When I think Czech Republic, I think Prague. I did spend a couple of days in Kralupy once but that hardly qualifies as having seen the Czech countryside. Last weekend, I was in Valtice – a gorgeous Baroque town of about 4000 permanent residents and another 4000 cyclists [slight exaggeration for effect] who pass through on the weekends cycling the well-pedalled path between there and Lednice.
Valtice lies in the South Moravian region about 265 km south-east of Prague. Its claim to fame, in the history books, is as the seat of princes of Liechtenstein in the eighteenth century. The castle is connected to the neighbouring manor of Lednice by a 7km avenue lined with lime trees. Alas, when the Habsburg empire collapsed, the princes lost their seats and when the Communists arrived, the castle was confiscated. Oh to have the power and take what you will – Like it? Want it? Seize it. Wonder how long it would take for the novelty to wear off?
It is a beautiful building and life here must have been nothing short of perfect. But to have it all and then to have it all taken from you – that has to hurt. To have been born into such riches and then lose them has to be difficult. It’s a little ironic to think that while our royals are thin on the ground these days, some of our monied nobels have of late found themselves in similar circumstances – having had it all and then lost it. I wonder what it is like to downsize from a multi-million-dollar home in the hills to a semi-detached in suburbia.
The Town Hall, like many of its kind, is quite a wonder. Built in Neo-renaissance style, it dates from 1887. Such a small town and yet such an imposing building. I’ve seen a lot of this in Hungary, too. Massive, ornate, impressive buildings built to house the town’s ruling class, symbols of power and wealth and perhaps, respect. Laughable that, when I think of the amount of respect I have for today’s rulers. Not enough to house them in a matchbox. How the tide has turned.
The town square is home to one of the first Plague Columns built in Moravia. It dates back to 1680 and was built in thanks for the ending of the plague. The Virgin Mary (seen as the vanquisher of evil) stands atop, and on the bottom are four cardinal statues. I did have a fleeting thought as to what a modern-day equivalent would look like, were we to manage to banish the plagues afflicting our society – anti-Semitism, nationalism, racism…
The town centre of Valtice has been declared a national heritage site and has as its focal point, the parish church of the Annunciation of Mary which dates back to the seventeenth century. The lobby (if one can call it that) was open and then the entrance gated so you could see in but not get in. Another sad reflection of our times. Churches, once the refuge of sinners and sanctuaries for those in search of solitude and divine inspiration are now locked up and seen only through gridded gates. Perhaps if they divested themselves of their riches and once again became simple places of worship, there would be no need to lock them up.
Suitably chastened by my reflections, I went in search of libation. This region is famous for its wines. And finding no-one in the wineshop who could speak English, I stood back and watched a local stock up for a party. Then I mimed my way through ‘Could I have one of everything he bought?’ and went away happy with my six bottles of vino just waiting to be discovered. Forget the ashtrays and the miniature plates – wine is the best souvenir you can bring home.