If you’ve fallen for Prague’s undeniable allure, it might be time to consider branching out to explore some of the Czech Republic’s less trodden paths. Paths that deliver a richly rewarding blend of fine wine, fascinating folk culture, and exhilarating landscapes that are ripe for outdoor adventuring - both above and beneath the earth. If that sounds like your kind of trip, if you’re looking for a fresh destination that remains tantalizingly under the radar, South Moravia might just be your new favourite place. Read on to discover why.
South Moravia’s magnificent capital, Brno, is a place for all seasons. A city that satisfies history buffs as much as it fires up travellers looking for contemporary cultural thrills. Like its big sister Prague, Brno delivers big when it comes to Baroque beauty and neo-Gothic grandeur. You only have to amble the open-air medieval Cabbage Market (Zelný trh) to feel that magic. And we mean magic, for its cobblestones conceal an underground labyrinth of atmospheric tunnels that reveal an alchemist’s laboratory, an ancient wine cellar and prison, and what’s presented as a “cage for lunatics”.
Back above ground, discover Brno’s contemporary answer to Prague’s astronomical clock in the form of its famed monumental bullet-shaped timepiece. Created to commemorate the city's 17th-century victory against a Swedish invasion that saw the Czechs trick the Swedes by turning back the clock, this phallic sculpture does exactly that. Every day at 11am, the clock strikes 12 by playing a tune and releasing a glass ball, which lucky visitors can catch and keep. Brno is nothing if not surprising - a place where the old rubs shoulders with the modern at every turn.
Talking of which, the city is also home to the UNESCO World Heritage Site Villa Tugendhat, an elegant Functionalist architectural marvel created by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe in the 1920s. For more modern history, you can tour the 10-Z atomic bomb shelter. Though its construction began during the days of the Nazi regime, it wasn’t finished until 1959 and touring it today is an immersive, experience.
Being a big student town, Brno’s social scene is lively, with tonnes of cafes and bars to rest up in between discovering the city’s historic delights. After exploring Europe’s second largest ossuary (another unique underground site that contains the remains of 50,000 people), or sinister Špilberk Castle (now home to the Brno City Museum, it once hosted a gruesome torture chamber), you might be need of some light refreshment. Take your pick from cosy traditional pubs, cool café trucks, and stylish wine bars. The city is fast becoming a firm favourite with in-the-know foodies, too.
While the Czech Republic is rightly esteemed for its beer, its wonderful wine culture has yet to find the spotlight it deserves. So, if you visit South Moravia you’ll be blazing a trail for the region’s world-class wines (quite literally if you decide to cycle one of its wine-themed bike trails). With four distinct wine-growing regions - Znojmo, Mikulov, Velké Popovice and Slovácko - producing award-winning wines, it’s a place to discover sensational new tastes in sensational surroundings.
While each region has its specialties, Moravian winemakers are generally known for creating sweet ice and straw wines. With vineyards to visit in all four regions, not to mention all those charming villages and opulent chateaux, cycling the scenic Moravian Wine Routes comes recommended for travellers who like to explore a destination’s great outdoors while also absorbing cultural and gastronomic delights.
In South Moravia, 1200km of trails through idyllic countryside (all marked with the outline of a cellar) allows visitors to do exactly that. The routes connect the region’s best wine-producing villages, traversing gently rolling terrain through peaceful lanes, forests, and fields, with some opportunities for mountain-biking, too. Better still, there are several routes to select from, each offering different terrain and wine types. All of which means there’s sure to be one to suit your fitness level - and wine preference.
If you’re seeking a less strenuous cycling experience, the flatter Strážnická Route might be your bag. But flat and less strenuous doesn’t mean shirking on drama - this route takes in the White Carpathians mountain range that runs along the Czech-Slovak border. After stopping off to explore charming Strážnice, with its fabulous open-air folk museum that recreates 19th-century Moravian village life, you’ll be able to enjoy the region’s best Riesling and Silvaner wines. If, however, you prefer red wine, you’ll want to follow the Velkopavlovická Route, along which the magnificent rolling landscape of the Modré Mountains delivers awe-inspiring scenery at every wind, bend and undulation.
More committed cyclists will be well and truly exhilarated by the Kyjovská Route that runs through the Slovácko region. Renowned for its folk traditions, windmills and the beautiful Bat’a canal, not to mention forest-and-legend-shrouded Buchlov Castle and Baroque Buchlovice Château, the trail takes in some steep ascents, with Moravian Muscat and Pinot gris on the wine list.
If you have the stamina, you could tackle the 165km Znojemská Route, with impossibly romantic cultural attractions to explore at your leisure along the way. You won’t want to rush around Znojmo, an enchanting walled town perched above the Dyje River. With countless medieval and Renaissance delights, it seems to have been conjured from the pages of a picture book. Then there’s the Mikulovská Route that leads cyclists into Lednice-Valtice Park - so special it deserves its own entry.
Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, South Moravia’s Lednice-Valtice complex was bestowed with its Garden of Europe sobriquet on account of its elegant landscaping ingenuity set around two sumptuous chateaux, Lednice and Valtice. Grand in scale, ambition, execution and effect, quite frankly the site is so jaw-droppingly magical, it’s hard to believe you haven’t actually stepped into a fairy tale.
Both chateaux and their opulent gardens were created by Lichtenstein aristocrats throughout their 600-year reign. While expansive (at 300km², this is the world’s largest manmade landscape), the elegant English park and French garden conceal bijou nuggets of joy - quaint little buildings and fantastical follies, among them Apollo’s Temple. Chateau Lednice’s current flamboyant neo-Gothic form came courtesy of a 19th-century revamp, when it served as a meeting place for aristocratic bigwigs (quite some conference centre), while Valtice Chateau housed the Austrian and Moravian Lords of Lichtenstein.
Not content with being so darn beautiful, Valtice also has an esteemed wine-making tradition (as you can discover and sample in the chateau’s wine salon) that reaches back to the days of Emperor Marcus Aurelius. It’s said the Roman leader identified the surrounding area of Pálava as being ripe for making wine, and he wasn’t wrong. Sitting within the Lower Morava Biosphere Reserve (South Moravia sure isn’t short of UNESCO accolades), Pálava delivers a deliciously intoxicating brew of romantic ruins, fragrant meadows and forests to hike or bike, plus vineyards that have been steeped in hours of glorious sunshine.
Talking of wine (yes - a theme has most definitely emerged), the stunning town of Mikulov is a must-visit attraction of this area. Its colossal Baroque castle counts Napoleon among its guests, its terraced gardens are unique in the Czech Republic, and it houses a permanent exhibition devoted to the region’s wine-making excellence. Naturally, a tasting session rounds off tours.
This being South Moravia, more scenic cycling routes criss-cross the Lednice-Valtice region. But it’s not all about bikes. If you follow the 25km route from Valtice to Nové Mlýny, you can swap your saddle for a paddle to enjoy one of three reservoirs set beneath the Pálava hills - the perfect place to canoe, windsurf or bathe.
Geologically significant and heart-poundingly impactful, Moravian Karst is Europe’s largest karst landscape (that’s a limestone landscape characterised by caves, sinkholes and underground waterways). Within the area, there are five mighty caves to explore, with the main attraction being the Macocha Abyss - it’s 138m deep and echoes with eerie myths and legends.
If you choose to explore Punkva Caves (and this comes hugely recommended), you’ll board a boat to view drift through parts of the Czech Republic’s longest subterranean river, skirting close to the mighty Macocha Abyss, and floating by mesmerising stalactite formations. Your guide will likely recount the creepy legend of the evil stepmother who enticed her stepson to the woods and cast him into this very abyss, only to feel remorse and throw herself in after him.
Yet more underground enchantment awaits at the Kateřina Caves. Short but spookily sweet (the tour takes around thirty minutes), after passing through a grand gothic portal, the space expands into the massive Main Dome. At 95-metres long and 44-metres wide, this is the karst’s biggest open space, with awesome acoustics making it an excellent concert venue. The visuals aren’t bad either, with the spindly Witch and Bamboo stalagmite formations atmospherically illuminated.
Intricately embroidered national costumes. Exuberant old-style songs and dances. Dazzlingly decorated pottery and paintings. Atmospheric forest trails flavoured by cider-like sorb fruit. Rustic wine markets in folklore-infused villages. South Moravia is an utter joy for travellers fascinated by folklore, for the region is rich in cultural treasures that lay bare Czech traditions alongside cycling and hiking adventures. What’s more, these traditions are often inextricably woven into the region’s wine-making practices. Take the delightful wine cellars of Plž, for example, where dozens of little white houses flanking the village hark back to a wine-making tradition that began in the 15th-century.
Elsewhere in the wonder-filled White Carpathians, you might visit the beautiful village of Blatnice pod svatým Antonínkem, as famed for its wine as it is for its prettily painted Easter Eggs. If you’re interested in Czech crafts, Kunštát hosts a crafts fair in the shadows of its stunning chateau, while Bzenec’s wine festival bedazzles the senses. This celebration of Bzenecká lipka wine also exalts age-old Moravian folk traditions, as seen through the festival's colourful costumes, parades and performances.
Vibrant and varied, South Moravia is a place that stirs the soul and invites immersion - a true gem for travellers seeking anything but the ordinary. If you’re feeling inspired, discover more about the Czech Republic’s charms, including South Moravia's melding of outdoor adventuring with wine culture. Na zdraví, as they say in Czech.
Joanne is a Pembrokeshire-born writer with a passion for the nature, cultures and histories of the Caribbean region, especially Dominica. Also passionate about inspiring a love of adventure in young people, she’s the author of several books for children and young adults, hosts international writing workshops, and has written articles on the Caribbean and inspirational community initiatives for Rough Guides. Follow her