Vranovsko – A Southern Sanctuary

Idylic, but Not Idle 

IMG_4108
Looking across part of the expansive Vranov reservoir, one of the main attraction in the region.

Vranovsko is a microregion of South Moravia that sits on the border with 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

IMG_4102
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 

IMG_4081
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 

IMG_4217
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.

IMG_4144
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

IMG_4143
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/

Advertisements

Litomyšl – The Renaissance Remains

A Pocketful of Culture 

IMG_1697
Litomyšl’s main attraction: the stunning UNESCO listed Renaissance chateau.

Tucked into the far reaches of Eastern Bohemia, in the Bohemia-Moravia borderlands, is the historic city of Litomyšl.

Owing to the fact that it is home to a UNESCO World Heritage site and is the birthplace of famed composer Bedřich Smetana (1824-1884), Litomyšl is one of the country’s better known tourist destinations and many visitors have read about it before they arrive in the country.

Officially gaining status as a city in the 13th century, Litomyšl has its origins in 11th and 12th century settlement in the area. In its history, the city has served as the seat of nobility and bishops as well as an important centre of education and culture.

Because of Litomyšl’s importance as a centre of education through the 19th century, many notable names in the Czech arts and culture scene were attracted to living there during that period. The influence of many of those people can still be seen and felt in the city today.

The modern city is very aware and in touch with its past and uses it to good advantage in guiding the tourist.

At that, let’s spend some time in Litomyšl:

Show Yourself Around 

IMG_1683
Smetana Square, one of the largest public squares in the country.

Perhaps befitting a place with education and enlightenment playing a major role in its history, Litomyšl invites and encourages visitors to show themselves around and learn about the city via a well prepared self-guided tour map available in city tourism offices or online at the city website. The map covers almost 20 points of interest in the very walkable centre of the city.

The recommended start and finish point for the self-guided tour is the 500 metre long Smetana Square. One of the largest public squares in the Czech lands, it is lined with arcaded facades in Baroque, Classicist and Renaissance styles. Also on the square is the Gothic styled town hall tower.

Leaving the square from the north end will take you past the statue of Bedřich Smetana and put you in the vicinity of the Neo-Renaissance style Smetana Hall and the Pedagogical High School with its sgraffito decorated exteriors.

IMG_1693
Front of the Church of the Discovery of the Holy Cross.

Further along the route, you will find a monument to writer and educator Alois Jirásek (1851-1930). Jirásek spent several years in Litomyšl as a high school history teacher and is considered to be one of the most important Czech authors of his time.

In the same area, you will find the Baroque style Church of the Discovery of the Holy Cross. This church belonged to the Piarist order who were invited to Litomyšl in 1640. Dedicated to education, the Piarists played a major role in the city’s reputation as a learning centre for centuries. The order left the city in 1948, leaving the church behind.

It is worth travelling up the towers of the church as a great view of the chateau can be enjoyed from the balcony between the towers.

Between the Piarist church and the city’s other major holy building, the Presbytery Church of the Raising of the Holy Cross, you’ll find the monastery gardens. For many years after the Piarists left, this area was left untended and blocked off to the public. In the late 1990s, work took place to restore and refresh the gardens to the beautiful and relaxing park that it is today bracketed by the two churches.

IMG_1700
Monastery gardens with the Piarist church in the background.

Contained in the park is a fountain that features a group of statues by contemporary Czech sculptor Olbram Zoubek (1926-2017).

Leaving the park will take you past the Gothic style Presbytery Church of the Raising of the Holy Cross. This church originally belonged to the Augustinian order which had a monastery in the city from 1356 to 1428.

From the Augustinian church, you can go in two directions:

A short walk east of the church will take you to the Portmoneum, a museum dedicated to Josef Váchal (1884-1969). Váchal was a writer, illustrator and printmaker who was a unique character with a rather enigmatic art style. Admittedly, his own connection to Litomyšl is somewhat tenuous as he was there relatively briefly at the invitation of a local art collector and fan of his work, Josef Portman. Portman contracted Váchal to paint two rooms in his house, the resulting work was a sweepingly complex collection of imagery that is very difficult to interpret.

