This charming Czech region is one of Europe's best-kept secrets

  • South Moravia's landscape is dotted with vineyards, castles, gardens, churches and ancient cities and towns.

    Wine is just one reason to visit

    The Czech Republic is more than Prague. Three hours south lie the less-traveled villages, vineyards and castles of South Moravia, where visitors are rewarded with insight into deep traditions and compelling history, not to mention adventure. Romans poured the region’s first wines in the 2nd century, remnants of the rise and fall of Nazis and communism remain, and 1,200 kilometers of cycling routes beckon. It all adds up to a rich travel experience.

    Photo courtesy of Christine Loomis

  • Brno offers cathedrals, historic sites, contemporary shops and restaurants, industry, forested hills and castles.

    Brno, capital of South Moravia

    Brno (pronounced Brrrr-no with rolled Rs) is the country's second largest city, a complex mix of historic, industrial, congested and surprisingly wild and natural areas. Founded in 1243, Brno today exudes gritty charm and offers a multitude of worthwhile sites to explore.

    Photo courtesy of Christine Loomis

  • Look for farmer's markets in several of the city center's historic squares.

    Farmer's market, Brno historic city center

    The old city is a patchwork of plazas edged with ornate buildings, fountains and arched walkways revealing hidden courtyards. Throughout are eye-catching sculptures. Wander through this flower and vegetable market then check out the nearby bars and restaurants, some sporting a Medieval ambience, others a distinctive contemporary aesthetic.

    Photo courtesy of Christine Loomis

  • Starobrno is Brno's local brew and tours are available at the brewery's facility near downtown.

    South Moravia is about beer, too!

    Wine aside, beer is integral to Czech culture. The original Budweiser has been made here for centuries. Starobrno, Brno's hometown brew, originated in the 1800s. On any given evening, city residents gather outside and in, chatting and quaffing their favorite brew. Tours are available at Starobrno's facility.

    Photo courtesy of Christine Loomis

  • Cathedral of St. Peter and St. Paul is one of Brno's most important sites and a place of striking architecture.

    Soaring steeples dominate the skyline

    The Cathedral of St. Peter and St. Paul on Petrov Hill in the city center is among South Moravia's most important architectural sites. The Gothic Revival towers are visible for miles, its 18th century Baroque interior, striking. When you visit, ask why the bells ring at 11 a.m. rather than noon.

    Photo courtesy of Christine Loomis

  • Brno Ossuary, beneath St. James church, is an intriguing glimpse into the city's history.

    Beneath Brno lies a hidden world

    Brno Ossuary is the second largest in Europe, after Paris. Some 50,000 people were buried here, thanks in part to cholera and plague. St. James churchyard above was closed in the 1700s, the ossuary forgotten until 2002. Tourist site and place of reverence, tours are compelling, especially with the music.

    Photo courtesy of Christine Loomis

  • Veveri Castle is an excellent site to visit not just for the castle but also for wine tastings and a pleasant boat ride.

    Castle above the lake

    In spite of extensive industry, parts of Brno remain natural. Just a few kilometers from downtown is Veveri Castle (Hrad Veveri), well worth a visit. Take a boat tour from Brno Dam Lake that includes exploring the grounds, the castle's restored rooms and a wine tasting. 

    Photo courtesy of Christine Loomis

  • Visitors to Brno will find plenty to do when the sun goes down.

    Brno has a thriving nightlife

    In warm weather, the residents of Brno are out and about in the evenings, gathering by fountains, listening to music, dancing, eating at one of the city's excellent restaurants or sipping cocktails and other beverages in a local bar. Concerts, art exhibitions and all kinds of performances are also on tap.

    Photo courtesy of Christine Loomis

  • All around the historic city center are shops featuring artisan goods of all kinds, like this bakery.

    Duck into small shops for artisan goods

    In addition to farmer's markets, the city center offers a slew of friendly shops where local goods are sold. Wander the cobbled streets to find bread makers, cheese mongers and other artisans, not to mention a vast selection of coffee shops – yes, Starbucks, too – where tourists mingle with locals. 

    Photo courtesy of Christine Loomis

  • The history of Jewish life and death in South Moravia is compelling. This cemetery is one site to visit.

    Cemetery recalls the country's Jewish heritage

    Jewish families flourished in Moravia as early as the 10th century, integral to the local culture and economy. Of 118,000 Jews in Moravia and Bohemia pre-World War II, a few emigrated or escaped but 80,000 perished in Nazi death camps. At war's end in 1945, only 2,803 Jewish citizens remained.

    Photo courtesy of Christine Loomis

  • When visiting Chateau Lednice look up, look down, look out as every inch of the palace provides something to see.

    A tale of two palaces in an age of opulence

    The UNESCO Heritage Lednice-Valtice Cultural Landscape encompasses 200 square kilometers, two chateaus, gardens, lakes, forests and structures built to delight the wealthy owners and their guests, from a Roman aqueduct to a towering minaret. It all belonged to the Liechtensteins, a powerful family originally from Styria, Austria. Multiple tours are available. 

    Photo courtesy of Christine Loomis

  • The gardens at the back of Chateau Lednice provide a beautiful spot for strolling.

    Chateau Lednice, summer palace

    The chateau's rooms are magnificently restored yet gardens, outbuildings and waterways deserve time, too. Tour the chateau and conservatory then board a boat, walk or take a horse-drawn carriage to experience the park-like grounds, created by the best architects and landscape artists of their time.

    Photo courtesy of Christine Loomis

  • Representative rooms in Chateau Lednice speak to an age of opulence and the owners' wealth and influence.

