Cycling In Moravia
Atop Castle Orphanus.
Every time Daisy and I would drive by the ridiculously picturesque Czech town of Mikulov, usually on our way to or from Vienna, I'd always turn to her and say, "We've definitely got to visit that place sometime."
From afar and up close, Mikulov looks what a Hollywood designer would create if asked to come up with a romantic European hilltop town - a high castle and tower, surrounded by a sea of orange tiled roofs, the surrounding countryside upholstered by the region's famous vineyards, a large cobblestoned central square dominated by a clocktower.
Mikulov's Dietrichstein castle, which was almost completely destroyed in World War II and later restored to its former glory.
Daisy and I had a free weekend recently, so we decided to head down to Mikulov for some cycling, which I'd always heard was fantastic in that area, and some sipping. Mikulov is about a 2.5 hour drive from Prague, near the Austrian border.
Based on the recommendations of a few of our friends, we booked a room in the very comfortable Hotel Templ, a former 16th century synagogue. No sooner had we checked in on a beautiful sunny September day than we on our bikes, heading out into the countryside, a few borrowed bike maps in my backpack.
Harvest time. I must confess that we picked and ate a few grapes, juicy and warmed by the sun.
I had this notion that as soon as we headed out of town, we'd be presented with our choice of cycling trails through acres and acres of vineyards, cellar doors thrown open and tasting opportunities at every turn.
It wasn't quite like that.
The main road out of town and toward the other famous wine city of Valtice was quite busy, with trucks and cars flying past us at a good clip. I didn't see -- on the map or with my own eyes -- any other obvious trails through the vineyards. We cycled to Sedlec and then decided to head off the main road and follow a sign for what seemed like a vineyard selling wine and food. It turned out to be a good move, for we found ourselves on a lovely cycling paved path skirting Lake Nesyt.
We were happy to see this sign -- wine tasting and sales in Sedlec.
The vineyard turned out to be a wooden shack selling local wines by the bottle or the glass, and a separate, rather sad, snack window selling grilled sausages and fries. Napa Valley, it wasn't. But the wine was crisp and delicious and inexpensive, and the snack window offered a giant jar of sour (not sweet) pickles, which Daisy loves and which are simply unavailable in the Czech Republic.
We were on our bikes, the sun was shining, and we were drinking local wine. We'd gotten what we came for.
Not exactly Napa Valley, but the wine was cold and crisp, and the pickles were sour.
We continued riding along Lake Nesyt and then cut up a dirt road through vineyards bursting with red and white grapes. We connected with another busy country road and slowly cycled back to Mikulov.
It wasn't a long ride (around 20 kilometers), but it fit the bill. Then it was back to the hotel for a walk around the castle in the gloaming and then a somewhat uninspired dinner at the hotel, enlivened by a nice bottle of Gala Chardonnay-Pinot 2008, from the nearby village of Bavory.
Here are the trails we followed. I forgot to turn on my Garmin until we'd made it to Sedlec, so that's why things kick off there, rather than Mikulov itself:
The next morning, we decided to head toward a castle ruin in the Pavlova Hills that I'd spied from the road coming in. It wasn't a long ride to the 13th-century Castle Orphanus, but from Mikulov the route was almost entirely uphill. There were a few good climbs in there, and Daisy was hurting (I almost titled this post Whine Country). I'm not a great hill climber (in fact, I'm horrible), but I was doing OK. Daisy just hasn't been riding lately.
The ruins of the 13th-century Castle Orphanus.
She was framed, I tells ya!
The castle ruins, perched high above the surrounding plains, turned out to be worth the slog (although the road leading up to the castle was too steep to ride). We could see forever, and who doesn't like a good European castle ruin? We clambered all over those crumbling stones, headed into the nearby village of Klentnice for a beer or two at a roadside snackbar, and then rode almost all downhill (wheeeeeee!) for the 10k or so back to Mikulov.
Once in Mikulov, we cycled to the city's famous Jewish cemetery. The city's Jewish heritage dates back some 650 years, credited to Mikulov's location on an important trade route from Vienna to Brno. World War II put an end to all that. There are some 4,000 tombstones in the cemetery, which is almost 20,000 square meters (five acres) in size, the largest in the country. The oldest legible marker dating from 1605. There's also a fascinating little museum outside the gates to the cemetery. Highly recommended.
There are some 4,000 tombstones in the city's Jewish cemetery.
Lichen on a tombstone.
We had a great time on our short visit to Mikulov, but I can't help but think we missed some fantastic cycling trails. I'm talking about dedicated cycling paths, not trails that follow roads. I perused the cycling maps, but the marked trails all seemed to follow some fairly major highways.
I'd like to go back and try to find the paths that we missed. I'd welcome any tips you may have.
(For more about Mikulov and the surrounding towns and castles, read my friend Evan Rail's fantastic article in "The New York Times.")
Length of rides: 38.5 kilometers
Average speed: 12.5 kph
Maximum speed: 51.1 kph
Distance ridden so far in 2011: 392 kilometers
A stand selling burcak, the very young, cloudy effervescent wine that's an autumn tradition in the Czech Republic.
A scene near Mikulov's main square.
The view of Mikulov coming back into the city from Klentnice.
As we were cycling down from Castle Orphanus, a group of horseback riders was making its way up the mountain.
The rolling Moravian countryside as seen from Castle Orphanus.
A street scene in Mikulov.
Beneath the walls of the castle.
An interesting sculpture below the castle walls is silhouetted against the setting sun.
On a Mikulov street.
Vineyards near Sedlec, with Lake Nesyt in the distance.
Daisy on a trail through the vineyards.
I'm guessing this is a defensive bunker dating from World War II, but I'm not totally sure. Along the bike path near Lake Nesyt.
The fantastic cycling trail along Lake Nesyt.
The Hotel Templ in Mikulov.