Drinking the marvels of mellow Moravia
Chalkmarks Moravia

PLUM brandy is poised to become the next big discovery.

Served in shot glasses this powerful Czech spirit is still made to the original recipe from the 17th century.

Produced deep in countryside this ancient liquor tastes of its rich history.

It’s not as easy to love as superstar Pilsen, which also dates back to medieval times. But it will keep you warm at night.

You could look at the Czech Republic as the granddaddy of drink. In the west of the country in the city of Plzeň they created the world’s first golden lager in 1842.

Since the Iron Curtain came down Prague has become home to beer lovers with bars and breweries turned tourist attractions for top brands Pilsner Urquell, Budweiser Budvar, and Staropramen.

But I’ve left behind the brew masters of Bohemia and entered mellow Moravia.

When the country was in a joint state known as Czechoslovakia there was a joke that Moravia was the silence in the middle. Not any longer.

Taking its name from the Morava River, this is wine country boasting more than 600 vineyards – some dating back to the third century.

You just got to come and drink it all in. Cheers Moravia!

But still I’m not even here for that. I’ve come off the beaten track to find Slivovitz aka plum brandy.

A few hours by car or train from Prague, the largest city in Moravia is Brno. Yet I’ve come further towards the Slovakian border to a town called Vizovice.

Here I find one of the original makers of this iconic tipple R Jelínek.

Deep in the hilly countryside this grand farm house produces so much liquor, they have called it Distillery Land.

At the entrance there’s an odour of earthy fungus up the nostrils. Time has barely moved on with the hardwood bar area – reminiscent of life way back. It’s dimly lit with two walls filled with shelves of booze.

The guide welcomes us with a smile and a tray of drinks. This is a typical Czech custom – you never have to ask for a drink there’s always one being offered.

I’m surprised though that it doesn’t taste of plums but instead has a hint of almonds apparently because of the stone, which gives it a bitter flavour.

We try a clear Slivovitz which has not been aged and a second honey coloured aged for three years.

Sipping this ancient juice neat felt like it’d turned on the central heating with a kick. This is top shelf spirit is triple distilled, which increases the alcohol.

It’s best drunk at room temperature to bring out the flavour and is never mixed in a cocktail.

Feeling warmed up we then head into the original factory, which has been updated with the state-of-the technology.

  • Moravia is in the east of the Czech Republic and takes its name from the Morava River
  • Kroměříž is a town in Zlin filled fairytale castles, mansions and palaces. It’s easy to see why Unesco placed large swathes of this area on their World Heritage Sites list
  • Plum brandy aka as Slivovitz is a Czech spirit made from damson plums

We breathe in the booze as we’re told the story of this old world concoction which started around the 16th century when farmers produced too many damson plums.

It used to be recommended to drink on an empty stomach as a pick me up first thing in the morning.

But now an artisan drink, it makes the perfect nightcap.

Ever since R Jelínek took over the distillery in 1894 it’s been in peak production. Locals are even invited to bring their own fruit for distillation.

We move into the museum and the whisky exhibition – their brand Gold Cock is the oldest in the country.

Next we see the warehouse, the giant barrels, machinery and the bottling plant.

The tour finishes with another tasting this time of their other brandies, which include pear, apple, cherry, apricot, blueberry and even strawberry.

Whether you have come to this region just for the drink trail, there are still sights to see.

For centuries this corner has accumulated great wealth with fairytale castles, mansions and palaces. It’s easy to see why Unesco placed large swathes of this area on their World Heritage Sites list.

Relatively undiscovered the well-preserved baroque chateau in Kroměříž was once the seat of Olomouc bishops and contains one of the most important collections of paintings in Europe.

Archbishop Karl II von Liechtenstein-Kastelkorn amassed priceless oil paintings by Italian, German and Dutch artists.

And tucked away in the cellars are some of the regions fantastic wines.

The vibe in this market town is quiet with little traffic. The old houses  around the main square have been turned into shops, hotels and cafes.

There’s a mini “train” that takes you on a 10minute journey to the Flower Garden, which was designed in 1665.

It’s a mix of Italian Renaissance and Versailles landscaping with mazes, historical greenhouses, an impressive 240m viewing colonnade plus the original 17th century rabbit hills.

I stayed at the four-star Octárna hotel once a Middle Age monastery. The hotel is hidden down a long cobbled drive with the entrance through a courtyard.

There’s a feeling of entering another world despite the TV and other mod-cons. The traditional rooms are classically designed with heavy dark-wood furniture and striped golden wallpaper and this theme continues into the lobby and restaurant.

As well as fine architecture, a more unusual and modern attraction is shoes – it’s quite possibly their next obsession.

In nearby Zlín lived the Czech Republic’s most famous businessman Thomas Bata. The humble clobber started the Bata shoe empire, which is still an international brand today.

The Museum of Shoemaking houses thousands of artifacts spanning centuries of history across all continents.

There are shoes including ancient sandals and footwear worn by the first Arctic explorers through to clogs and glamorous heels.

You can also visit the former company HQ at Building No. 21 – a 16-floor skyscraper dating from the1930 was one of the first in Europe.

The building was famously fitted with the country’s first lift in 1938, which served as the director’s office.  It’s thought it was added so the bosses could keep an eye on all floors of the factory.

Back in the centre of Kroměříž for the evening, and the only choice is what to drink.

I still love Czech beer so I head to Černý orel on the main square as they have their own brewery. I try the two local beers from the tap – a dark and light – which were as good as their food with dishes such as baked beer cheese, and chicken steak with croquettes.

You just got to come and drink it all in. Cheers Moravia.

Book it

Return flights from Gatwick to Prague with SmartWings

I stayed at Octárna hotel which included breakfast

Tours of Rudolf Jelinek Distillery Land at Vizovice started from £30

Tours of Kroměříž Archbishop Castle cost around £5

Shoemaking Museum in Zlín cost from £4

For more information about the Czech Republic visit www.czechtourism.com.

(October 2015 prices)

Categories
Suggested
Suggested contents and articles.
Suggested Contents
Chalkmarks picture wins The Sunday Times Big Shot competition!
THIS is my favourite shot taken while hiking the seven Rila Lakes in Bulgaria. The landscape was stunning.
Living and teaching in Lima
AFTER backpacking around Peru Natalie Chalk is hooked but finds teaching English in Lima to be full of surprises.
Lisbon’s best kept food secret revealed
TABERNA da Rua Das Flores is a city secret in Lisbon. From the outside, it's unimpressive yet inside the food is extraordinary.