A Summer Sunday in South Moravia

The COVID lockdown is easing up and more and more people are getting out.

Today, I went to the city centre here in Brno. The city’s technical museum had some of their historic public transport vehicles out and about, a drum group gave us some African vibes, we had a short spat of rain and I knocked back a few pints of draft.

Wherever you are, I hope restrictions are easing for you as well.

Made in the Czech Republic – Vasky

You may know Baťa, but do you know Vasky?

Youth and Tradition

The Czech Republic has a long history of shoe production, over a century in fact.

Beyond the shadow of any doubt, Baťa is the first name that comes to mind for most people around the world when they connect the idea of shoes to the Czechs. However, Baťa is far from the only name that Czechs have put on a pair of shoes.

The name Vasky may not be immediately familiar to you if you do not live in the Czech Republic; but if you like shoes and find yourself in the country, you may want to take the time to check them out.

While Baťa represents the history of Czech shoe production, Vasky is the here and now. Company owner and founder, Václav Staněk, was only 18 years old when he officially established the company in 2016. Since then, he has taken a position of prominence among young Czech businesspeople and earned a spot on the prestigious “30 Under 30” list in the Czech edition of Forbes magazine in 2019. The Vasky name comes from an unusal diminutive form for the founder’s first name.

Built on a philosophy that puts a carefully handcrafted finished product made from high quality raw materials of primarily local origin at the forefront, Vasky is a clear indication that the tradition of Czech shoemaking is in very good hands and has a bright future.

Let’s spend some time with Vasky:

A pair of pink, ladies’ slip ons from Vasky.

If the Shoe Fits…

As Baťa did before them, Vasky calls the south eastern city of Zlín home. In fact, Vasky has their headquarters in one of the many former Baťa buildings that give Zlín its unique architechtural face.

One does not need to be in Zlín for very long to see that it’s a city that remains very aware and in touch with the role shoemaking has played in its development over the years.

It is not only the makers of shoes that connect the city to the product, but also the users of them. Legendary Czech distance runner, Emil Zátopek (1922-2000), left his mark on Zlín.

Zátopek started working for the Baťa company in Zlín when he was 16 and it was while he was working for the company that he began his career in running. Zátopek’s legacy is as ingrained into the city’s history as the Baťa legacy is and you will see tributes to him alongside monuments to the historic shoe company if you visit Zlín.

In certain ways, Václav Staněk and his company’s place in Zlín closely mirror Baťa and Zátopek:

As with Tomás Baťa (1876-1932), Staněk is a native of Zlín. Just like Emil Zátopek, Staněk has a history in competitive athletics. Through his teens, he held several national titles for running and worked his way up through the European level to the World Youth Championships before leaving competitive sport.

He also has a direct family connection to shoes as his father owns another Zlín based shoe company, Flexiko, which specialises in walking and work shoes.

While he may not have started out with dreams of building a shoe company, Václav Staněk definitely had a strong combination of history and influences to draw on in Zlín when the idea of creating his company hit him.

A mens’ low cut shoe that shows the Vasky logo stamped on the heel.

Fashion and Function

While Vasky has branched out into accessories and clothing since it was established, shoes are still very much at the heart of the brand and are set to remain so.

As mentioned earlier, Vasky places strong emphasis on a handmade end product constructed of high quality raw materials that are primarily from Czech suppliers. If you go to the company’s website or social media pages, you’ll find no shortage of pictures and stories about the individual people at the company factory who are behind the design and manufacture of Vasky shoes.

The average price for a pair of standard Vasky shoes is around 3,000 Czech crowns and towards the higher end of the 3,000 crown range if you use the self-design function of their website to create something more unique for yourself than what’s available in their standard offer. As such, they qualify as a luxury shoe brand in the Czech Republic.

In spite of their luxury standing, Vasky shoes do not sacrifice function for fashion in any way; they are made to be worn regularly and withstand some of the everyday wear and tear that other luxury category shoes might not hold up so well to.

To this end, elegance through simplicity is key to making Vasky shoes what they are. The majority of Vasky shoes are built around classic designs and comfort. The leather used in their construction is high grade and from Czech suppliers that Vasky has direct connections to.

Wearing a pair of Vasky shoes will not only make sure you’re comfortable while looking fashionable, you’ll also be supporting local Czech businesses at the same time.

