Pilsner Brewery – Behind the Beer

To the Source 

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The trademark gate that leads into the Pilsner Urquell brewery.

On November 11 of 1842, in the West Bohemian city of Plzeň, a watershed event took place when the first glasses of Pilsner Urquell beer were served to the public during the annual St. Martin’s Day festivities.

Prior to that date, nobody had seen beer of its clarity or tasted beer of its crispness and balance. Modern beer had arrived.

The beer was an immediate hit locally and had achieved international acclaim within a few short decades. The beer world would never be the same following the introduction of this very influential brand.

Pilsner Urquell was the world’s first pale lager and became easily the most copied beer in the world. Around two thirds of the beers the world knows today were influenced by Pilsner Urquell.

All of this renown and prestige most certainly begs the question of exactly what lies behind this legendary brew that not only enabled it to take the world by storm, but keeps it so respected in the modern age.

Happily, a trip to Plzeň will give you access to the historic Pilsner Urquell brewery. Tours of the brewery run regularly in Czech, English and German languages and give one a very good overview of what makes this beer what it is.

The New Standard 

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General view across the brewery area from near the gate.

Upon passing through the historic entry gate, we were struck by the mix of historic and modern buildings on the site. This is a company clearly in touch with their roots and they wear their pride on their sleeves.

Individual registration for the 100 minute long tours happens in the clearly marked visitor centre.

The tour starts with a historical overview of how Plzeň’s over 200 independent brew houses were consolidated into a single municipal brewery in the early 1840s under the watch of Bavarian brewmaster, Josef Groll (1813-1887).

This part of the tour also outlines how Groll developed and perfected the recipe for the new beer and the awards and accolades that he, his beer and the brewery had bestowed upon them following the beer’s introduction.

Starting at the Finish 

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The cavernous bottling hall.

From the visitor centre, our tour group was taken across the brewery area by bus to the packaging facility. Along the way, our guide pointed out the various historic buildings on the site, what they had been used for and the period they were in use for those purposes. The amount of historical preservation here is remarkable.

The packaging hall is immense in every regard. Our group boarded a lift that our guide informed us was the largest passenger lift in the Czech Republic. Once on the upper floor, the guide rattled off some utterly astounding figures for how many bottles, cans and kegs could be filled and sealed per hour here.

From there, the group went out on a balcony that overlooks the floor of the sprawling packaging hall. While workers cleaned one bottling line, a seemingly endless line of bottles were travelling along an adjacent line to be filled.

It should be noted at this point that there is no guarantee that you will always see bottling in progress on a tour.

Fermenting the Revolution 

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The modern, computer controlled brewing hall equiped with classic copper vats.

Our next stop on the tour was the brewing hall. It was here that were learned exactly what makes Pilsner Urquell the unique beer that it is.

First, all of the ingredients are Czech in origin. Plzeň’s own water, known for its softness, gives a smooth texture. Special hops from Žatec, in the north west of the country, give the beer low bitterness and notable aromatic qualities.

Special strains of brewer’s yeast and Bohemian barley are also part of the recipe.

Aside of ingredients, special triple malting and cold fermentation processes also contribute to this beer being unique.

As we passed through the modern, computer controlled brewing hall, our guide drew our attention to the large copper vats that dominated the room. In spite of its high material cost as well as labour and time intensive maintenance regimes, copper is still considered the ideal material to brew beer in.

Getting Old School 

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Part of the brewery’s extensive and historic underground tunnel system.

After looking at the modern side of things, it was time to balance the tour with a look at the historic end of the business.

Keeping things cold is the key to good lager and prior to the advent of modern refrigeration methods, keeping things deep underground was the best way to keep them cold.

The brewery built an extensive network of underground tunnels for keeping things cold in their early days. Our tour finished by taking a look at a small fraction of this tunnel system.

Here, we were shown older brewing methods and told a great deal about the use of oak casks in the brewing process prior to the use of metal containers.

The brewery still makes small batches of their beer by these traditional methods and the tour ends with a free sample of unfiltered and unpasteurised Pilsner Urquell beer tapped straight from an oak cask.

Gifts and Grub 

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Cold brews and good food at the brewery restaurant.

The tour lets off at the brewery’s sizable and well stocked gift shop. Here, you can browse a wide variety of apparel and other gift items emblazoned with one form or another of the Pilsner Urquell trademark.

