Beer pilgrims are a familiar tourist group in the Czech Republic. Visiting a brewery, tasting, (whether formerly or informally) is a popular pastime. Those who enjoy wine as well as nature lovers will appreciate a visit to the UNESCO World Heritage site of Valtice-Lednice.
Located in Moravia, right along the border with Austria, this is the country´s prime wine region. Low rolling hills, covered with vineyards and small towns carved out in between; the pace is slow, people are friendly and the wine is always available. The heart of both Valtice and Lednice is its chateaux. Built by the House of Lichtenstein in the 18th century, you´ll get a good dose of Baroque plus impressive gardens adjacent to them. You can tour both; seeing a number of representative rooms and furnishings. Valtice´s is the slightly run-down version, and its grounds aren´t as notable. It´s large courtyard, wooded garden and slight view over the countryside is a pretty wander. Also in the area is the Colonnade, a gloriette-type structure atop a hill overlooking Valtice.
But remember, this is wine-country. Valtice´s chateau houses the country´s National Wine Center. It is a non-profit organization that exists to promote Czech wine both here and abroad, provides trainings, produces publications and runs the Wine Salon of the Czech Republic; a yearly competition to name the country´s 100 best wines. These wines are then put on display and available for tasting at the Wine Salon in the Valtice Chateau. Even if you don´t want to participate in the tasting; you can still visit the cellar. Its brick-lined walls are full of wooden bins of wine, with details about the producer, some notes on its flavor and other awards won spotlighted above. If you do to choose to taste you can participate in the open tasting (349CZK) which allows you to sample all 100 bottles. Open bottles are displayed on big wooden barrels, and of course, all are available to buy. There are also complimentary bread bowls so everyone makes it out of the cellar. There are also smaller, shorter options that need to be pre-booked in advance and require a minimum number of people. Depending on the tour, you will sample a select number of wines and be guided by a sommelier. Prices for these range from 120-399CZK. There´s a good-sized gift shop here with more bottles of wine; single glass tastings of a select few types, as well as a variety of wine-assorted equipment for purchase. There´s also an interesting photographic exhibit on the history of Czech wine-making.
Besides the chateau, Valtice is a small city. You can visit the Holy Virgin Ascension Church and a large number of vínoteká´s.
Lednice exists in stark contrast to Valtice. The city isn´t as attractive, but the chateau is definitely the more impressive of the two. Members of the Lichtenstein family lived here until the end of World War II. The English Tudor Neo-Gothic building is stunning, and its “yard” contains the oldest greenhouse in Europe plus a lovely strolling park interlaced with canals. One of the most startling sites is the park´s Minaret; a Moorish Revival structure built in 1804. Today it´s an observation tower and one of the tallest of this type of edifices in a non-Islamic country. It has an interesting history; Alois Lichtenstein originally wanted to build a church, but the city would not provide any land for it. To get his revenge, he built this symbol of Islam instead. Also in the park, is Janův hrad, a hunting lodge. It´s supposed to look like a medieval ruin – that´s how it was designed. A boat ride on the park´s canals will bring you to both the Minaret and Janův hrad. You can also visit the Agricultural Museum which boasts the head of a mammoth. Besides the Chateau, Lednice doesn´t offer much more in the way of local entertainment.
The best way to enjoy both the cities and the area is a walk between the two. You can take the red-marked trail for about 11 kilometers through pine forests and fish ponds. It´s a well-maintained, easy walk that can be completed in a leisurely three hours. Bikers can do the ride as well. If you begin in Valtice, you´ll find the start of the trail across the street from the train station. Along the way, you´ll run into surprising sites; for example St. Hubert Chapel; a Neo-Gothic column dedicated to this patron saint of hunting. Explore also the Temple of the Three Graces. Built in the 1820´s, besides the aforementioned ladies, represented also in the semi-circle gallery are allegorical sculptures of science and the muses. Nový dvůr was a farm and is now used for horse breeding. Right before Lednice, you´ll walk around the large Lednické rybníky (Lednice ponds.)
UNESCO made this 200 kilometer landscape a World Heritage site in 1996 based on its cultural value, and also because it is a wonderful example of designed landscape from the time period. They also noted it as being an “outstanding example of human creativity.” The area makes a great weekend away and is an excellent excuse for exploring Moravia and the country´s wine history.
Getting there: The train is probably the easier way; it´s about a four-hour trip, and you´ll change at least once. Buses are less direct. Check www.idos.cz for times.
If you are driving, take the D2 through Brno to exit 41.
There´s a lot of accommodation in Valtice; from hotels to pensions to private rooms. Be sure to book in advance, it is sometimes difficult to find space, especially on the weekends.
Stay right at the Zámeck at Hotel Hubertus, Zámek Valtice, tel: 519 352 537 www.hotelhubertus.cz
A less expensive option in the center is Pension Prinz, nám. Svobody 1111, tel: 519 352 869, http://www.penzion-valtice.cz/cs/c/
ooms: Zdeněk Sucharský, Mikulovská 208, tel: 519 352 040, www.sweb.cz/ubytovani.valtice
There are probably enough restaurants, but watch for them to be booked up on weekend evenings. Luckily, the center is small enough you won´t starve to death finding anything.
Restaurace Amalia, Zámecká 134, Valtice, tel: 519 352 696 – outdoor courtyard and a large menu of mainly Czech specialties.
Valtická rychta, Mikulovská 165, Valtice, tel: 519 352 366 – may need reservations here; excellent garden and tasty food.
Albero, nám. Svobody 12, Valtice, tel: 519 352 615 – the fancy-schmancy restaurant in town.
Pictured: above, Lednice Castle. Up Top, Valtice Castle.