Biking through the "Lednice-Valtice Cultural Landscape"

UNESCO--an acronym I was suddenly bombasted with upon arrival to this country.  As students told me about Czech history and geography, the phrase "UNESCO site" was commonly thrown around.  Maybe I'm behind the times, so forgive me for my interlude.  I'll just give you the definition from my dictionary widget: an agency of the United Nations established in 1945 to promote the exchange of information, ideas, and culture. The Czech Republic has 12 such designated sites; I have visited five, one of which was the "Lednice-Valtice Cultural Landscape."  After hearing about UNESCO, I thought it would be a good resource for domestic travel destinations.  Browsing through photos, I was captured by the fairytalesque-ness of this particular site, but I was discouraged by it's location--deep in southern Moravia, almost in Austria.

I set aside my hopes of going there until I had some travel companions by my side.  Recently, Lena, an American also teaching English in Ostrava, had also heard tell of the magical wonderland of Lednice-Valtice.  So, scorning the local museum night, we went for an overnight in this mythical land.  We first took a train to Břeclav, and from there took a bus to Lednice.  We were stunned at how small the town actually is; it has a population of under 2400.  Just walking to our hotel, we could see the castle towers gleaming in seemingly short range.  We deposited our bags and walked back into town, hunting for a bike rental place.  Though the woman at the desk had given me directions in Czech and even drawn me a map with two lines and a dot, somehow I missed the location.  A friendly man at an info desk also gave me directions.  They were more astute than I could handle.  So, we decided to invert our plans and do a walking tour Saturday and a biking tour Sunday.

So, we went off to the Lednice Chateau, which was previously owned by the Liechtenstein family.  The chateau's curly-cues, stone work, and surrounding gardens did not disappoint.  It's fresh tan paint did.  The even layer of paint flattened the chateau, making it seem as if someone were trying to convince us through the color that it was made of stone.  I tried not to let the disappointment linger, and instead took joy in the sunny skies.  We walked around some of the grounds, and while we saw the signs for the "birds of prey" we decided not to enter.  Instead we made our way across the grounds to the minaret, 2 km off (we may have taken a detour along the way).  Legend has it that Alois Josef I from Lichtenstein intended to build a church, but became frustrated when people began having petty arguments about it, reacting by instead building a mosque.  Tradition, however, holds that it was built as a curiosity.  There were already Turkish, Chinese, Swiss, and Romanian examples of architecture, so why not try a minaret?  This reasoning is reinforced by the presence of objects of interest from various parts of the globe inside the chateau's chambers.  We then set out to find John's Castle, but took a wrong route.  A young boy greeted us as he biked by, and then asked us in Czech if we needed help.  Then he voluntarily spoke English to us.  We were shocked--this is not a typical Czech thing to do.  Anyhow, our chat showed that we were quite a ways out, so we sought out some dinner.
More and more walking followed, but the result was worth it.  We had wine with our Czech food (at least, my food was very Czech--I don't remember Lena's choice).  Southern Moravia is known for its wine, so not only was our white wine cheap (something like $0.70), but it was also delicious.  We then retired to our hotel after a day full of walking across the vast castle grounds.  Lena watched the soccer match while I read Les Miserables. 





In the morning, we breakfasted at the hotel, and though Lena questioned whether it was worth the extra cost, we did have an interesting chat with a Czech-American couple at the same table.  The woman was from Prague, and in true rivalrous fashion, could not fathom why we were living in Ostrava.  Back to the chateau we went, this time to tour it.  It was easily the nicest chateau/castle I've visited.  It was extremely well preserved, retaining furniture, flooring, wall-paper (or wall silk), and more.  Many rooms had ornate wood carvings, and the hunting room featured sets of antlers all along the wall.  It even had a unicorn! (The unicorn may have been a narwhale tusk forcibly placed on a horse's head.)  The most striking rooms, however, were those papered in a rich blue-green covered with the family crest.  It contrasted greatly with the slightly-orange tinge given by the woodcarving along walls and furniture.  In the library, there was a staircase carved from a single tree as well as the most valuable object in the chateau--a family tree carved from ivory.

Satisfied with our tour, we set off for the bike rental.  Lena's enthusiasm was admirable (she wouldn't own up to when the last time was that she rode a bike), and we set off for Valtice, about 10 km distant.  Recall that the UNESCO site is the "Lednice-Valtice Cultural Landscape."  This "site" is actually a region about 200 square km.  Spread across this region are random chapels, temples, stables, and greater and lesser chateaux.  So, we biked along the paths, following trail markings and stopping at places of interest along the way.


 We finally arrived at the Valtice, where the Baroque Valtice Palace is located.  We deigned not to tour inside, instead walking around and then having a refreshing lunch of pizza and wine on a sunny patio. 




Within the same "square" where we had our lunch
 We then mounted our bikes again to catch some more sites.
Old stables that are still used as stables now, just not for royalty.
 

Apollo's Temple

 We had a rest in Lednice for some ice cream before braving our bikes to head out to John's Castle.  It was much more easily accessible by bike, and the atmosphere around it was quite inviting.



Jump shot, first try.  Lena's brilliant.
We would be charged more if we had the bikes for more than 6 hours, so we headed back into town.  All-in-all, we had the bikes themselves for about 5 and a half hours, and we biked 2 hours and 50 minutes of that time.  This was my second time renting a bike for the sake of tourism (the first being in Mallorca), and I am a complete convert.  By biking, sight-seeing becomes infused with physical activity, and you take in more than you do on a bus or a train.  Moreover, you have more time to see things than you do on foot.   So, though it's probably most comfortable to ride a train and bus to Lednice, once there, be sure to rent your bike (which you can do near the info center).

Biking and taking photos--not the best idea, but I had fun doing it.

Comments

  1. christania’s “rent family bike” bikes are rolling across the city. The system, less than a year old, is funded by christania’s municipal government. It is currently only in one of christania’s 22 administrative districts. Although a 2nd generation system, there are 12 “Houses” in this district, each with around 40 bikes. The yearly subscription cost is the equivalent of $2 US, and allows the use of a bike for up to four hours at a time. In less than a year, there have been 6,000 subscriptions sold. There are larger 3rd generation systems in the world, which do not have a subscription to bike ratio as big as that.

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