I would recommend first going to the brewery restaurant, Na Spilce, however.

Not only does the legwork of a 100 minute tour develop an appetite, but if you indulged in the free sample of unfiltered and unpasteurised beer at the end of the tour you might want to get a pint of the modern item for comparison while it’s still fresh on your mind and palate.

We very much enjoyed our post tour lunch at Na Spilce. The beer was as fresh as you would expect for being right at the source and the food was top notch.

Paying a Visit and Learning More 

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Pilsner Urquell: You tried it and probably liked it. Now you understand it.

Plzeň is not the easiest of Czech cities to travel to. While there is a direct train between Prague and Munich that stops there, if you’re going to the city from anywhere else in the Czech Republic that is a significant distance away you’ll likely be in for a longish trip regardless of your mode of transport.

That said, once you’re in the city, the brewery is very easy to reach on foot from Plzeň’s historic centre.

If you go there as an individual or only two or three people, you likely won’t need to reserve a spot on a tour ahead of time. Tours run regularly and you can browse the gift shop or have a pint in the restaurant to pass the time if there’s a wait for your tour.

If you’re a beer fan and in the Plzeň area, a tour here is a must. Even if you’re not a beer fan, it’s a fascinating look into one of the most influential products to ever come out of the Czech lands.

This link will tell you all you need to know about tour schedules and prices:

http://www.prazdrojvisit.cz/en/tours/pilsner-urquell-brewery-tour/

 

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Vranovsko – A Southern Sanctuary

Idylic, but Not Idle 

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Looking across part of the expansive Vranov reservoir, one of the main attractions in the region.

Vranovsko is a microregion of South Moravia that sits on the border with Austria and is part of the larger Znojemsko administrative district.

Nature and outdoor activities are the main draws to the Vranov region, though the area also boasts a number of historical sites that are well worth visiting.

We recently spent a long weekend in the area, while it certainly wasn’t enough to see the whole region, it was enough that I can give you a small taste of what’s there and what’s possible to see and do with two or three days there.

At that, let’s see a bit of Vranovsko:

Day 1 – Vranov nad Dyjí

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Vranov’s imposing and spectacular chateau sits on the rocks above the town site.

We took our accomodation for the weekend in Vranov nad Dyjí, the town from which the microregion takes its name.

The town sits on the Dyje river, known as the Thaya river in Austria, and is about three kilometres from the Austrian border. The town site is located inside the borders of Podyjí National Park, a transboundary park which connects to Austria’s Thayatal National Park.

On first impressions, Vranov might come across as a bit sleepy. However, it makes for a good base to visit the region, has accomodation and restarant options, a good tourist information office and attractions of its own to offer.

If you don’t have a car, Vranov can be reached by bus from points around. We reached it by a combination of a bus from Brno to Znojmo and another bus from Znojmo to the town.

Vranov’s primary tourist draws are its spectacular Baroque chateau that looks down upon the town site from the rocks above and the extensive Vranov reservoir area.

After we checked into our hotel, we walked to the chateau via a trail through a nature park. It was a lovely area to walk through, but with a significant incline to the trail. It definitely is not for anyone with mobility issues or who isn’t of a reasonable level of physical fitness; if you fall into one of those categories, you’ll want to ask at tourist information about alternate methods to reach the chateau.

As with all wooded areas of the Czech Republic, a good insect repellent specified against ticks should be going with you if you go there.

Day 2 – Znojmo 

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The two main landmorks of Znojmo, the town hall tower (left) and the St. Nicholas church.

On our second day, we took a day trip to Znojmo, a popular tourist city with important ties to both the historic and contemporary faces of the country.

From a historical point of view, Znojmo maintains a good degree of medieval  architecture including a castle complex that dates to the 11th century. You can also tour the city’s network of underground tunnels that date to the 14th and 15th centuries.

Other important historical sites in the town include the St. Nicholas church which dates to the 1340s and the town hall tower which dates to the 1440s.

In the Contemporary sense, Znojmo and the administrative region it’s the heart of make up the western edge of the South Moravian wine growing regions. As such, a good glass of local wine is never far away when you visit here.

Day 3 – Vranov Reservoir and Bítov Castle 

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Watersport opportunities abound at the Vranov reservoir.

On our third and final day in the region, we paid a visit to the scenic and extensive Vranov reservoir. Nicknamed by some as the “Adriatic of Moravia”, the reservoir is large enough to feel like an inland sea.

