In South Moravia, right from the start you will almost feel as if you have found yourself in a different country.
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While Bohemia is surrounded on all sides by mountains, its eastern neighbour, Moravia, is a land which opens its arms to the south and the north and which as far back as ancient times was crossed by the famous Amber Road trade route leading from the Baltic Sea to Rome.
Perhaps that’s why people in Moravia are so open and friendly. Nowhere else in the Czech Republic are folk traditions so lively as they are here – some local folk customs have even been included on the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage List.
Nowhere else do people sing, dance and celebrate with such gusto as they do here. And nowhere else will you find so many beautiful vineyards and wine cellars. While in Prague pubs you will hear a lot of cursing, in Moravia you will hear singing instead. At least that’s according to the Moravian version. The mutual rivalry between Bohemia and Moravia is alive and well, and it still remains a sensitive topic which reveals much about the character of the entire Czech nation. Come along with us to South Moravia to find the story of one of the Czech Republic’s most picturesque regions.
Photos: (© Templářské sklepy Čejkovice)
In search of wine, by bike, by water and by rail
© Vladimír Kubík
A historical 52-kilometre waterway built between 1934 and 1938 and connecting Otrokovice with Rohatec. You can take a boat along the waterway between Otrokovice and Petrov or as far as Skalica, Slovakia. Tourists can board at eight docks and sixteen landings. During the boat ride you will see remnants of some unique technical equipment, allowing you to appreciate the technical craftsmanship of our predecessors. Along almost the entire length of the canal is a backbone bike path from which it is possible to connect to a variety of locations in the canal’s vicinity.
© Váš Sklep, Nový Šaldorf-Sedlešovice
A trip to South Moravia is not complete without sampling the local wine. The region is not just about monuments and nature, but also about a way of life that is full of joy. Wine and the entire cycle of its cultivation and production, all the processes and events relating to it, are the glue of society. Because of this, people here understand one another better, both at work and at play.
In South Moravia you will find extraordinary and beautiful locations, usually at the edge of villages, where vineyards trail down from the surrounding hills all the way to processions of wine cellars, in front of which you will find benches and tables where you can relax. Not to mention the winemakers, who are rightly proud of their wines and will passionately discuss their qualities, taste and aroma. These cellar lanes are characteristic of South Moravia, and you can find around a hundred of them here. Some of them even coalesce into entire cellar colonies that incorporate hundreds of structures. The exceptional genius loci and the even more exceptional quality of the wines, together with the hospitality of the local people, are attracting ever more visitors.
© Vladimír Kubík
Moravian wine trails
South Moravia is the promised land not only for wine-lovers but also for cyclists. The gently rolling landscape and the flatlands around rivers and lakes, along with pine forests, vineyards and orchards, creates the perfect backdrop for your travels.
A network of wine trails some 1,200 kilometres long and consisting of ten smaller circuits connects to the backbone Moravian Wine Trail, which laces through the entire Moravian wine region – the districts of Moravian Slovakia, Mikulov, Velké Pavlovice and Znojmo. The route will lead you to all the main sights and attractions of the region.
© Petr Zajíček RNDr., Správa jeskyní České republiky
Na Turoldu cave
To sip wine in a wine cellar is certainly nothing out of the ordinary. But to drink wine in a karst cave? That is something special indeed!
The Na Turoldu Cave north of Mikulov boasts a 2.5-kilometre labyrinth of corridors (of which 280 metres is accessible), stalactical formations, a tectonic fault 18 metres long, and a lake dome arching over emerald waters. Spelunkers discovered an old bricked wine cellar and additional spaces here, which they rebuilt into a one-of-a-kind subterranean wine bar. Starting in the spring of 2014, it will become an archive for barrels of wine primarily from the Mikulov area, which you will be able to sample for yourself.
© Milan Řihánek
This railway line was once used for transporting coal from the nearby mines owned by the world-famous shoe manufacturer Tomáš Baťa. Today the route is used for pedal trolleys connecting the Podluží and Moravian Wine trails.
A pilgrimage to the heart of the Great Moravian Empire
If Moravia has one place that is considered to be its most sacred, it is undoubtedly Velehrad, lying in the fertile countryside which has been inhabited by humans for many millennia. According to tradition, it was here that the fabled capital of the Great Moravian Empire was located and to which the first apostles of the Slavs, St. Cyril and St. Methodius, came in 863. They led Christian church services here in the language of Old Church Slavonic and created the first Slavic script. St. Cyril and St. Methodius are patrons of Moravia, and in 1980 they were additionally declared co-patrons of Europe.
