Czech Republic Day 8: Lednice, Valtice, and the Palava Hills

Helena, my guide, picked me up again early in the morning. This time we headed south of Brno, toward the border of Austria, to an area along the Dyje River that was once an inland sea thousands of years ago. It is remarkably flat compared to the karst hills north of Brno. This is wine producing land overseen by the high Palava Hills, solid peaks of limestone that mark the boundary between the Alps and the Carpathians. It has the warmest climate in the Czech Republic. Wander the white rock hills, the lowland forests, and the float along the many lakes. It is beautiful.

Lednice Chateau

Our first destination was the chateau Lednice. The chateau, its grounds, and its sister chateau Valtice are a UNESCO World Heritage site. This mostly man-made landscape, the largest composed landscape in the world covering nearly 200 square km, was created by the Liechtenstein family, on of the most powerful families in the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

Lednice Chateau

Lednice Chateau

Lednice's history goes back to the 12th century. The current structure dates to the mid-19th century. The ground around it are extensive, beautiful, and filled with follies. We headed toward the Turkish Minaret, wandering the pathway along ponds and islands, looking at gray herons, ducks, swans, and grebes. Purple flowers poked through the grass and fall colors hinted in the leaves of the trees.

Botanic Gardens greenhouse, Lednice Chateau

Lednice Chateau

Beautiful old tree

Hints of Autumn

You can see the Turkish Minaret center left. Its about a mile walk to it from the Chateau.

Inside the Minaret. The exterior is under renovation but you get a really good idea just how high a climb it is to the top.

The Dyje River and the Palava Hills in the distance. You can see the shadow of the minaret at the bottom left.

Looking straight down the gardens toward the chateau.

You can take a horse drawn carriage or a boat to or from the Minaret.

We climbed the minaret. In the distance you could see the Palava hills, which we would climb parts of later that day. Jackdaws squawked and wheeled around the us as we surveyed the world from high above.

We stopped and fortified ourselves with soda. Kofola, of course. The stuff is magic. I had been off caffeine for nearly 2 years. I was hooked again.

On the way to Valtice. Harvested grapes on their way to becoming wine.

One of the many lakes, mostly man-made in this area. On the way to Valtice.

A family of swans enjoying the beautiful day.

Then we headed to Valtice. While it to was built by the Liechtensteins, it has a very different character than Lednice. The present Valtice chateau dates to the early 18th century. Valtice Chateau has its own wine cellars that date from the 1430s. Go to Valtice for the wine, go the Lednice for its extensive gardens. Helena and I wandered the wine cellars, me sampling, her buying. The wine is quite good. We even peaked in and witnessed a very serious wine tasting course in progress.

Town Hall, Valtice

Looking up into the tree on the right in the picture above. This was a magnificent old tree.

Fountain, Valtice

Valtice Chateau

Inside Courtyard, Valtice Chateau

Wine tasting class

Wine Cellar below Valtice. Here you can purchase or taste wine. There are a couple of places to do that here in the Chateau but these cellars date to the 15th century.

Our next stop was the town of Mikulov but first we drove across the border into Austria and then back. We crossed the now open border that had been so very closed during Soviet rule. Where once barbed wire and guards stood now...its just landscape and a gas station.


Mikulov is a pretty little town with a long history. Here you can visit the castle, churches, and the Jewish Quarter.  It lies on what was the main trade route between Vienna and Brno. It was also home to the largest Jewish community in the country for many years. For three centuries, from the 1500s to the 1800s, Mikulov was the seat of the Moravian regional rabbinate. World War II brought a very terrible end to Mikulov's Jewish community. Today Mikulov is Moravia's center for white wine production.

Mikulov center

Mikulov center

Contrast between buildings

Helena and I wandered through the town and ate lunch at the Hotel Tanzberg. This building is of significance because Rabbi Judah Loew ben Bezalel, or Rabbi Loew, the legendary creator of Prague's Golem resided here for twenty years. You can visit the underground vaults where medieval water tanks, probably part of the mikveh used weekly for symbolic cleansing before the feast of the Sabbath, can be seen. Alfons Mucha also lived here.

Site of the old well or mikveh under the Hotel Tanzberg.

Golem shaped fire place, Hotel Tanzberg

The food at the hotel is traditional Jewish. I had some very good duck in fluffy pastry with a plum sauce over a bed of cabbage.

Synagogue, dates to 1550.

