South Moravia – Revelry and Relaxation in the Czech Republic’s wine region
My train stops on the border town of Mikulov in South Moravia, and as I step out onto the platform, I am treated to the distinctive beauty of a Czech castle town: red terracotta roofs, twisted cobblestone streets, and an imposing 13th-century castle set against the backdrop of rolling hills and the outline of a distant mountain range.
But the normally sleepy town is abuzz this beautiful September weekend. It’s the annual Palavske vinobrani, a weekend-long wine festival that transforms the usually sleepy town into a big wild street party. And even first-time festival-goers like me know: where wine flows, merriment follows.
As I enter the town square, I hear the cheerful melody of – what is that? An accordion? Sure enough, just as I imagined it, a jolly round-faced elderly man is playing on a stage, his dynamic facial expressions earning laughter from the crowd as his fingers deftly play on the accordion.
Everywhere I look, people are enjoying a glass of wine. Whether deep in lively conversations or deep into their potato pancakes (bramboráky) and roasted duck (pečená kachna), they all have their wine glasses either close to their lips or dangling from a wine glass necklace in front of their chests.
It doesn’t take long for me to get my own glass of wine and fall right into the rhythm of the revelry. Despite never having been to a wine festival before – in fact, I have never been particularly interested in wine before this day – I find myself learning about wine, distinguishing its different tastes and scents, and discovering South Moravia through my rosé wine-filled glass.
Tales of wine and terroir
When you think of the Czech Republic, two things immediately come to mind: Prague and pilsner. Both have indeed brought hordes of tourists to the country and have made the Czech Republic almost synonymous with beer. The pilsner lager could be considered one of the country’s most famous contributions to the world, and in fact, the Czechs drink more beer than anyone in the world, a record that they have kept for more than 20 years now.
But did you know that beyond Prague and the beer breweries in Bohemia, the Czech Republic also has a thriving wine region?
South Moravia is the center of the Czech wine industry. More than 90% of Czech wines are produced here and vineyards dominate the vastly agricultural landscape. Despite being relatively unheard-of as a wine region, Moravia actually has a long proud history of wine-making.
Since the 2nd century, Moravians have been growing and making wines, resilient to the centuries of political instability that have repeatedly disrupted winemakers and destroyed vineyards.
In the 17th century, the Thirty Years’ War destroyed much of the vineyards in the area, which took the Moravians a century to replant. In the 18th century, Austrian vintners fearing their Moravian competitors used their political influence to suppress the Moravian vineyards.
The Moravians finally saw rapid development in the 19th century, when the Liechtenstein royal family began their reign in the region. Being wine enthusiasts, they constructed numerous wine cellars and developed the art and science of wine making. By the end of World War 2, however, the Liechtensteins were forced to leave Czechoslovakia and Moravian winemakers had to turn over their businesses to the Communist state.
The Communist state didn’t particularly care for the art and soul of wine-making. They were all about quantity and uniform production, and slowly, vintners developed a mechanical approach to winemaking. Centuries’ worth of winemaking knowledge almost disappeared during this time.
With the end of the Communist rule, the Moravians gained back their lands and renewed their businesses. Now with modern wine-making methods coupled with centuries-old vineyards and cellars, the Moravians entered the international wine scene with renewed vigor.
Today, South Moravians are making some of the world’s best white wines, as well as notable reds. Their wines are getting international attention from wine connoisseurs world-wide, with their merlots and palavas winning awards in top international wine competitions.
Wine acumen isn’t limited to Moravian vintners, however. Strike up a conversation with any friendly Moravian, and they will be able to school you on anything wine-related: from the climates and soil properties that make their wine particularly good, down to the food pairings that work best with each bottle.
In my attempt to keep up with my Moravian friends’ passionate conversations about wine, I even learned a new word: terroir – “the complete natural environment in which a particular wine is produced, including factors such as the soil, topography, and climate.” My Moravian friends definitely had a firm understanding of the terroir that is responsible for their good wine.
