The word’s been out for some time now: the Czech Republic does not begin and end with Prague. A little further over to the east, for example, the region of Moravia stands out for having all the rural Czech hallmarks you could possibly hope for – while at the same time still being within easy reach of the average traveller.
The reality of Moravia is in stark contrast to its slightly grim industrial reputation (which is actually largely confined to Ostrava). And whether it’s picturesque villages, historical attractions, or its variety of dramatic landscapes to explore, there’s certainly more than enough on offer to lure you away from the charms of the capital…
Wooden churches of the Beskydy
Over at the eastern side of the region, the Beskydy Hills are dotted with striking wooden churches. Just outside Štramberk, Rybí has a fifteenth-century Gothic church with shingled roof, tower and onion dome steeple, while Hodslavice is home to the sixteenth-century wooden church of sv Ondrej.
Over in Radhošt’, the wooden chapel of sv Cyril & Metodej offers an unbeatable view across the Beskydy; over to the south of Ceský Tešín, Guty is probably the most striking of all the Beskydy’s wooden churches.
And in Moravia, the wooden architecture doesn’t stop with the churches: Štramberk is clumped under the conic Bílá hora (not to be confused with the Bílá hora in Prague) like an ancient funeral pyre. Although it feels very old indeed, many of its wooden cottages were built as recently as the first half of the nineteenth century.
Where Štramberk really shines is in displaying Wallachian architecture in situ: the unpainted cottages – simply constructed out of whole tree trunks – are (largely) free of tourists rather than cooped up and mummified in a sanitized skansen.
Just over 25km northeast of Brno is Moravia’s number-one tourist attraction: the limestone karst region of the Moravský kras. Although the Punkevní jeskyne, is the most extensive cave system, the other caves also feature spectacular stalactites and stalagmites and suffer much less from overcrowding.
Quite apart from the caves, the whole karst region boasts some dramatic and varied scenery, all smothered in a thick coating of coniferous forest and riddled with marked paths, providing great walking country.
Olomouc is one of the Czech Republic’s most important historical towns after Prague, and its cobbled squares, fountains and Baroque churches are worth a day or two of anyone’s time. In addition to all the sightseeing, it’s a university town; and after a few early nights in quiet village pensions, its (reassuringly cheap) bars will feel pretty jumping!
Hiking in the Jeseníky
Extending east from the Bohemian Krkonoše are the Jeseníky (Altvatergebirge), the highest peaks in Moravia. Rising above the area surrounding Staré Mesto and the Polish border, at 1,424m and 1,492m respectively, Králický Snežník and Hrubý Jeseník both make for challenging climbs.
For the slightly less energetic, though, one of the most attractive areas to head for is the foothills on either side of the big peaks. Here, there are low-key spa resorts like Lázne Jeseník, Karlova Studánka, the historical remains of Czech Silesia in Krnov and Opava and more than enough striking scenery to go round.