The reservoir is noted for the warmth and cleanliness of its water and is very popular for a wide variety of watersports, hiking and cycling trails around it and as a venue for special events of many sorts.

A system of transport boats operates to take visitors around the reservoir for both sightseeing and to visit castles, such as Bítov and Cornštejn, which overlook it.

There is a very friendly atmosphere to the reservoir. Many people keep weekend cabins there and there was no shortage of people waving and shouting greetings from the shore as our boat went past.

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Looking up at Bítov castle from the transport boat.

After an hour long and very enjoyable boat ride, we arrived at our destination – Bítov castle.

Dating to the 11th century, Bítov is one of the oldest and largest of Moravian castles. It’s been remodelled by various owners through its history and its current look was established in the 19th century.

There’s quite a bit to see at this castle, so you could certainly make a day trip of it. Four different tours of the interiors are on offer.

If you have mobility issues of any sort or are not of reasonably good physical fitness, you should certainly not try to access Bítov via the reservoir boats. The trail leading to the castle from the boat dock is steep and uneven.

Visiting and Learning More

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Passing the ruins of Cornštejn castle.

As I stated at the beginning, this blog entry was simply to give you a small taste of what one can do with a few days in the region.

Vranovsko offers much more than what I’ve covered here.

If you have a week or more and like nature, castles and wine; you may want to try out this particular nook of the Czech lands.

This link will take you to the official Vranovsko tourism website so you can see all of what’s on offer and plan your own visit there:

http://www.navstivtevranovsko.cz/en/

Made in the Czech Republic – Zlín Aviation

From Shoes to the Skies 

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Single and two seat versions of Zlín’s long lived and legendary Tréner family of training and sport aircraft.

Established in 1934 by Jan Antonín Bat’a (1898-1965) in the eastern Czech town of Otrokovice, the Zlín aircraft company began life as a division of the world famous shoe business founded by his half brother, Tomáš (1876-1932) in 1894.

One might well wonder what the logic of a well established shoe company expanding into aviation might be, especially in light of the fact that Jan Antonín inherited the company after Tomáš had died in a plane crash while on company business. In fact, it made sense to do so on a few levels:

Firstly, the Bat’a shoe company is noted as being one of the world’s first, perhaps the world’s first, business concern to regularly use aircraft to conduct business. As such, aircraft were part of the Bat’a business model even before Jan Antonín took over the running of the company.

Secondly, the First World War completely changed public perception of the aircraft and its practicality. Prior to the conflict, most people viewed airplanes as curious toys for wealthy eccentrics and dreamers; through the course of the war, aircraft had proven their worth in a variety of applications to the point that they were seen as a technology well worth developing. A number of competent aircraft companies were established in the former Czechoslovakia from shortly after the end of the war. The young country certainly had the talent pool early on to make aircraft that were competitive on the world stage.

Thirdly, Jan Antonín Bat’a had grand plans for the company his half brother had founded. Under Jan Antonin’s leadership, the company expanded at a rapid pace from a shoe company into a business empire with arms in a variety of other business sectors.

A consumate industrialist, Jan Antonín was noted as a very competitive and visionary person. He saw the value of aircraft and the bugeoning domestic aviation industry growing right in front of him; it made sense for him to try to compete in it.

Throught its history, the company has built it’s reputation primarlity on sport and training aircraft.

At that, let’s take a look at Zlín and their place in Czech history:

Starting Strong 

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Zlín’s first big success, the Z-XII, first flew in 1935.

While the company was established in 1934, the seeds for what would become Zlín Aviation had already been sown in the mid 1920s with the creation of the Bat’a company’s own flying school and air park at Otrokovice. A strong proponent of aviation, Jan Antonin Bat’a used the flying school as the foundation for creating the aircraft company.

Initially, the company only produced gliders. However, this changed when Jaroslav Lonek (1904-1945) served as the company’s chief designer between 1935 and 1938. During Lonek’s tenure, the company would move from gliders to powered aircraft designs and see their first great success, the Z-XII sport and touring aircraft.

The Z-XII first flew in 1935 and was used by military and civilian operators in no fewer than 15 countries. This was a great moment not only for the company, but also for the country as the Z-XII was the first Czech designed and built aircraft to see significant export success. The aircraft was praised widely and a total of between 250 and 260 were built.

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The Z-XIII – A wolf in sheep’s clothing.