The art in Portmoneum certainly is not everyone’s cup of tea and it is a lot to absorb at once. However, if your tastes include Avant-garde, you may want to pay it a visit.

If you follow the street directly outside the church entrance, you will find the oldest church in the city as well as Váchal street.

Váchal street is a short lane leading back to Smetana Square. It is notable for the arches over it and the walls of the buildings on either side of it covered in sgrafitto images from one of Váchal’s books.

Renaissance Resplendent 

IMG_1678
The impossing and spectacular chateau.

Near the Piarist church, you will find the star attraction of Litomyšl: the Renaissance style UNESCO listed chateau.

The chateau was commissioned by the powerful Pernštejn family and built between the 1560s and 1580s. When finished, it was a rare example of an Italian Renaissance arcaded palace outside of Italy.

In 1649, the chateau and city came into possession of the Trautmannsdorf family and shifted to the Valdštejn-Vartenberk family in 1758. Under Valdštejn-Vartenberk ownership, the chateau underwent extensive alterations that added a number of Baroque features to the structure.

It was during the Valdštejn-Vartenberk ownership period that Bedřich Smetana, son of the chateau brewery’s brewmaster, was born in 1824. It is possible to visit the apartment where the composer was born when you visit the chateau.

The chateau and city would switch hands again in 1855 to the German noble house of Thurn und Taxis. This house would be the last noble owner of the chateau. They held it until the end of the Second World War when all Germanic families were expelled from the Czech lands and their properties seized by the state.

IMG_1645
Looking into the chateau’s arcaded courtyard structures.

The chateau has remained under state ownership since the end of World War II and it was declared a national cultural monument in 1962.

In the 1970s restoration work on the chateau’s extensively sgraffito covered exterior began with the work being overseen by Olbram Zoubek.

In 1999, the chateau and its grounds were inscribed on the UNESCO list of World Heritage sites. The chateau is considered a textbook example of an Italian Renaissance style arcaded castle unique in both the level of preservation and its location outside of Italy.

Honouring the Past 

IMG_1685
The statue of Bedřich Smetana on the square that bears his name.

As mentioned earlier in the article, Litomyšl is a city very much aware and in touch with its past.

Since 1946, the city has hosted an annual classical music and opera festival called “Smetana’s Litomyšl”. It is one of the oldest and biggest music festivals of its sort in the country.

There is also a youth version of the music festival that has been held annually since the early 1970s.

Another historical resident of the city has been commemorated through having a festival bear their name. Magdalena Dobromila Rettigová (1785-1845), wrote what was for many years the only cookbook available in the Czech language. Entitled “A Household Cookery Book or A Treatise on Meat and Fasting Dishes for Bohemian and Moravian Lasses”, the book was first published in 1826 and was a bestseller through much of the 19th century. The book has been republished countless times and modern printings of it can still be found regularly in Czech bookshops.

The city’s annual gastronomy festival, held since 2012, is named after Rettigová.

Paying a visit and Learning More 

IMG_1706
The sgraffito walls of  Váchal street.

Outside of the centre, Litomyšl is a quite normal town with no touristy feeling. as such, it can be done as a day trip from several other places. However, it is not the most direct of places to access if you are travelling by bus or rail.

If you are travelling by train, it’s best to plan Česká Třebová as your end stop and take a bus from there to Litomyšl as there is regular bus service between the two cities. The bus platforms in Česká Třebová are directly outside the train station entrance.

If you want to learn more about the city, it’s attractions and calendar of events; this is a good link to start with:
https://www.litomysl.cz/?lang=en

The tourist portal for East Bohemia also has some good information:
https://www.east-bohemia.info/litomysl/