Today, Velehrad is the most important pilgrimage basilica in the Czech Republic. Each year on July 5th, the feast day of St. Cyril and St. Methodius, a grand fair is held here. In 1985, on the 1,100th anniversary of the death of St. Methodius and despite obstructions put up by the communist regime, large numbers of people came pouring into Velehrad. They booed the Minister of Culture at that time, who in his speech called Cyril and Methodius the first the communists, and the whole event grew into one of the largest demonstrations of resistance against the regime. In 1990, after the fall of the Iron Curtain, Pope John Paul II made a visit to Velehrad.
Photo: (© František Ingr, © Libor Sváček)
Near Velehrad you can also find other reminders of the Great Moravian Empire – the first organized state on the territory of today’s Czech Republic. They include the Memorial to Great Moravia in the Old Town of Uherské Hradiště, built upon the foundations of the first Great Moravian church to have been discovered, and the open-air archaeological museum in Modrá, where you can walk through a village whose buildings are based on 9th-century architecture.
Although Velehrad is situated a bit north of the traditional Moravian wine region, top-quality wine is nonetheless cultivated in its vicinity, especially on the southern slopes of the Chřiby mountain range. Although the grapes ripen later, the wine has an unmistakable character. A new varietal was even bred in nearby Polešovice – Moravian Muscatel. You can sample wine from the region right in the wine cellar at Velehrad.
Photo: (© Radovan Chvíla)
The Templarsʾ Secret
Moravia still holds many mysteries of international significance. Perhaps Robert Langdon, the hero of Dan Brown’s best-seller The Da Vinci Code, would be able to unravel new threads in the tangled history of the Knights Templar here. The most secretive order of knights, attributed with the role of guardians of human history’s greatest mysteries, including the Holy Grail, they had an important Moravian stronghold in the town of Čejkovice, and, according to legend, after the dissolution of the order in 1307 the Templars’ treasure was brought from France to the Moravian castle of Veveří.
The Templars settled in Čejkovice around 1230. Commander Ekko established here for a time the administrative centre of the Templar holdings for the entire Kingdom of Bohemia and Duchy of Austria. Together with the construction of the order’s stronghold began a major proliferation of wine cellars, unseen anywhere else in the country. The corridors of the cellars are magnificent – they were able to accommodate a loaded wagon along with a marching armed escort. The Templars increased the number of vineyards in the area and devoted themselves to producing wine on a grand scale.
Photos: (© Templářské sklepy Čejkovice)
In Čejkovice, the traditions of both grape cultivation and chivalry are alive and well, as evidenced by the distinction of the Templars' Cellars winemaking cooperative as the "biggest viticulture family" in the Czech Republic. Although the original seat of the Templars was rebuilt into a chateau, their cellars continue to be a repository for their liquid treasures stored in oak barrels as well as extensive archives. However, the cellars have not yet released all of their secrets. So far, about 650 metres of underground corridors have been made accessible, and it is expected that another section was earthed over and that more of the original complex is yet to be excavated. There is even talk of a 24-kilometre corridor leading all the way to Slovakia. Could the fabled treasure of the Knights Templar be hiding somewhere in here?
You can immerse yourself in the mysterious atmosphere of the Middle Ages in the local wine cellars, where you can sample the best of the local wines.
Photo: (© Ivanka Čištínová)
The Battle of the Three Emperors amidst the vineyards
Slavkov, known throughout the world as Austerlitz, is the site of one of the greatest victories by the French Emperor Napoleon. In the frost and fog on 2 December 1805, the “Battle of the Three Emperors” took place, in which the French Army clashed with the allied troops of the Austrian Emperor Franz I and the Russian Tsar Alexander I. Even though the French Army, with 75,000 men, was weaker than the opponent, with 91,000 soldiers, Napoleon’s masterful tactics decided the battle in his favour. About 18,000 people were left dead on the battlefield. Napoleon himself considered this to be his greatest battle. He had a 44-metre Victory Column erected at the Place Vendôme in Paris, which was said to have been cast from the melted canons from the Battle of Austerlitz, and on the famous Arc de Triomphe in Paris you will find a relief from the battle. There is even a railway station, embankment and bridge in Paris named after Austerlitz.
Photos: (© Lánský, © Ladislav Renner)
In Slavkov there stands a beautiful Baroque chateau, where both allied sovereigns spent the night before the battle and where Napoleon stayed two days after the battle. The chateau made a big impression on him, just as it had on the Austrian Empress Maria Theresa, who had stayed there several decades earlier. And what has all of this to do with wine? It was at the Slavkov Chateau that the tradition of St. Martin’s wine took root. The feast of St. Martin, on the 11th of November, marked the end of the agricultural cycle for our predecessors. By that date, agreements between farmers, lords and servants had been concluded and re-established, the St. Martin’s goose was killed (it had the best feathers at that time of year), and the year’s young wine was tasted for the first time.