    The Turquoise Hall, Chateau Lednice

    Rich, intricate woodwork is among the chateau's spectacular features, notably in the carved staircase of the library and in the doors, ceiling and paneling of the Turquoise Hall. Other rooms exhibit family armor or silk wall coverings and Chinese furnishings, all showcasing the owners' wealth and status.

    Photo courtesy of Christine Loomis

  • It is said the Lichtenstein family kept its china in the minaret. Whether they did or not it's well worth a visit.

    Minaret, viewed from the chateau

    There are several outbuildings to see, but none more visually arresting than the minaret. Pay a small fee and climb the dizzying circular staircase to terraces with 360-degree views. Several rooms with exquisite painted ceilings can be viewed. It's said that the Liechtensteins kept their china here. 

    Photo courtesy of Christine Loomis

  • Chateau Valtice is approximately seven kilometers from ChateauLednice and offers a very different feel.

    Chateau Valtice, epicenter of South Moravian wine

    The Liechtensteins took ownership of Valtice in 1395. For centuries it was the family seat. The chateau was confiscated by the state when ethnic Germans were expelled from Czechoslovakia in 1945. Wine has been made here for centuries and Valtice remains the heart of Moravian wine production.

    Photo courtesy of Christine Loomis

  • Wine cellars at Valtice date to 1430. Take a tour and do a tasting at the same time.

    Wine cellars & tasting rooms beneath Valtice

    The most popular tours here are to the famous cellars, which date to at least 1430. This is the home of the Czech Republic's National Wine Centre, whose annual competition determines the 100 best wines of the nation. Visitors can explore the expansive cellars, taste winning wines and purchase bottles.

    Photo courtesy of Christine Loomis

  • The herb garden is one of the most beautiful spots at Chateau Valtice so be sure to wander back there.

    Herb garden invites reflection

    The well-tended herb garden is one of the loveliest spots in Valtice. Traditionally, herbs and plants were grown here not just for cooking but also for health treatments and dyeing fabrics. Today it's a serene spot for sitting or strolling. Garden lovers should check out the sweet gift shop.

    Photo courtesy of Christine Loomis

  • Keep your camera at the ready in Mikulov, one of South Moravia's loveliest villages.

    Mikulov has much to charm visitors

    Mikulov is a photo op at every turn with its hilltop castle, Renaissance architecture and surrounding vineyards. In the square, note the fountain (1700), Holy Trinity Statue with its angels and Tuscan pillars (1723), and behind them St. Anne's Church and Dietrichstein family tomb with its remarkably beautiful doors (1600s). Holy Hill rises in the distance.

    Photo courtesy of Christine Loomis

  • Walk uphill from the old square and through the gates to reach this quiet garden in Mikulov, just below the castle.

    Verdant gardens contrast with castle's fiery history

    When fire destroyed Mikulov Castle in 1719, the wealthy Dietrichsteins rebuilt it. In 1945, the retreating German Army burned it down, and again it was reconstructed. Today, it houses a small museum and some public rooms. Its treasures include a massive Renaissance wine barrel and these gardens. 

    Photo courtesy of Christine Loomis

  • On the way up the hill toward the castle entrance stop at these steps for a view looking out to Austria.

    View from Mikulov Castle to Austria

    Climb uphill to the castle, then up these steps to look over the red roofs of Mikulov. Austria lies just a few kilometers away. Under communist rule, views along the border were of barbed wire fences, armed guards and watchtowers. Today, the sweeping panorama is purely idyllic.

    Photo courtesy of Christine Loomis

  • This is part of the Mikulov Wine Trail, which is part of the Moravian Wine  Routes, a great way to see wine country.

    Cycling In South Moravia

    Crisscrossing Moravia's arcadian landscape are 1,200 kilometers of dirt tracks and paved trails, including the 82-kilometer Mikulov Wine Trail shown here. In addition to Moravian Wine Routes are general cycling trails and the Iron Curtain Trail, accessing communist-era sites. Sign posts with a silhouette of a cellar mark wine paths.

    Photo courtesy of Christine Loomis

  • Traditional wine cellars in Moravia were built into hillsides, side-by-side.

    Moravia's traditional wine cellars

    The traditional cellars of South Moravia were built into hillsides, reminiscent of the Hobbit homes of Lord of the Rings. Cyclists can cruise down a multitude of wine alleys like this, where local families still make, store and age their wine, most of it for personal consumption. 

    Photo courtesy of Christine Loomis

  • Today's modern wine cellars combine updated features with some of the architectural details of traditional cellars.

    Contemporary wine cellars bridge the ages

    In some towns, wine cellars are newer construction. They retain some architectural details of traditional cellars but are not all built into hillsides and have a different feel. About 90 percent of the country's wine comes from Moravia and is often labeled Moravian rather than Czech in origin.  

    Photo courtesy of Christine Loomis

  • Book a cycling tour through South Moravian wine country and meet some of the local winemakers.

    Meet Moravia's winemakers

    Cycling tours can include time with winemakers in their cellars, vineyards and tasting rooms. Moravia's most notable wines are white, made with Riesling, Gruner Veltliner and other grape varieties, not surprising given Austria's nearness. But forward-thinking Czech vintners are creating better reds now, too.

    Photo courtesy of Christine Loomis

  • Charming inns and family restaurants welcome cyclists and other visitors throughout South Moravia.

    A journey into South Moravia's heart

    A cycling tour in South Moravia is immersion into local culture. Cyclists explore not just well-known castles and cathedrals, but also small villages and rural areas where they taste family-made dishes and wine and meet locals for a cultural experience that reveals the heart and soul of the region.

    Photo courtesy of Christine Loomis