When visiting the Czech Republic, most tourists will simply settle for Prague – the Czech Republic’s famous capital. The more curious of them will also go visit Český Krumlov, Karlovy Vary, and other well-known tourist places but the smaller towns remain largely unnoticed, which is definitely a shame because they have a lot to offer. Take Mikulov, for example – this picturesque town in the South Moravia is located near the Austrian border and it is the perfect combination of sun, wine, culture, history, and the Central European architecture. Yet it’s unknown by most. So it’s about time we fix this.
What has shaped the town’s image
There are plenty of small South Moravian towns located near the Austrian border. But Mikulov is not just your average South Moravian small town – it’s located between the Pavlov Highlands area and the edge of the Mikulov Highlands. It’s surrounded by vineyards, fields, and the Nové Mlýny reservoirs.
In the past, up until WWII to be more precise, it used to be a very multicultural town where Czechs, Germans, and Jews lived side by side. All these communities left a noticeable mark on the town’s face. This makes Mikulov the perfect example of what many other towns and cities in the Czech Republic used to be like until their (multi)cultural identity was destroyed during and immediately after WWII.
One of the places tourists visit first is definitely the town’s dominant feature – the castle. It was built in the place of a Romanesque castle after the Liechtenstein family got the whole area into their possession in the 13th century. Later, in the 17th century, the castle was acquired by the Dietrichstein family who eventually decided to rebuild the castle again to fit their own image. They even included a small baroque theater and a wine cellar, which is hardly surprising considering the whole region is famous for its wine.
Speaking of the Dietrichstein family, another place you shouldn’t miss when visiting Mikulov is the Dietrichstein tomb. When someone says the word “tomb”, most people imagine an old dusty eerie place full of coffins where not a single beam of light can break into unless someone opens its heavy iron door. That’s not the case of this tomb, though. Except for the part with coffins – that one is, of course, true. It’s quite the opposite, actually – the tomb is a beautiful piece of baroque architecture; a building that used to be a Loreto Church before it was rebuilt as a crypt of the Dietrichstein family after a fire broke out in the 18th century.
The Jewish quarter
It was, however, not just the nobility who sculpted the town’s image. Another group of people who played an important role in Mikulov’s history was the Jewish community which has been essentially non-existent since WWII. Its history dates all the way back to the 15th century when a group of Jewish people found refuge in Mikulov after being exiled from Vienna and Lower Austria and later also Moravians cities like Brno and Znojmo. Eventually, it became one of the most important Jewish communities in the whole Moravia. Even the famous Rabbi Löw – who according to an old legend created the Golem of Prague – officiated in Mikulov for 20 years. Nowadays the memory of the community’s existence can be seen in a baroque synagogue that now serves as the local Jewish museum, cemetery, and a mikvah – all of them located in Mikulov’s Jewish quarter that consists of over 300 houses (more than 90 of them dating all the way back to the renaissance period).
Mikulov’s historical square
One of the most appealing places in Mikulov is definitely its historical square. But what exactly can you see there? The most interesting things you can see in the square is the sgraffito house “U Rytířů”, a baroque fountain built at the beginning of the 18th century, The Sculpture of the Holy Trinity, and canon houses. If you are searching for a place that looks like straight out of a fairy tale and where you can’t find a single modern building, the square of Mikulov should definitely be on your list of places to visit.
Mikulov can satisfy everyone’s needs – including those who are looking for art here. After all, even the famous Czech artist Alphonse Mucha spent some time here and while you won’t get to see any of his original pieces here, you surely won’t be disappointed. In fact, there are seven galleries and art studios in total. Five of them are art galleries: Galerie 27, Galerie Adam a Eva, Galerie Efram, Galerie Konvent, and Galerie Závodný. In the local library, you can also find a “literary gallery” which is a place designated for discussions, exhibitions, informal meetings, and for relaxation.
Last but not least there is also the Studio Pirsc Porcelain located here. Daniel Pirsc is one of the most important Czech designers, so if you are a fan of contemporary art and design, you should definitely visit his studio. In case you’re also looking for the best souvenir to take back home from Mikulov, this place will be perfect for you.
Just like in most Moravian towns and cities, there are many churches located here. Many of them were built during the baroque period, which is absolutely no surprise if we consider that Mikulov was once the residence of Franz Seraph von Dietrichstein – a cardinal, Governor of Moravia, and an Archbishop of Olomouc. Not only was he one of the faces of the forceful recatholisation of Moravia (still quite tolerant compared to other religious figures of his time), but he was also a great admirer of arts and culture. He renovated the Saint Wenceslas church that was built in the place of a romanesque church from the 12th century and brought a group of piarists to Moravia. But these piarists needed a place where they could live, pray and organize their seminars and for this reason Franz Seraph von Dietrichstein built the Church of Saint John the Baptist with a piarist monastery.
Pálava, Svatý kopeček and their surroundings
In case you are more interested in nature than in art or culture, you can leave Mikulov and visit a place called “Svatý kopeček” (“Holly Hill”), where you can find, among other things, the pilgrimage chapel of St. Sebastian, a bell tower and the “Tomb of God”. And, of course, it also offers a great view of the surrounding area.
However, if that’s still not enough and you’d like to see more, Pálava Hills will be just perfect. On your way around the hills, you can find the castle ruins of: “Kozí hrádek”, “Dívčí hrady” (also called “Děvičky”) and “Sirotčí hrádek”.
Another interesting place that is perfect for visiting, especially during hot summer days, is the Turold cave. Fans of history can also visit the Věstonice village where the famous Venus of Věstonice was found. There is also a beautiful museum dedicated to the time period of hunters and gatherers!
When visiting the Pálava Hills, please, remember that this is a Protected Landscape Area. Therefore don’t take any “souvenirs” and don’t leave any mess, so other people could enjoy it as well!
Wineries, cafés, and restaurants
After walking around Mikulov to see everything it has to offer, one will get hungry quite quick. Fortunately, Mikulov has you covered as it is full of cosy cafés, bistros, high-quality restaurants, and, of course, also wineries. And even a tiny chocolate factory for everyone who has a sweet tooth.
There are so many interesting things to see and so many beautiful places to visit in Mikulov, that I could write a whole book and it still wouldn’t be enough. As I like to say: Whatever you want to see, you’ll be able to find it in Mikulov.
The best way you can get to Mikulov, is by train through Břeclav either from Brno or Olomouc. If you’d like to relocate to one of these two beautiful cities so you could visit Mikulov whenever you want, let us know and we’ll gladly help you with everything you need!
Photos: Martina Vidová