A pair of blue ladies’ lace ups.

Getting a Pair and Learning More

If you’d like to get a pair of Vasky shoes for yourself, it may be something of a challenge if you are not directly in the Czech Republic. However, it’s not impossible.

If you are in the country, the easiest way to get a pair is to visit one of their physical shops. Visiting Brno, Ostrava, Prague or Zlín will give you access to a Vasky shop where you can find not only shoes, but a range of shoe care products and leather accessory items like belts, wallets, shoulder bags and laptop computer cases.

Purchasing via their website will pose something of a challenge if you do not speak Czech or Slovak, as those are the two languages their website is directly available in. However, I have found their site responds reasonably well to online translators into English.

If you order through the website, you can choose for the shoes to be delivered to you by post or to be delivered to one of the Vasky shops for you to pick up in person if you are near to one. It is also possible to have the shoes delivered abroad if you order them from outside the Czech Republic.

If you wear a pair of Vasky shoes outside the Czech Republic, it’s worth a trip to their website to report it. There is a map of the world on the website where they mark where people have worn their shoes, so you can send them a picture of yourself wearing their shoes and your story of wearing them on your travels.

Milotice Chateau – Baroque in the Wine Country

Front facade of the chateau

Pearl of Slovácko 

A bold and well preserved example of Baroque architecture, Milotice chateau and its gardens are nestled in the deep south east of the Moravian regions of the Czech lands.

Standing proud in the lush vineyards of the Slovácko region, Milotice provides a contrasting attraction to the folkloric traditions and wine tourism that the region puts front and centre for visitors. Yet, at the same time, the chateau is not incongruous in the broader picture given the number of noble families that once kept homes in the area.

The current Baroque face of the chateau dates to a reconstruction carried out in the early to mid 1700s, but there’s more than that to the history of this grand old home.

Let’s spend some time with Milotice Chateau:

Rear facade of the chateau.

From One Hand to Another 

As it is with so many old homes of the nobility, the ownership of the chateau at Milotice changed a great deal in its history. The chateau was first built between the 14th and 16th centuries, but it would not be until 1648 that the first long term owners, the Serényi family, would take possession of it and make their mark upon it.

The Serényi tenure at the chateau saw the construction of the chateau gardens, which had been in planning before they took ownership, and an extensive reconstruction of the building from 1719 to 1743. Little has changed in the appearance of the chateau and gardens since the late 18th century and so Milotice has the distinction of being one of the best preserved examples of Baroque architecture and garden design in the Czech Republic.

The last male heir of the Serényi family died in 1811. The management of the chateau was overseen by his daughter and, in turn, grandaughter until 1888. It was then, through marriage, that the chateau came into the ownership of Seilern family. It would remain in their possession until it was seized by the state in 1945 after the end of World War Two.

The chateau has been open to public visitation since 1974.

Chateau library and study.

A Look Inside

There is a single guided tour available of the chateau interiors at Milotice. The tour takes one through the representative halls of the chateau.

The tour and the interiors you will see on it show the chateau as it was in the early 20th century when occupied by the last Seilern count, Ladislav Seilern-Aspang, and his family.

What is presented on this tour is based on a very detailed account of life in the chateau at that time provided by the count’s eldest daughter, Marietta (1918-2008).

On the tour you will see the typical life of the old nobility as it was in the early 20th century; modern conveniences like electricity taking its place alongside the more historical noble trappings such as the collection of items from the Far East in the Oriental salon.

The tour will take you through the well appointed chateau library as well as the dance hall and game room among others. As it typical for tours at Czech chateaus and castles, most of the tours are offered in Czech and you can request a text transcript of the tour in English, German or possibly other languages to help you follow along. If you wish a tour in a language other than Czech, you will need to make a reservation through the chateau website.

A section of the chateau’s supply garden.

A Walk Around the Grounds

The chateau at Milotice has impressive gardens to compliment the building itself.

The gardens at Milotice date to the mid 1600s and are comprised of an ornamental section with fountains and an avenue of trees as well as a supply garden off to one side for the growing of fruits and vegetables to feed the occupants of the chateau.

The gardens are French Baroque in style and include auxiliary buildings such as a pheasant house, hunting pavilion and an artificial Gothic ruin.