Another significant aircraft design produced during Lonek’s time at the company was the Z-XIII. While only one was ever made, it stands as testament to the level of patriotism Jan Antonín Bat’a possessed alongside his business accumen.

Bat’a had given much support to the creation of a strong national military through the interwar period. This included the purchase of aircraft and other equipment as well as the provision of training facilities for pilots and mechanics.

Bat’a, along with many others in Czechoslovakia, rightly saw Hitler’s rise to power in Germany in 1934 as reason to ensure that the nation had a military strong enough to defend itself. To this end, he gave Lonek the task of designing a high performance aircraft.

When the Z-XIII first flew in 1937, it was officially said to be intended as a high speed courier aircraft for company business. However, with the aircraft’s very smooth and refined finish, blistering speed of around 350 kilometres per hour and ease with which it could be switched from a two seat to single seat arrangement; it was not at all hard to see the fighter that Bat’a had envisioned it to become lurking just under the surface.

The company offered the aircraft to the Czechoslovak military as a potential fighter in 1938, but it was already too late. The Munich Agreement of 1938 allowed the country to be occupied by German forces soon after.

Bat’a and his family fled the country shortly before the start of the war and spent a brief time in America before settling in Brazil.

Jaroslav Lonek also fled the country prior to the war, but only briefly. He travelled to the Soviet Union and became a secret service operative before returning and setting up an anti-German espionage ring. He was discovered and arrested in 1941, sentenced to death in 1943 and executed in Dresden, Germany in early 1945.

For his work against the Germans, Lonek was posthumously awarded the Czechoslovak War Cross of 1939 medal for his heroism and sacrifice.

Weathering the Storm and Picking up the Pieces 

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The Klemm Kl-25, a German training aircraft produced by Zlín during WWII.

With flight training and aircraft production facilities well established at the site, it was logical that the German occupational forces would use Otrokovice as a training base and the Zlín factory facilities to make the training aircraft.

While Zlín employees were busy being put to work building German trainer planes, some also busied themselves in efforts to protect the Z-XIII from German attention.

The Z-XIII had remained at Otrokovice and many attempts were made to hide it from German eyes. A plan was made to fly the aircraft out of the country to safety, but it was discovered before it could be put into action. The Z-XIII was then disguised as a derelict in the factory and German interest in it eventually subsided.

The Z-XIII survived the war and was put in the collection of the National Technical Museum after the conflict.

At the end of the war, with a great deal of German material present in Czech factories and a skilled workforce at the ready, several Czech companies were nationalised and able to resume busines almost as soon as the war had ended. Zlín was no exception.

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The Z-126 – an early member of the Tréner family of aircraft.

Initially, Zlín restarted business after the war by developing German designs they had built during the war. However, before the 1940s were out, they had introduced some new glider types and a aircraft of their own design that became the progenitor of a family of aircraft that would make the Zlín name legendary in top level international aerobatics competition for decades to come – the Z-26 Tréner.

For all the international acclaim the Tréner family would go on to receive, its beginings were really quite modest in that the original Z-26 began simply as the company’s response to an early post war tender for a new basic training aircraft for the Czechoslovak air force.

As the design was being developed further in the mid 1950s, its aerobatic abilities were discovered and subsequent versions focused on honing those aerobatic qualities.

The Moravan Era 

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The Z-226, which debuted in 1956, was the first of the Tréner family with aerobatics as the focus.

The 1950s brought change for the company in that it was renamed Moravan, a name it would keep from 1953 to 2010. By the time the name change came around, the Zlín name was so well established that most people kept using the Zlín name when talking about the company’s aircraft.

The 1950s could be seen as the beginning of the company’s “Golden Age”. It was in that decade that they began to build their worldwide reputation for training and sport aircraft. Before the 1950s were out, the Z-226 version of the Tréner was already winning international aerobatics competitions. By 1959, the Z-326 version had debuted and the company was set to be a dominant force in competition through the 1960s to the mid 1980s.

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The Z-37 Čmelák agricultural plane, a joint project with the Let company.

When not developing the Tréner further, the company often was subcontracted to produce components for other companies or was involved in joint projects.

One such joint project was the Z-37 Čmelák (Bumblebee) agricultural aircraft which first flew in 1963. Teaming up with the Let aircraft company, based in nearby Kunovice, Zlín had a hand in creating the first purpose designed Czech agricultural plane.

