Biking in the Moravian winelands of Czechia

I still can’t get used to calling Czech Republic “Czechia”, but I thought I’d try, at least for this post! Even my Czech husband still calls it Czech Republic (or normally Czech for short). Anyway, for years he has been telling me that we should visit the Moravian winelands, in the east of Czechia, more specifically in new wine season (more on new wine later). This year we finally did it, as a group of friends with whom we did Wine-and-Cycling Trip 1.0 with last year in the Alsace wanted to go on Wine-and-Cycling Trip 2.0. In fact for us it was actually the third wine and cycling trip, since we also rode along the Saale river valley. We planned our trip to Moravia in September, which is new wine season.

Last year we took the overnight train to  the border of Germany in order to start our trip in Strasbourg, but for some reason it was tricky to find trains to Czechia that would allow all of us to carry our bikes with us. For regional trains it’s easy enough to find bike carriages, but it’s harder for long distance trains. Because of this, we rented a trailer instead and packed all the bikes into one trailer, which was attached to our car of four. The other five friends went in a separate car, and they were the lucky ones because they got to stop for dinner in Prague while we had to drive along at a relatively slow pace due to the trailer, so had gas station sandwiches for dinner. Also, on the more uneven sections of the road the car was bouncing along like a kangaroo because of the trailer, so it’s lucky that none of us suffer from motion sickness. Apart from that, you could barely notice the trailer, apart from seeing the big blue box in the side mirror. Our car must be very economical, because we also paid much less for petrol than the other car, despite our trailer.

A promising sign at the start of the trip

On the first and second nights we stayed in a huge campsite outside of Brno in a place called Pasohlávky, and we stayed in barrels (appropriately themed to our wine trip). Someone told us there was a wine festival in nearby Mikolov, too bad it wasn’t in our itinerary.

Day 1

For our first day of riding, we did a loop starting and ending at the campsite. Despite the fact that I’d persistently asked whether this trip would be flat or not and if we could keep it to maximum 60km per day (still scarred from the bootcamp that was the Alsace trip) and had been told it would be, on this first ride we did 783m of climbing and about 78km of riding. Most of the ride was nice, but the hill in the afternoon was a killer (I have a city bike, and it doesn’t do hills). It was quite a slog and I was very relieved to get off the bike at the end of the day. There were also one quite stressful section riding on a road as cars tend to drive quite fast.  One girl had a minor panic attack, as she’d been in an accident with a car some years ago and didn’t like to see them speeding past. So to avoid doing more of this road, we then took a detour over the highest hill in the area (of course). At least the downhill part was fun.

Overall, the ride took us past some lovely countryside scenery and through villages where people were selling ““Burčák” (in English “must”, “young wine” or “new wine” and in German “Federweißer”. Burčák is partially fermented, freshly pressed grape juice, and tastes a bit like a slightly alcoholic grape juice or cider, with a mild fizz. Usually it’s quite mild, although the alcohol content can range from 1-7% apparently. You can get both red and white Burčák, although when we were there most people were selling the white one. It’s typical to serve it with bread and lard mixed with onions, maybe to line the stomach in case you forget Burčák is not juice and drink too much? We saw at least one girl slide right off her bike in one of the Burčák villages, maybe too much Burčák (she was fine as she wasn’t riding fast). If you buy a bottle to take away, you have to open the lid regularly or keep it unscrewed, as because the Burčák is still ermenting it makes lots of gas, and bottles can explode if kept sealed. So it’s easier just to drink it on the spot, I suppose.

During our circular route, we also visited the UNESCO world heritage site of Lednice, a village with a palace which used to be the summer residence of the Princes of Lichtenstein, built as a villa in the 17th century and then rebuilt in Neo-Gothic style from 1846–58. This is because Lednice and other lands in Moravia,  Austria, Silesia and Styria were purchased by the House of Liechtenstein over the centuries, with Lednice passing to the House of Liechtenstein in the mid-13th century. Several Liechtenstein princes served as advisers to the famous Austrian family, the Habsburgs, who ruled the Holy Roman Empire. We took a walk around the large palace gardens and visited the greenhouse. I like visiting greenhouses in central Europe because they normally have some plants that grow outside in gardens in my home country (South Africa), that I don’t get to see much anymore in every day life.

After riding back to the campsite, we had dinner there. I had the fried cheese, which was to become a theme on the trip, while some others had bramboráky (potato pancakes, see recipe here) or schnitzel. Then we headed off for some welcome rest in the barrels.

Day 2

After overdoing it a bit on day one in terms of hills and distance, and finishing quite late since we didn’t want to get up early after arriving late on Friday night, we decided to make Day 2 a relaxing day. One of us also had a cold (not me this time), and she was very relieved that we wouldn’t be repeating the marathon of the day before. Since we aimed to end our trip in Vienna, we knew on the last day we’d have to get back to the trailer by train. So on Day 2 we packed our bikes back into the trailer, drove to a place called Laa in Austria (we were near the Czech-Austrian border), parked the trailer and went to the Laa spa. The morning thus consisted of wallowing around in the pools. Afterwards we got back on our bikes and spent the afternoon riding back to the Czech side of the border to our stop for the night, which was a wine cellar.

The route to the wine cellar was quite bumpy, and overall I think it must be far more comfortable to ride a mountain bike if you’re biking in Czechia. It was a beautiful sunny day though, and great to be in the countryside, and although there were some hills it was still not as hilly as the Alsace (you can tell I was traumatized by the Alsace hills). When we arrived in the village where we’d be staying, my husband (who was doing all the translating on the trip, as the only Czech) organized some Burčák and a look at a wine cellar belonging to a local man. The man filled our glasses directly from a barrel. We stood around outside at a barrel table and drank the new wine, happy to have got to our destination.