The steps to the Jewish Cemetery, the largest in the Czech Republic in terms of square meters. Founded in the 1400s.

Gravestones in the Jewish cemetery

House with wine cellar.

Helena than drove me through the most amazing landscape closer to the Palava Hills. Everywhere I looked, as we drove, looked like a painting. I wanted to grab watercolors and capture the rolling hills, long rows of golden corn and green grapes going off into the blue hazy sky.

Palava Hills

Palava Hills

Palava Hills

Grape picking underway


We parked in the little village of Klentnice. We hiked up through a little neighborhood full of family owned wine cellars. Then we hiked upward some more toward the ruin of Sirotci Hradek, or the Orphan's Castle. The castle dates to the 13th century but was abandoned in the 16th century. It straddles two limestone outcrops.  It gets its name from a legend that a Templar knight, who lived there, refused to join a battle because his wife just gave birth to his first born son. The Templars sent another knight to the castle to find out what was going on. This knight was made godfather to the baby boy but then murdered his fellow knight and most of the servants. The mother died of a broken heart. The boy was taken away and named the boy Orphanus. Many years later he returned to the castle to find a servant who survived the massacre and was told what happened to his parent. Orphanus went mad. His ghost can now be seen riding around the castle on occasion.

Sirotci Hradek (Orphan's Castle) on the stark white limestone cliffs that so mark the Palava region.

Sirotci Hradek (Orphan's Castle)

Me. I don't think I ever include photos of myself on this blog but I donow  because here I am completely enjoying myself, I love me in this landscape,  and, at the same time, I am absolutely terrified of tripping because I'm a giant klutz. Notice how hard I'm holding the chain....Sirotci Hradek (Orphan's Castle)

A view from Sirotci Hradek (Orphan's Castle)

Sirotci Hradek (Orphan's Castle)

Sirotci Hradek (Orphan's Castle)

Looking down toward Klentnice from Sirotci Hradek (Orphan's Castle)

Sirotci Hradek (Orphan's Castle)

Looking toward the next series of hills we will climb and toward Pavlov from Sirotci Hradek (Orphan's Castle).

Looking west over wine country, Sirotci Hradek (Orphan's Castle)


We then hiked to the Throne formation of limestone cliffs. We wandered past long rows of ripe grapes, even sampled a few as a snack. The warm, dry climate and the unique geology give rise to very unique flora. Up and up we went. The view becoming more dramatic the higher we went. The going for me in places wasn't easy -- ok, slightly terrifying in places -- but oh the climb was worth it. I am so thankful Helena took me up here and kept me going through the rough spots. I got to look out over the glowing white stacks of limestone, markers of the prehistoric inland sea, over the area between Dolni Vestonice and Pavlov and not only was taken back into my own past, as an archeologist, but also the past of all human kind. Here thousands of years ago mammoth hunters lived. Here, between 27,000 and 20,000 years ago, they made art and lots of it. And it was preserved. And we can wonder at the uses to these many artifacts that so show how complex human minds are and always have been.

Baby grape vines and heading toward the Throne formation.

Looking back toward the road through baby vineyards.

Shrine on the way up to the limestone cliffs.

Sirotci Hradek (Orphan's Castle) in the distance. Grape vines in the fore. We snacked on them. Our apologies to the vineyard owner...

The remains of an old convent

Sirotci Hradek (Orphan's Castle) in the far left.

Approaching the Throne formation. The flat plain below is where 25,000 years ago mammoth and other large mammals were hunted and where the famous Venus of Vestonice was found.

On the Throne looking down at Pavlov


We were greeted at the top by a preying mantis hunting in the grass. Then it was down and down and back to Klentnice. We stopped at Cafe Fara for dinner.  This coffee house/restaurant houses a coffee museum and offers some really good food and fantastic looking deserts. Both Helena and I had mushroom soup, which was fantastic.  I had a pear infused lemonade and a slice of apple and pistachio cake that I won't forget. I want more.

Then we wandered Mikulov at night, up to the castle and around the main square. Then  it was back to Brno and end to my time in Moravia. I think I shall come back. There's so much more to explore.

Mikulov center at night.

Mikulov center at night. Don't know why the building on the left has one window glowing blue but we heard folk songs coming from within.

Beautiful example of sgraffito.

Outside the synagogue at night.


  1. Excellent as always PJ Kaszas !


  2. fantastic captures! the view from Orphans castle are breathtaking...really enjoyed this journey



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