Being in an area of the country with a great deal of farming activity, the two companies were well placed to gather information directly from end users of the aircraft about exactly what qualities it should have to be effective in the job. The resulting aircraft was a rugged and reliable performer that was exported to no fewer than a dozen countries. A total of around 700 Z-37s were made.

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The ultimate aerobatic version of  the Tréner, the Z-526.

1965 saw the company awarded with a “Diplome D’Honneur” by the International Air Federation (FAI) in recognition of their contributions to the development of sport and training aircraft.

The company introduced the Z-526, the ultimate aerobatic version of the Tréner, in 1966. As with the Z-226 and Z-326 versions before it, the Z-526 came in two seat trainer versions and single seat competition optimised versions.

By the late 1960s, the company had begun work on a new and versatile family of training aircraft known as the Series 40. Prototypes for the Z-42 two seat version and four seat Z-43 version first flew in 1967 and 1968 respectively. Both types were in full production by the very early 1970s. The aircraft of this family, like the Tréner line before them, have been developed and advanced through the years and have earned international respect and export success for the company. Descendants of the Z-42 and Z-43 are still in production as of 2018.

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The Z-50, heir to the Tréner’s aerobatic legacy, first flew in 1975.

During 1974 and 1975, the last Tréner aircraft were produced and its aerobatic successor flew for the first time.

After a production run of nearly 30 years with over 1,500 made, the Tréner had more than proven itself on the world stage and Zlín was hungry to keep their place of prominence in aerobatics. The Z-50 was designed to carry that legacy forward.

The Z-50 holds the distinction of being the world’s first purpose designed aerobatics machine. Computers figured prominently in the design process and the result was a very clean design that kept the Zlín name dominant in world class competition into the mid 1980s.

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The most produced and popular member of the Series 40 line, the Z-142.

The company finished the 1970s with the debut of the Z-142 in 1979.

The Z-142 is a refined and improved variation on the Z-42. With around 360 built and used widely in both civil and military hands, the Z-142 is certainly the most popular of the Series 40 family and, arguably, Zlín’s most popular aircraft overall thus far in the company’s history.

The company spent the 1980s to the early 2000s further developing the Series 40, servicing their existing aircraft models and producing components for other companies’ aircraft.

The Moravan era of the company’s history came to an end in the 2009-2010 period when the company was shut down.

Zlín Reborn 

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The Zlín Aviation facilities at Otrokovice airport as they appeared in 2017.

The end of Moravan was not the end of the Zlín name in aviation. The company was Re-established as Zlín Aircraft a.s. in 2009 at the historic facilities in Otrokovice.

In the present, the company continues the Zlín legacy in sport and training aircraft through the latest generation of the Series 40 as well as running maintenance facilities for the company’s more established aircraft types that still remain popular.

Further Reading and Learning More

This link will take you to the company history page at the Zlín Aviation website:
https://www.zlinaircraft.eu/en/Company-en/History/

These links will take you pages I’ve written on my aviation blog about some of the Zlín aircraft types I’ve mentioned in this article if you wish to know more about them:
https://pickledwings.wordpress.com/zlin-z-xiii-speed-elegance-and-misfortune/
https://pickledwings.wordpress.com/zlin-trener-series-raising-the-bar/
https://pickledwings.wordpress.com/zlinlet-z-37-cmelak-the-winged-tractor/
https://pickledwings.wordpress.com/zlin-z-50-keeping-a-hand-on-glory/

Mikulov – Wine and Wilderness

Heart of Wine 

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Looking over the town centre from Kozí hrádek view point.

Nestled in the South Moravian wine country, you’ll find the border town of Mikulov.

Mikulov shares its name with the wine growing microregion it sits at the heart of and is famous for its annual wine festival which takes place in September.  During this festival, the town swarms with visitors looking to sample the produce of the many local vintners.

Beyond the town’s viticultural allure, Mikulov has deep historical connections to religious development in the Czech lands and is the symbolic gate to the Pálava protected natural area and the recreational delights to be found there. Mikulov is also considered the beginning of the Moravian karst region.

History, nature, spirituality and wine come together to make Mikulov and its environs a unique and memorable experience.

Let’s take a look:

On History’s Highway 

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An aerial view of Mikulov’s chateau and town centre.

In the present day, Mikulov sits on the highway that connects Brno to Vienna. Just as a lot of motor traffic goes past the town today, much historical traffic has touched the city since it was first mentioned in historical records in the late 1100s.

