, a spa town settled into the forests of the White Carpathian Mountains, 60 miles east of Brno. We followed in the steps of the famous Czech composer, Leos Janacek, who lived in Brno, but later in life made Luhacovice his second home. He regularly stayed at the four-star superior Hotel Augustinian (a.k.a. Augustiansky Dum Wellness and Spa Hotel). In fact, we were there shortly after the property reopened, following a total restoration of all facilities and surrounding landscaping. Presently there are 26 big, beautifully appointed rooms and one suite; a state-of-the-art spa and wellness center offering a full menu of treatments and massages; and the Symphonie Restaurant with fine food and scenic views.