After the short break, we continue to our accommodation just a hundred odd metres away. We were staying with a winemaker, who gave us a wine tasting in the evening. All the wines were white and included Palava, Chardonnay, Muscat and if I remember correctly, Sauvignon Blanc. We were starving at this point so tucked into the bread and lard that was served along with the wine.

After the wine tasting, some people were still hungry, so we went to a nearby restaurant for dinner (I had some fried cheese). When we got back to our accommodation afterwards, three of us were sitting and chatting for a while, and then someone came down and told us there was no water coming from the taps upstairs. We checked downstairs and that was the case there too. Apparently they have had drought in Moravia recently. In the village (as at my husband’s family’s place), people get their water from wells, and it takes time to pump new water up. The same weekend that we were staying at the winery, the owner had also used more water than usual for cleaning things during wine making. The result was dry taps. Suddenly when the taps run dry, you realize all the things you need water for. Drinking, brushing teeth, flushing the toilet, washing hands, showering…luckily i’d been to the bathroom before the water ran out. My home town, Cape Town, is currently in drought, and people are always talking about day zero, the day the water runs out, and what it will be like. The water running out at the winery made me realize for the first time how many things water is used for. Apart from the things I mentioned before, there’s also cooking, washing clothes and dishes,.. We went to bed that night without brushing our teeth. I had a small amount of water left in a water bottle, but I wanted to save it in case I was thirsty in the morning and the water hadn’t come back on.

Day 3

The water did come back on in the morning, but only or a bit, then it ran out again. I think some people had normal showers, but some of us washed in the basin instead (after all, we’d spent many hours soaking in the spa the day before, and water for drinking and flushing the toilet seemed more important at the time!). We managed to brush our teeth too. It felt like training for a trip home to Cape Town, where at the moment people can only use 87L of water a day. This sounds like a lot, but it’s only a very short shower, some drinking water and flushing the toilet once or twice. The owner gave us some bottled water to take with us in the morning. He didn’t look so happy that morning. For him the lack of water right in the middle of wine making season was more of a problem than us not being able to shower.

We headed off, our aim being to reach Vienna by the evening, as one girl on the trip was a bit obsessed with visiting a particular restaurant someone had told her about. All day long we had to listen to her hurrying us along so that we’d be at the restaurant at 8. I would have rather just enjoyed the day and taken our time, with no dinner plans, than be stressed the whole day about time. That is the problem with traveling with other people sometimes – different ideas of fun.

We had set off on the bikes without having breakfast, so our first stop was for breakfast in one of the villages, called Šatov . A big, cheerful man heartily welcome us to his place and offered us a choice of pancakes or sausages. He had a lot of homemade sausages hanging around, and some interesting things in a jar on the counter that I could not identify. He also offered us a jug of Burčák, and who were we to say no. If you can have a champagne breakfast, why not a Burčák breakfast?

After breakfast we had to climb a bit of a hill, as my husband promised there was an unmissable cellar on top (I think they had told him about it in the village). I was expecting one of the usual, quaint wine cellars, which are always lovely to look at, but it turned out to be an astounding place. It was a 300 years old painted cellar called Malovaný sklep v Šatově, made out of a former sand mine, with painted reliefs on the sandstone walls, and you could wander through the tunnels underneath, which felt like being inside a big sandcastle. In fact it was not used as a cellar for making wine, as the temperature was too cool, but rather for storage and for parties. I loved the paintings, many of which were of fairytales or wine-related things, and the whole place just felt magical to me, as if dwarves or elves had made it. The man who painted it, Maximilian Appeltauer of Šatov, painted by candlelight and lamplight, and even continued painting after he lost one hand in World War 2.

After our tour through the cellar we continued onwards with our bike trip. We came to a hilly region with some vineyards, and eventually crossed into Austria, and the terrain got flatter. The cycling lanes were better in Austria, but there weren’t so many charming villages and wine cellars to stop at. We passed by some glorious fields of lined-up pumpkins. We couldn’t figure out why they were lined up, so that remains a mystery. There were many fields of pumpkins, an we found out later that they make a lot of pumpkin oil from the seeds (and I suppose also eat a lot of pumpkins).

As I mentioned, one of our group was intent on getting to Vienna by a certain time, so we cycled non-stop to the train station where we’d be taking a train to Vienna. We arrived in the evening and had time for a nice hot shower at the hotel before heading out to the dinner, which was just average so not sure what all the rush was about. We did get to try some Sturm, which is the Austrian word for Burčák, and this time it was a red one.

Day 4

The next morning, some of the group decided to have breakfast at another trendy place before catching the train back to our trailer, but three of us decided to do a bit of cycling around Vienna instead. We didn’t have much time before leaving, but we managed to see the Belvedere palace and have some Sachertorte at the Hundertwasser House.

Then it was off to Praterstern, where we had a quick peek at the famous ferris wheel before catching our train back to Laa. There we found out trailer and cars still safe and sound, and separated into our two cars. Time to head back to Berlin. On the way we stopped for lunch at a Czech pub (I had fried cheese since we got there late and my first choices were not available) and bought a bottle of red Burčák, which our backseat passengers lovingly tended to all the way back to Berlin, unscrewing the cap at regular intervals. The trip had gone by very fast, and I hope to find myself in the Moravian winelands again in future.

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