In its earliest recorded history, the town was overseen by the Czech noble house of Přemysl. From 1249 to 1560, it was part of the territory of the powerful Austrian noble house of Liechtenstein.

At the time of the transfer to Liechtenstein hands, the original castle which occupied the place where the modern town’s chateau now sits was still under construction.

Under Liechtenstein rule, development of the town began in ernest. As the family took Mikulov as their primary place of residence, they completed construction of the castle. However, the castle underwent many changes under their watch to accomodate their changing tastes and requirements.

During the Liechtenstein era, the town played host to some significant events in the religious history of the Czech lands. In the early 1420s, the town saw a major influx of Jews and the establishment of a Jewish ghetto in the wake of the expulsion of Jews from Vienna and Lower Austria. The town’s Jewish population expanded again in the 1450s when Jews were expelled from Moravian royal municipalities. By the first half of the 16th century, Mikulov had become the cutural heart of Jewish activity in Moravia.

The Jews were not the only religious group that found safe haven in the town during the Liechtenstein years. 1526 saw the arrival of Baptists who had been driven out of Switzerland and other western European lands by Catholic powers.

1560 saw the end of Liechtenstein ownership of the town. The lavish lifestyle of aristocrats and poor economic conditions of the time forced the noble family to sell the entire Mikulov estate.

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The facade of the Dietrichstein family crypt, which sits on the main square.

The last noble lords of the town were another powerful Austrian dynasty, the Dietrichsteins. Taking ownership of the estate in 1572 and holding it until 1945, the Dietrichsteins ushered in a high period for the town and its residents.

The protection that the town’s Baptist and Jewish communities enjoyed under the Liechtensteins continued under the Dietrichtseins and the town prospered for both religious groups being part of it.

One of the most significant members of the Dietrichstein dynasty, in the context of the town’s history, was Cardinal Franz von Dietrichstein (1570-1636). Under his watch, the town saw many reforms to its appearance, economy and culture that resulted in it becoming the most important town in Moravia for a time

The town’s fortunes changed sharply during the Thirty Years’ War when it was captured by Swedish forces in 1645. Further misfortunes would come in the form of very destructive fires in 1663, 1719 and 1784. The decline of Mikulov’s importance continued into the 19th century when Jews were allowed to return to Vienna and other parts of Austria in 1848; by the turn of the 20th century, most of Mikulov’s Jews had moved to Austria leaving the town with a remaining Jewish population that was a very small fraction of what it had been at its height. The Second World War put an end to what little Jewish activity remained in the town.

While the Jewish ghetto was never restored after the war, there are some protected remnants of it available to visit today.

Mikulov was geographically part of the Sudetenland up until the end of World War II. As such, a majority of its citizenry at the time were of Germanic ethnic origins and counted German as their mother tongue. As with a majority of Germanic descended residents of the Sudetenland, those of Mikulov were forcibly and brutally expelled from the Czech lands in the wake of Germany being on the losing end of the conflict.

A Chateau with a Story 

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Looking at the chateau facade from the chateau gardens.

Today, the massive chateau that sits in the heart of Mikulov is the seat of the regional museum. This belies a building with a history as eventful and turbulent as that of the town.

Starting life in the early 1200s as a castle commissioned by the Přemysl noble house, it was handed over the Liechtensteins in an incomplete state. The Liechtensteins took Mikulov as their primary place of residence and had the building completed as a chateau that properly reflected their noble status.

As it was in the time of Liechtenstein rule, the chateau saw several stylistic reconstructions during the tenure of the Dietrichsteins.

Major reconstruction was undertaken on the building following the Thirty Years’ War. During that conflict, the chateau had been occupied twice with significant damge being done to it and its equipment. Extensive reconstruction of the chateau was coming to a conclusion in the early 18th century when a fire in 1719 caused tremendous damage to both the chateau and town. The chateau had to be rebuilt nearly from the ground up.

In 1805 and 1809, the Napoleonic battles of Austerlitz and Znojmo were fought not far from Mikulov. The chateau served as the venue for preliminary talks of peace between France and Austria at the end of the Battle of Austerlitz ahead of a formal treaty being signed in what is now Bratislava, Slovakia.

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Looking across the chateau gardens to the St. Sebastian pilgrimage chapel on Svatý kopeček (Holy Hill).

