Bicycling in the Czech Republic (Springtime)
My legs pumping, sweat beading down my back and the wind blowing in my face, the exhilaration of my speeding bicycle is only surpassed by the peaceful picturesque surroundings. I stop near a sign showing the bicycle route just to confirm where I am and am joined by another group of riders. They are locals from the city of Prague who have taken several days off to escape big city life and are enjoying their own “backyard”.
Nestled in a small corner of southwestern Czech Republic lies the region known as Moravia. It has long been known as a premier region for wine growing, specializing in white wines. The region is a small producer in comparison to the massive farms across Germany, Spain and France that produce wine for global export. The 2004 Czech Wine Act, is based on Austrian and German wine laws and divides Czech lands into 2 major wine areas, Czech and Moravian. This is a testament to the exceptional quality of this region as a wine growing area.
The area of Moravia is becoming well known for its meandering bicycle routes. The 1200 km of cycling paths crisscrosses this region, making this a great outdoor adventure location. The trails are a combination of small paved country roads besides vineyards and paths along lakes and in forests. The lure of the area is becoming a cycling destination and a way to explore the rural side of Europe.
On the edge of Moravia and along the Austrian border is the small town of Mikulov. This small medieval town at the base of the Diestrichstein Chateau (actually a massive castle), is the perfect hub to explore the region. I arrived to this little town by a 3.5-hour train ride from Prague. The town markets itself as an ideal location for a perfect family vacation or a 3-4 day excursion after visiting Prague and to experience the natural beauty of the Czech republic.
Mikulov is relaxing, tranquil and perfectly charming. Upon arrival, my first stop is The Hotel Templ, which is a non-pretentious hidden gem that is owned and operated by a family from Prague. The hotel offers 17 rooms with big cozy beds, wood burning fireplaces and bicycle rentals for guest use that are more than adequate for the average rider like me. If you want a more high performance bicycle, you can bring your own and have it transported by train or bus from Prague.
The Hotel Templ has its own selection of wines and a bright and airy dinning room that serves probably some of the best food I’ve had in central Europe. Especially impressive is the goose breast with mushrooms and potato leek puree, rabbit with bacon and spinach, and the grilled venison with rosemary pear. Also available is standard fare of chicken, pasta, and steak. Mikulov’s picturesque medieval charm offers a multitude of experiences.
The limestone “Turold Caves”, guided by the residential expert who has been exploring these 7 caves for over 35 years, Jaroslav Rakusan. There is an easy hike with a packed lunch to the Svaty Kopecek (Holy Hill) and an awesome view of the town and surrounding vineyards.
Back on the trail with my trusty wheeled transport, I navigate the gentle rolling hills, stopping to take in the awesomeness of the surroundings. The area is peaceful beyond belief and not overrun with tourists and tours which is so prevalent in Prague. The ride, which I started in the morning from Mikulov, had taken me to the town Valtice, just in time for a late lunch, and a visit to the underground wine cellars. Here I meet, Milan Sedlacek, one of the owners of the towns wine cellar system named “Valtice Podzemi” (translated Valtice Underground), which is shared amongst several other wine producers in the region.
This 750m underground wine cellar is a vast underground system of 3 levels of buried cellars that are being unearthed continually. It is a cool 9-12 degrees with 3 layers of cellars with the lowest level dating back to roman periods but most, and those currently used, date from the 1200-1600’s. You can also rent your own small locked storage to store your wine here and let it gently age as has been done for centuries. These catacombs of wine are the lifeblood of Valtice and last year saw 35,000 visitors.
The cool underground air, saturated with the musty smell of centuries of use, was a welcomed change after exerting myself on my bike like I was a teenager. This was the perfect spot for lunch. Milan and I walked around the endless nooks and crannies of the wine caves and after shared rye bread, “spletz” (a local favorite and similar to lard spread on bread), several different delicious cured sausages and 3 varieties of aged and wonderful cheeses, all local to the region.
Milan’s hospitality meant we it was obligatory to sample all of the chardonnays, blanc franks, pinot gris, plus several other unique Czech varieties. The Czech wines are similar to Austrian or German varieties but infinitely more delicate and sophisticated in taste...in my humble opinion.
I exited the underground, back into the sunlight and the warmth of the Czech afternoon. With my full belly, it was a struggle to continue bicycling but I was soon on a country road pedaling hard, shaded by century old trees and surrounded pastoral fields on my way to Lednice.
In the town of Lednice, the castle and vast expansive gardens were designated a protected UNESCO world heritage site in 1996. The castle and surrounding gardens were owned and inhabited by the wealthy Lichtenstein family who abandoned the “cottage” in 1943, before the end of World War 2 and the following communist rule. Today, it is a fantastic area to explore and take a glimpse of the estates of Europe’s wealthy elite. A unique feature of the gardens is an Islamic minaret, built in 1797, almost 60 metres high and containing 302 stairs to the top. It was amazing feat of construction for the time and surrounded by stories and folklore of its construction, as old as the area itself.
Having gotten my fill of exploring this wonderful ornate estate, I was looking forward to what was in store for dinner and just relaxing with the sunset overlooking the valley and vineyards. I was back on bike heading back to the refuge of the Hotel Templ in Mikulov.
The several days I spent exploring this area by bike and foot, left me feeling invigorated and satisfied. The residents and fellow riders I met along the path, left me feeling indebted for the generosity and contented for the time I spent here; definitely a worthwhile spot to explore in the world.
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"The harder it is to get to, that's where I want to be." As a former commerical pilot, a certified professional photographer, and now owner of Industrial Pixel Visual Effects (www.ipvfx.com), travel and photography has always been my passion. My stories and photographs have been published in newspapers, inflight magazines, outdoors and travelers magazines.
Located: Vancouver Canada
Likes: Culture, Food, Adventure, Unique experiences, the hidden gems.