Stepping out in Baroque style!

In the early 19th century, the gardens were partially converted to English style. However, these changes were restored to French style in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

If you want to see the chateau gardens in style and really look like you belong there, you can borrow a set of historic clothes and walk around the gardens in them for half and hour or so.

If you wish to wander around in historical clothes, you will need to reserve a time to do so in advance. There is an email address on the chateau website to make a reservation through. However, there is no guarantee of linguistic flexibility, so it is best if you have a command of Czech or can enlist the help of someone who does to make the reservation.

The view towards the chateau from the ornamental gardens.

Paying a Visit and Learning More

As with most state chateaus and castles, Milotice is open to the public from mid April to the end of October every year.

It’s not the most easily accessible of chateaus and it’s best to use a car if you’re travelling to it from any significant distance away.

A good way to visit the chateau would be to spend a few days in the area and incorporate a visit to the chateau during that time.

For example, you could take lodgings in the nearby small city of Kyjov and travel to Milotice on one of the regional buses that make a stop at Milotice a number of times per day. The region also caters quite well to bicycle touring and the chateau is close enough to Kyjov that you could try renting a bicycle to get to the chateau.

This link will take you to the official website of the chateau where you can see what tours are on offer as well as photo galleries of the chateau and gardens:

Official Chateau Website

Kyjovsko – Southeastern Sojourn

Milotice chateau, a Baroque gem in the Kyjovsko region.

Wine and Wonderment 

Kyjovsko is a small area in the larger Slovácko region that makes up the far south east of the Czech Republic. It takes its name from Kyjov, the main town in the area.

As with the larger Slovácko area it’s part of, Kyjovsko is known for agricultural vistas. Most notable of these are the many vineyards in the region. This is part of the expansive South Moravian wine country, so there are many cellars to visit and sample local wine at. Also in Kyjovsko you will find an area known as Moravské Toskánsko, which translates as Moravian Tuscany. It’s an area of picturesque rolling hills that reminds many people of the Tuscany region of Italy.

Aside of the wine and scenery, Kyjovsko and Slovácko market themselves strongly on folklore and related cultural traditions. It’s not unusual to see wine cellars and other folk architecture decorated with local folk art motifs.

In August of 2020, we spent a few days in Kyjovsko. Here’s a small taste of what you can find there:

Section of Kyjov’s main square.

Day 1: Arriving in Kyjov 

We travelled to Kyjov from Brno by train. It was a direct train ride of a little more than an hour.

Once settled into our hotel, we took a walk around the town to get a feel for the place. Kyjov is a decidedly non-touristy place with a relaxed atmosphere.

The town dates to the early 1100s and has a population of around 11,000 people. It’s a very walkable town and the local tourist information office can provide you with a map of the town’s sites so you can take your own self-guided tour.

Most things in Kyjov seemed to close between 19:00 and 20:00, so the town won’t give you much of a nightlife. However, with both a train station and a coach bus terminal, it is a regional transportation hub and makes a good base for trips around the area.

As Kyjov is a smaller town and we communicated mostly in Czech, it’s difficult to say how much linguistic flexibility you’ll find there if you don’t speak Czech. You can find information in the tourist information office in a variety of languages and one of the staff members who assisted us spoke quite good English.

Inside the Templar Cellars in Čejkovice.

Day 2: Čejkovice

Our first full day in the region saw us visiting the village of Čejkovice, to the south west of Kyjov.

Čejkovice is most well known as the home of the Templar cellars-Templářské sklepy. While the modern winery today has existed in its current form since 1992, it takes its name from the extensive winery and cellars the Knights Templar built when they were active in the area in the early to mid 1200s.

It’s possible to take a tour of the cellars and sample some wine if you’d like. Regular tours in Czech take place at pre determined times during the day and don’t require a reservation to join in. Tours in English or German can be arranged, but require a reservation.

Some of the vineyards local to Čejkovice.

Another point of interest in Čejkovice is the Czech operations of the Sonnentor herb and spice company. Sonnentor was founded in Austria in 1988 and set up operations in the Czech Republic in 1992.

At the Sonnentor location in Čejkovice you can tour the facility, buy gifts at the well stocked giftshop as well as enjoy a cup of their own tea in their café.