Fire touched the chateau again in 1945 during the retreat of the German military from the town. The 1945 fire burned the chateau down to its foundations; some sources state the causes of the fire to be unclear while others put the blame squarely on an act of arson by the retreating Germans. Whatever the cause, the building sat for three years in a state of ruin before rebuilding began.

Rebuilding of the chateau was completed in the early 1960s.

Today, it is owned by the Mikulov Regional Museum. It is possible to take tours of the building. Aside of the museum exhibitions, the visitor can also view elements of the chateau that were rescued from the 1945 fire such as the chateau library and a gigantic wine barrel dating to the Dietrichstein period that was designed to hold 101,400 litres of wine.

Getting Above Things 

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St. Sebastian pilgrimage chapel.

If one wishes to get a view of Mikulov’s historic centre from a bit above, two good opportunities are available close at hand.

Svatý kopeček (Holy Hill) runs along the eastern side of the town while Kozí hrádek (Goat Tower) sits just to the north of the centre.

Kozí hrádek is a relatively easy walk uphill through some residential areas from the centre of the town. A remnant of a 15th century watchtower, Kozí hrádek gives a good all around view of the town and surroundings as well as a good opportunity for unobstructed photography of the chateau.

Svatý kopeček is a massive hill of Jurassic period limestone that is home to both a nature preserve and a Way of the Cross pilgrimage route ending with the St. Sebastian pilgrimage chapel at the summit of the hill.

Dating to the mid 1600s, the Way of the Cross on Svatý kopeček is one of the oldest pilgrimage routes not only in South Moravia but in the Czech lands as a whole.

At Play in Pálava 

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Děvín Mountain, the highest point in the Pálava region. (photo: L. Holubová)

It would not be fair to talk about Mikulov without making mention of the Pálava Hills protected biosphere region which the town is part of.

Pálava is an area of 83 square kilometres which has been a UNESCO listed biosphere preserve since 1986 as it is home to a number of rare plant and animal species.

Beyond being a nature preserve, Pálava is also a very valuable region in the contexts of archaeology, tourism and viticulture.

From an archaeological standpoint, artifacts dating back to the late Paleolithic period have been uncovered near the town of Dolní Věstonice in the northern part of the regions. Most famously, a ceramic figurine known as the Venus of Dolní Věstonice was discovered there in 1925. The figurine has been dated to 29,000–25,000 BC and is, along with figurines of animals found at the same site, the oldest known ceramic work in the world.

Pálava is quite popular as a local recreational area owing to its close proximity to the city of Brno; it’s quite an easy trip to get out of the city. As it is bordered by the world renowned UNESCO listed Lednice-Valtice area to the east and Austria to the south, Pálava can also be easily accessed by more than just local visitors.

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The Nové Mlýny Reservoirs which sit at the north edge of Pálava.

Filled with networks of cycling, riding, trekking and walking trails; Pálava is easy to explore in a clean and sustainable way. Many of the trails are of an educational nature and contain signage bringing special features to the attention of visitors.

At the northern edge of Pálava, the Nové Mlýny Reservoirs offer great opportunities for a variety of water sports.

As the land in Pálava is divided between nature preserves and prime wine growing areas, a number of the trails in the region are set up with the wine lover in mind. Several of the walking and cycling trails are designed to easily guide the visitor from one local wine cellar to another to sample the wares on offer at each.

Paying a Visit and Learning More 

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The remarkable sgraffito facade of the Knights’ house on the main square.

Mikulov is relatively easy to get to from Brno and other points in the vicinity. As it has both a train station and bus stops, it can be accessed without a car.

Owing to the popularity of its annual wine festival, it’s location in Pálava and proximity to the adjacent Lednice-Valtice area, Mikulov is well prepared for visitors with a respectable selection of accomodation options to cater to a variety of tastes. It should be noted that if you wish to attend the wine festival and have accomodation directly within Mikulov, you should arrange your accomodation well in advance of the event.

The town has a good sized tourist information office located on the main square that has a wealth of brochures and maps for self guided tours around the town as well as into the Pálava Hills beyond.

The following link will take you to the tourism section of the Mikulov city website:
http://www.mikulov.cz/tourism/introduction-of-the-town/

Thes two links will take you to pages with information and maps connected to the Pálava region:
http://palava.ochranaprirody.cz/en/
https://www.czech-mountains.eu/moravia/guide-palava-hills.html