Czech Republic Day 7: North of Brno and the Moravian Karst

Today was the day I did a very smart thing. I hired Helena Svedova, a local guide, to take me to the Moravian Karst (Moravsky Kras) and the Blankso region. This is the region north of Brno made of rolling Denovian limestone hills covered in thick forest and filled with caves and deep ravines, mostly carved by the Punkva River. 

There a nearly a thousand caves in the region but only four are open to the public. Access isn't that easy without a car. That's why I hired Helena. She's amazing and a lot of fun. She's a great guide and incredibly passionate and knowledgeable about this area of the Czech Republic. Let her take you away from the city and explore for a day or two as I did. She knows where are the amazing things are. This day was entirely magical and it was entirely because of her.

Looking down into Brno. On the left you can see Soviet era housing. The bright colors were added after the fall of the Soviet Union.

Helena picked me up at 8 am. As we drove through Brno she pointed out various important sites and features. Then, once out of the city, we stopped at an overlook and surveyed Brno from afar. Then we continued 25 km north to the Krtiny, traveling winding roads through the hills that so profoundly mark this region.

The impossibly large Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Krtiny.

Kritny is an old market town. The first recorded mention of Krtiny is from 1237 but the religious importance of the site goes back to the 800's and arrival of Moravian missionaries St. Cyril and St. Methodius. The site reached its heydey in the 1700's.

The immensely high tower.

The very Baroque interior.

The incredibly Baroque ceiling. The acoustics in this church are unbelievable. Helena and I tested them out.

The village sits on the boundary of the Moravian Karst nature reserve. It's a tiny, tiny village with a HUGE Baroque church. It's actually shocking when you drive into the village and see this gigantic Baroque pilgrimage site, The Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and other buildings that make up this Premonstratensian monastery, positively dominating the landscape. You immediately know why its referred to as the "pearl of Moravia". There is also a ossuary below the church with twelve skulls with the letter "T" painted on them.

The carillon. The bells all have individual names. It is unusual that you can walk right up to the bells. They are not located inside the tower.

Helena then drove us to the Mococha Abyss and the Punkva cave complex. Here you can tour a this huge cave complex on foot and then by boat on the Punkva river. And you can look down into the great depths of the Mococha Abyss and, later, stand at the bottom of the Abyss and look back up into the far away blue sky. And if you are lucky, you'll see one of the several bat species that make their home here.

Looking down into the Macocha Abyss.

Hiking down to the Punkva caves entrance. You can take a cable car as well.

Stalactites and Stalagmites. A map of the cave system can be seen here. Vchod means entrance. One exits the cave system below that after navigating the underground river by boat. The Macocha Abyss is the tan and blue feature at the top.

Chamber with in the cave system where concerts are sometimes conducted.

The beautiful confluence of water and limestone. In this case forming an "angel".

Another view of the "angel"

Limestone and water creating a scene that could have been made by coral at the bottom of the ocean. But its not...just water dripping through rock.

Looking up from the bottom of Mococha Abyss

Boarding the boat on the subterranean river.
More amazing formations

Still marveling at what water and limestone can create together.

Exiting the cave system.

The cable car giving scale to the surrounding karst cliffs.

By this time it we were ready for lunch. We stopped in the town of Lipuvka and had a very nice lunch of wild boar at Restaurace Formanka. This was my first experience with Czech soda. I tried Kombajnerka. Its yellow. I like it but I'll be damned if I can describe what it tastes like. I was afraid, it being yellow, that it was going to taste like the bathroom cleaner lemon-lime of American sodas, but I was surprised. It was refreshing. It was really good. But I have no corollary in my experience with which to describe the taste. Just try it. You'll like it.

The amazing Poerta Coeli convent

After lunch we went to one of the places that, hands down, was one of my very favorite places I visited in the Czech Republic: the Poerta Coeli convent in the town of Predklasteri. Peorta Coeli means Heaven's Gate. Predklasteri means "in front of the convent".  This 13th century Cistercian convent was founded by Constance of Hungary, the widow of King Otakar I. The gothic church within is one of the most beautiful examples of gothic architecture I've seen. You'll have to visit to see it. No photography is allowed. That it survived as unscathed as it did through World War II, and then Soviet rule, is incredible.

The Gothic portal

Another view of the entrance portal.

Lion guarding the entrance. He seems to look like he's done this for most of eternity.

Detail of the doors.