You can also get a good view around the area of Čejkovice from the viewing tower that’s part of the Sonnentor building.

We travelled to Čejkovice by bus from Kyjov. It’s not a direct bus and required a transfer to another bus in the village of Čejč, a bit north of Čejkovice.

As Čejkovice is a small village, a car may be a better way of accessing it depending on where you’re travelling from.

Bicycle tourism is strongly promoted in this area of the country, so that could be another option open to you for accessing the village depending on where you’re travelling from and your level of fitness.

Restaurant and viewing tower at Bukovanský Mlýn.

Day 3: Windmills and Wellness 

We spent the morning of our third day in the village of Bukovany, a bit north of Kyjov.

Bukovany is a small village and home to the Bukovanský mlýn (Bukovany mill) hotel and viewing tower.

The viewing tower is modelled after a historic windmill. Inside, you will find a gift shop and a small museum. From the viewing deck at the top, you can see a good distance in all directions. The weather wasn’t great when we visited, but the hotel’s website claims that you can see for more than 100 kilometres on a clear day.

While we didn’t stay to have lunch at the retaurant there, their website says they specialise in traditional cuisine from the Slovácko region.

We travelled to Bukovany by direct bus from Kyjov. The bus trip is less than half an hour, but there is an extra 10 to 15 minutes of walking from the bus stop to the mill.

Tubs of hops infused water just waiting to be enjoyed.

The afternoon of our third day was spent enjoying our hotel’s wellness facilities.

Our hotel was Kyjvoský pivovar; a hotel, microbrewery and wellness centre all in one. Their beer spa is the heart of their wellness services and we spent about an hour soaking in tubs of hops infused water and enjoying a pint of the hotel’s own beer straight from a tap between the lovely wooden tubs.

Among its benefits, the hops infused water had nerve calming qualities. Given the slow motion train wreck that 2020 has been for most everyone so far, we weren’t going to say no to a bit of nerve calming.

We relaxed a bit on our hotel room after that and then enjoyed an early evening walk around Kyjov.

At Milotice chateau in some Baroque threads.

Day 4: Renting Royalty 

Our final day in Kyjovsko included a trip to the Baroque chateau in Milotice, a short bus ride south of Kyjov.

Mainly, we went there to partake in the chateau’s offer to rent historic style clothing and walk around the chateau gardens and grounds.

It was a good bit of fun walking around in late Baroque style clothes for half an hour and looking like we owned the place.

If you wish to visit Milotice and rent historical clothes, you will need to make a reservation for the clothes ahead of time through the chateau website.

Even if walking around in vintage attire isn’t for you, a visit to this chateau should certainly go on your itinerary if you’re at all interested in Baroque or Rococo styles and are travelling to the Kyjovsko area.

Dishes and cups decorated with folk motifs typical to the Kyjovsko and Slovácko regions on display at Bukovanský mlýn.

Paying a Visit and Learning More 

If you are travelling from Brno, Kyjov is not difficult to reach by train. With a respectable selection of accomodation for the town’s size, as well as bus and train stations along with places to rent bicycles, Kyjov is a good place to use as your base if you are visiting the area.

Tourism in Kyjovsko and the larger Slovácko region is very closely tied to the area’s viticultural and folk heritage. The region is full of vineyards and dotted with cellars where you can try wine from many regional wineries.

The folk art, costumes and traditions of Kyjovsko and the wider Slovácko region are some of the most distinctive and recognised in the Czech Republic. Events to showcase these aspects of regional culture are not unusual in the region.

Bicycle tourism is strongly promoted through the region and there are a number of well established and maintained cycling trails. If cycling is a method you’d like to try for seeing the area, I would recommend a good sunscreen and insect repellent specified against ticks as “must have” items for you. Summers can be hot and sunny and tick borne encephalitis is a serious health concern for anyone going into nature or rural areas in this part of Europe.

To take full advantage of the viticultural aspect of the area, planning your trip for late summer or early autumn might be best. September is traditionally the time of wine festivals across the South Moravian wine growing regions and is a good opportunity to try the wine and see a lot of regional folk traditions in action at the same time.

This link will take you to the official website of Kyjov. There you will find a lot of information about what you can do in Kyjov and the surrounding area:

Official Kyjov website