The Moravians are particularly proud of the regional specialty: burçak (pronounced bur-chahk). This is basically young wine that is only available during the harvest season. Freshly harvested grapes are crushed and fermented a little, which results into a deceptively light and refreshing grape juice, but with the alcohol content of a matured wine. Some even say that the fermentation process continues on in your gut, hitting you hard long after you’ve gulped down that last innocuous plastic cup of burçak.
If you’re keen on the wine culture, the beginning of fall in September is a great time to visit South Moravia as the whole region comes alive with the vintage season and the festivals. Wine cellars and wine-tasting shops all over the region are open for visitors year-round.
Nature and adventure
As a wine region, you can expect endless vineyards in South Moravia. Mikulov is a particularly great starting point for bike trails through vineyards and rows of wine cellars, and hiking trails that bring you through castle ruins, old chapels, and stunning viewpoints.
The neighboring Lednice-Valtice cultural landscape is also a great area to explore. The Liechtensteins, desperate to display their wealth and extravagance, commissioned plenty of monuments and chateaux to be built around the area. Well-maintained and signposted trails will bring you to these monuments through the forest, and up to the present, the gardens surrounding the chateaux are some of the best-maintained in Europe.
If you’re not into strenuous physical activities (like me!) road trips around the countryside are also a great way to explore the region. One amazing destination is Velké Bilovice, the largest grapevine-growing town in the Czech Republic.
On the way to Velké Bilovice, we drove through endless vineyards with clusters of red and white grapes soaking up the sunshine, fields of yellow rapeseed flowers, and herds of goats grazing on the hills. The prominent sight, however, is the Hradistek, an ivory white chapel on top of a hill. It’s really a postcard-perfect sight and popular for weddings among the locals. We ended the trip with dinner at the Vinařství U Kapličky, a sprawling hotel and restaurant complex surrounded by vineyards where we filled up on a traditional Czech sour cream and dill soup (kulajda) and desserts.
Brno for the hip crowd
With wine and nature trails as its main selling points, South Moravia is understandably more popular among more mature travelers looking for a taste of culture and relaxation. But I think even travelers in their 20s can appreciate the Moravian capital city of Brno.
For one, it is a lot more affordable than the surrounding cities of Prague, Vienna, and Budapest. Four euros in Vienna will get you a sausage and a piece of bread, which you will then have to nibble on while freezing on a park bench. Convert that into Czech crowns and you can enjoy lamb stew and a glass of Pinot Noir in one of Brno’s trendy restaurants, where waiters will offer you a blanket if you want to eat al fresco.
Even for Czech standards, Brno is a great budget option. Plus, you don’t have to squish in with the Prague day trippers or take your selfies with a thousand strangers.
Brno also houses a lot of universities, which means the city is dotted with a lot of cafes and artsy restaurants that cater to the student populace. This bustling coffee culture and food scene in turn attracted a lot of expats and digital nomads who made the city their home. Brno may not be popular in fast-paced, holiday-package tourist routes, but the expat community has certainly added a bit of cosmopolitan color to the city.
At the very least, Brno is the perfect stopover if you’re looking for a laidback city to chill in between the bustling cities of Prague, Vienna, and Budapest. Who knows? A drink with the Moravians may just make you linger for a week or more.
Essential information –how to visit South Moravia
Here’s a quick guide to get you started on planning your trip to South Moravia. I suggest you download my free travel guide here as it has loads more information and tips for your trip.
The main gateway to South Moravia is the capital of Brno. Brno has its own international airport (the Brno-Tuřany airport) – you can check here for flights to Brno. Other nearby international airports are in Vienna and Prague.
Brno can be reached by train or bus from Prague (2h 30 min) and Vienna (1h 30 min). Here are some transportation companies you can look into as you plan your travels around South Moravia and the rest of Czech Republic: Student Agency for really comfortable buses and Ceske drahy for train travel. You can buy tickets online.
Brno and Mikulov are great bases for your stay in South Moravia.