The cloisters surrounding the inner garden at Poerta Coeli are really something to see. They are a beautifully gothic and unusual in their use of dragons/gargoyles on the interior of a building. But it was the inner garden that stunned me. I wanted to lay under the garden's apple tree and stare into the sky through its branches for hours, days, or perhaps the rest of my life. It was the most peaceful place I've ever been. I was loathe to leave it. In fact, I'm not sure I really did leave. Perhaps I'm still there and imagining that I'm somewhere else now.

We fortified ourselves with coffe and tea and little cakes called coffins (yummy chocolately greatness). Helena then drove me through the town of Cernvir to see a covered bridge and to sit by the side of the Svratka river enjoying the sun.

Covered bridge in Cenvir

The Svratka River

Then we drove higher up into the hills for a stunning view containing a surprise that I won't give away. You'll have to go to find out what it its. Here Helena also introduced me to mushroom hunting in the Moravian forest.

Perstejn Castle

Our next stop was the beautifully gothic Pernstejn Castle, which towers above the village of Nedvidice and the Svratka and Nedvedicka Rivers. This is a fairytale castle, the once magnificent seat of the Pernstejn family (a once very rich Bohemian family who held incredibly large estates). This castle was never captured by any invading force in its history. Pernstejn's towers, ramparts, dikes, and drawbridges were built well using the surrounding high rock its built upon to great defensive advantage. It's here I learned why all the stairways in all the towers, castles, and churches I've been climbing for the past several days (and actually for years, really) twist clock-wise. It inhibits the use of your right sword arm if you are trying to mount an attack going up and gives the advantage to defenders coming from above. Try it. We did.

Pernstejn Castle. The Aurochs is the Pernstejn family crest.

Walking up to the castle through the outer yards.

A closer look at Pernstejn. Still climbing up.

Details. A mix of various periods of architecture and a modern flower arrangement near the entrance.

The Pernstejn Aurochs done in iron on the main entry door.

The incredibly Baroque chapel.

Tiled stove.

Heather overlooking an inner courtyard. There was an exhibition of flower arranging within the castle at the time of my visit. The castle isn't always decked out like this.

Renaissance dining room.

Renaissance wedding dress. Or is it the White Lady? (see below)

This library within the castle, as Helena pointed out, could stand in for one of Hogwarts' Common Rooms.

Wooden bridge connecting towers.

Walking across the wooden bridge.

Looking up at the Moravian flag.

Looking down across the hills of Southern Moravia.

Pernstejn is also haunted by the White Lady, a former chambermaid who suffered from great vanity. She was cursed by a monk for shirking her duties and failing to go to mass. She allegedly haunts the dark corridors. And ladies, don't look in any of the mirrors on the walls here. They are allegedly cursed and you will lose your beauty within a year if you peer into them.

Another view of Pernstejn,

Closer up. You can see on the left the tower we stood on that has the flag pole with the wooden bridge connecting it to the main body of the castle.

After touring the castle, Helena and I hiked through the beautiful forest surrounding the castle. Up and up we went, getting another view of the castle. And then we emerged from the forest into the sunlight to be greeted by some lovely horses grazing in their beautifully appointed hilltop pasture.

The amazing Moravian sky. There is something moving in the trees...


Ah...that was what was moving through the trees on top of the hill. The residents of the pasture coming to say hello.

An extremely friendly Halfinger/American Paint foal exploring my camera lens with its nose.

A last look at Pernstejn as we hike back down the hills.

We then headed, by car, to a hilltop lookout in the town of Krizovice, where we met the well known local sculpter Zdenek Machacek hard at work. We were escorted through the sculpter's garden by a black cat.

Standing on a hilltop in Krizovice.

Exploring the interesting sculpture garden of Zdenek Machacek.

Zdenek Machacek at work on his next creation.

Then we went to Lomnice U Tisnov, a small town with a long tradition of textile production. We wandered the Jewish cemetery there. And we drove up into the highlands above the town for a magnificent view of the sunset.

Then we ended a perfect day with wild boar schnitzel in a local restaurant, where Helena introduced my to my second Czech soda called Kofola. I'd drink Kofola, which kind of tastes like a very herby Dr. Pepper, to sustain me through the rest of my adventures through the Czech Republic. The stuff has more caffeine and less sugar than Coke. It's the perfect remedy for wandering miles of cobblestoned streets and climbing up rocky hills with castles perched upon them.

Sunset over the hills of southern Moravia. Lomnice U Tisnov, Czech Republic.