Discovering the tiny towns of the Czech Republic
Editor’s note: Luc Pols is on a five-week trip through Europe, hitting Italy, Austria, the Czech Republic and more. Each week, he is filing a report on his travels and sending it back along with photos of the journey.
We are leaving Italy behind, for now, and driving to the Czech Republic, straight to Zlin in Moravia.
One has to be careful, because most people here consider themselves Moravians first and Czechs second. There was even talk about independence, but that was preempted by the split of the Czech and Slovak republics.
Even though Zlin dates back to the 14th Century, it never developed as an important town until in 1894, when the Bata family set up a shoemaking factory, which over the ensuing 60 years, grew into a worldwide empire. Still today, we see the hundreds of small houses built by Bata for its factory workers, including a hospital, schools and concert hall. He was not the first to do this to retain his workers, that honor goes to Britain, but he was one of the first one on the continent, inspired by Henry Ford, and that is why Zlin is sometimes called the Czech Detroit.
The architecutre here is “functionalist style,” inspired by the famous famous French architect Le Corbusier. This town of about 90,000 inhabitants and the capital of the Zlin Region (read province/state) is our base for the next week and we will venture to the various towns in the surrounding area, some of them on the Unesco World Heritage Site list.
We visit Luhacovice, a spa town about a half hour drive from Zlin, which last year applied to become a Unesco World Heritage Site in its entirety.
Beautifully located in rolling hills, the eye-catching buildings of the spa, as well as the houses in this town, are just exquisite. Even though this is obviously low season, I am surprised at the amount of people, mostly Germans. There are people from all over Europe visiting this spa for its healing waters. The Czech Republic, while part of the EU since 2004, has not yet converted to the Euro and consequently, the prices here are still very reasonable. This could definitely have something to do with the traffic.
We next attend the annual Zlin Region Folk Dancing Festival in Bystrice Pod Hostynem. Here, in the real heart of Moravia, the old traditions and values are still very much alive. People in colorful ensembles dances the way it has been done for hundreds of years, and it is a delightful evening, with, of course, the necessary and home made slibovice and other libations. As with so many of these small towns, there is a castle in the center. Over time, most of these castles have been donated to the towns or regions for the lack of money for the upkeep.
The only sad thing about visiting this region in February is that a lot of the sights are closed for the season. It’s almost like arriving in Vail in the middle of July with your skis slung over your shoulder.
But we visit the town of Kromeriz, where since 1998, the Archdiocese Chateau with its outstanding gallery, as well as the Flower and Chateau Gardens, were put on the Unesco World Heritage Site list. These are not the only worthwhile sites, however. In the center are the absolutely beautiful Churches of St. John the Baptist and of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The town square is ringed with old homes, all exquisitely maintained and it is here that there are fairs and festivals all during the season, such as the Easter Fair of Folk Crafts. And while they don’t have the New York Philharmonic or the Philadelphia Orchestra, Kromeriz also boasts an international music festival with international orchestras and soloists.
Before I forget, the Czech beer is of course known worldwide and indeed it is great and quite reasonably priced. This, as all beer drinkers know, is where the name Pilsner came from (the town of Plzn). Well, we are off to the Czech Republic’s capital Prague, and you will be able to read our experiences there next week.