21 Sep,2017 By Jagabond
I’m still searching for that undiscovered wine country. Many hidden gems emerged over the years to challenge the dominance of French and Italian wine. Spain’s Rioja region exploded onto the scene, vino from Australia and South Africa gained a cult following, and Croatia became recognized for the Zinfandel-like Plavac Mali grape.
When I think of Czech Republic, pints of beer fill my imagination. With such a strong brew culture, it surprised me to hear that Czech has its own wine country. The small region of Southern Moravia, near Brno, is the nation’s grape epicenter. Could this be another treasure waiting to be found? Like Magellan, Ponce De Leon, and many other great explorers before me, I set out for a red, white and rosé adventure…and found more than just wine.
I stayed in a wonderful little town called Znojmo, which is as difficult to pronounce as it looks. You won’t find many travelogues written about this region, so I’ve detailed some highlights below. Na zdravi!
1. Take a ride on the wine bus
Of course being in wine country means you must do some wine tasting. The wine bus meets you right in the main square, and over the course of a few hours shuttles you to approximately six wineries in the region. Traveling by bus is the safest way to go, as we heard many times that Czech Republic has zero tolerance for any drinking and driving.
I had mixed reviews of the wine. I had an average Chardonnay, a disappointing rosé, and a pretty good red. Czech wine tastes significantly different from its more famous counterparts, and the white in particular left a distinctive burn on my palate. I did meet a British chef in Prague who raved about the Moravian wine, so maybe there’s something to it that I’m not getting.
For me the landscapes were better than the wine. One winery in particular, Lahofer, had a beautiful backdrop and views of the surrounding countryside.
2. Explore the Znojmo underground
Centuries ago the Znojmo locals realized that war was all too common. They thus dug underground tunnels for strategic purposes, using ‘those who hide, win’ logic. Over generations the tunnels were connected, air vents were added, and they gained a secondary use as food and wine storage cellars. The Znojmo underground became a tourist site, billed as one of the largest labyrinths in Central Europe.
Like most mysterious places the locals have crafted legends around the underground, probably to deter children from being too curious. There is the story of a ghost who tricked Swedish invaders into death. He still roams the passageways looking for lost wanderers. Those pure of heart will be led to safety, those who are not will meet their doom.
Another tale speaks of a man who went crazy and murdered his wife and children. He was then cursed to be a rock-face for eternity. Happens all the time.
Other rooms on display focused on alchemy and torture, two practices they found evidence of in the underground. I tried my most convincing interrogation techniques, but I couldn’t get the prisoner to talk!
The tour guide was great, though more stoic than most Czechs. Our time underground ended with a walk through a stone maze, with the lights going on and off intermittently. I eventually found my way out!
3. Admire the tower views
After spending time underground, rise above and view the city from overhead. Znojmo is most beautiful when viewed from the town hall tower. The set up was great, as they had latched, covered windows around the inside, and opening any of them provided you with a different yet stunning view.
4. Have lunch in Telc
Not far from Znojmo is the town of Telc, which has a grand, colorful main square as its primary attraction. The rows of houses seemed to go on forever, and there were a couple nice statues in the square that made for good pictures. I also saw children fishing with magnets in one of the fountains, hoping to catch some money.
You have plenty of options in the square to sample some traditional Czech food, but watch out for bees. I literally saw them everywhere in Czech, but they must really love it in Telc. One bee was nice enough to share lunch with us. Anyone with a severe allergy should carry around a list of nearby Czech hospitals.
5. Pay homage to the father of genetics
Years before his pea plant experiments, Gregor Mendel lived in Znojmo. It was here he failed as a teacher, flunking the oral portion of the certification exam due to anxiety. I can look past this, he made up for it later.
How to get there: Znojmo is a two-and-a-half hour drive from Prague, so plan on an overnight trip to get the full experience.
Where to stay: Penzion Zlaty vul is a short walk from the main square, and the older woman who runs the place reminds you of a loving grandma.