You can taste for yourself both St. Martin’s goose and young wines from established and also new and innovative Moravian wineries at the Slavkov Chateau each year on the weekend closest to November 11th. And because St. Martin rides on a white horse, you will also see various horse breeds and dressage demonstrations here. The rich programme is launched with the ceremonial arrival of the lord of the chateau, with St. Martin himself arriving at the end.
To royal Znojmo for the vintage festival
This ancient royal city towers above the river Dyje on a a rocky promontory, for centuries standing guard over the border between Moravia and Austria. It has experienced heroic times and moments of sadness, being the place of death of the last Luxemburg emperor, Sigismund, who was the son of Charles IV. Znojmo is surrounded by extensive vineyards and is famous for its lavish celebration of the annual wine vintage. It is therefore a twist of fate that the most valuable treasure in a city renowned for wine can be found in the courtyard of a brewery. That treasure is the Romanesque Rotunda of St. Catherine, which originally stood near a Přemyslid castle which was at that the seat of the princes of Znojmo, Moravian relatives of the ruling family of Bohemia, the Přemyslids.
In the town you’ll find a number of churches, monasteries and other monuments, above all the majestic Gothic Church of St. Nicholas. There are also enchanting views of the city panorama and the river Dyje from the former princely castle (now rebuilt into a chateau).
© Ladislav Renner
© Ladislav Renner © Jaromír Novák
The magnificent deep valley of the Dyje is the last major intact river valley in Europe and is protected as the Podyjí National Park (Thayatal on the Austrian side). It also includes one of the oldest and best-known vineyards in the Czech Republic – Šobes, situated on a high rocky promontory above a bend in the river. Thanks to its specific microclimate, it is ranked among the ten best vineyard locations in all of Europe. As early as prehistoric times there was a fortified settlement here, and since Roman times wine has been cultivated here, which was delivered to the tables of Czech kings and to the imperial court in Vienna.
Every year in September, Znojmo welcomes colourful processions of people during the Znojmo vintage festival. The main figure of this historical celebration is that of King John of Luxemburg, who arrived in Znojmo in 1327 to commemorate some successful political negotiations. At that time, the city prepared for him a rich programme, parts of which, including the traditional transfer of rights to the hands of the aldermen, are re-enacted to this day. The procession of King John passes through the city on Friday evening by torchlight and again on Saturday afternoon, during which the beerhalls and taverns are officially opened. You will witness knightly tournaments, fencing duels, fireworks and street theatre, and you can also taste period specialties based on traditional recipes, accompanied, of course, by local wine and the fermented grape juice called burčák.
Znojmo is also inextricably connected with another specialty, namely the authentic Znojmo gherkin, which is pickled in a sweet-sour brine. Definitely make sure to try it you when you visit the city.
© Znojemská Beseda
When the power of nature is combined with the sensitive intervention of human hands, it can result in a breathtakingly beautiful landscape. The original wildness is preserved but at the same time there is a feeling of security; it is soothing and speaks to the heart. This natural-landscaped complex, with an area of nearly 300 km2, lies in the vicinity of the Lednice and Valtice chateaux and was constructed over a period of two centuries by the Lichtenstein family. The chateau parks transition into the countryside, lakes are connected by streams, with romantic ruins, a replica of a Greek temple, a hunting lodge, fragrant woods and wine cellars – all creating the perfect backdrop for your travels. The ideal mode of transport here is a bicycle. The entire area has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Photos: (© Ladislav Renner)
The Lednice princely residence, built in the English style of Windsor Gothic and surrounded by a extensive park with a network of ponds and a minaret lookout tower, is rightly one of the most visited places in the Czech Republic. And where better to get an overview of ice wines than in Lednice (which means “ice town”)? The local competition IceWine du Monde has earned the patronage of the Paris-based International Organization of Vine and Wine – the OIV, which has given it great prestige as one of the 16 international competitions endorsed by the OIV. The competition takes place in late August and early September.
Even nearby Valtice, which prides itself on the Baroque former residence of the princely Lichtenstein family, with its rich interior decoration and furnishings, is closely connected with wine. The town is home to the National Wine Centre, which holds the most prestigious wine competition in the Czech Republic – the Wine Salon. Each year this competition determines the best 100 wines for the current season from all over the country. You can taste these wines and judge their qualities for yourself in the chateau’s extensive wine cellars.
Photos: (© Vinařské centrum Valtice)