Sunday, 31 May 2015

Vysočina Region - Czech Republic, May 2015

Town square - Jihlava on a rainy May morning
 The recent trip I made to the Czech Republic was as a member of a group of CAMRA members and friends from the Maidstone area. There were 13 of us in total; nearly all male but with a couple of wives who appreciated that this trip was not just about beer and pubs. I speak for all when I say we wanted to see beyond the tourist destination that is Prague and to experience a slice of local Czech life, scenery and culture.

What follows is a brief synopsis of the trip. I had planned to post this article on my other bog site; Paul’s Beer Travels, but as I post stuff rather infrequently on that site, and it consequently gets only a few viewings, I thought it would be better here, on the main blog site.

Ježek Brewery Restaurant, Jihlava
We based ourselves in the town of Jihlava; a city with a population of around 50,000 persons which is the capital of the Vysočina Region, on the Jihlava river, right on the historical border between Moravia and Bohemia. It is the oldest mining town in the Czech Republic. Up until the end of World War II Jihlava was the second largest German-speaking enclave in the republic of Czechoslovakia. The Germans had originally settled in the area during the Middle Ages; attracted by the opportunities afforded by the local silver mines, and they called the town Iglau, which is derived from the German word for hedgehog.

However, at the end of the war, and following the Beneš decrees, most German speakers were expelled due to their alleged support for the Nazi occupation of the country. The town was repopulated with Czech and Moravian settlers favoured by the new Communist regime. The influence of the former inhabitants’ lives on, as we discovered, for the second language of most of Jihlava’s citizens is German, rather than English but fortunately there were quite a few amongst our group, myself included, who could speak sufficient German to get by. The absence of our native tongue indicated that visitors to this area from the UK are comparatively rare, and I don’t recall hearing a single English, or for that matter American, voice whilst we were there.
Urban Brewery - Třebíč

The town is constructed on a hill, and the remains of the old town walls can clearly be seen in places. Lying beneath Jihlava is an extensive network of underground passages and tunnels, extending for a total of 25 km and occupying an area of some 50, 000 m². Although they are believed to have been excavated during the 14th and 15th Centuries by the silver miners, they are not located in silver-bearing rock. They are believed to have been constructed for a mixture of storage and defensive purposes.

With its good road and rail connections, Jihlava served as a good base for exploring this south-central region of the Czech Republic, and we travelled quite extensively during our three and a half day stay in the town. On our first evening in the town we made the hour and three-quarter long bus trip to Třebíč, which is the second largest town in the region. Here we visited the Podklášterní Pivovar, brew-pub, although from what I saw and have subsequently read, Třebíč itself appears to be a town which is well worth visiting.

Local train
The second day (Wednesday) saw us travelling, again by bus, to the nearby town of Humpolec; home to the Bernard Brewery, where we had a pre-booked tour arranged. That evening we were supposed to have visited the Jelínkova Vila & Malostránský brewery; a hotel, brewery and restaurant complex in the town of Velké Meziříčí. Unfortunately, with only 15 minutes to make the connection at Jihlava bus station, things were always going to be tight, and after our bus back from Humpolec became held up in rush hour traffic on the road into Jihlava, this trip just didn’t happen. This was the only hiccup on the entire trip, as all the other public transport arrangements worked well, and whilst an obvious disappointment it was probably just a case of "a brewery too far"!

On Thursday we switched to rail as our mode of transport, making the two hour journey to Slavonice; once an important staging post on the old coach road between Prague and Vienna, but today a town which time seems to have largely passed by. This was our “cultural day”, as after a brief look around this border town, followed by a slightly longer lunch, we re-boarded the train for a visit to the UNESCO World Heritage town of Telč.

Main Square -  Telč
With one of the most beautiful squares in Europe, overlooked by multicoloured houses, a romantic chateau and surrounded by crystal clear fishponds, Telč was originally created as a moated fortress. It has been described as the "most perfect example of the Italian Renaissance north of the Alps". There was far more to do and see here, although our visit was marred slightly by the cold wind blowing through the town. We sought refuge from the unseasonable weather in a couple of pubs, before catching the bus back to Jihlava.

The journey back took us through some of the most pleasing countryside I have seen; with rolling hills, dark forests and stretches of verdant green pasture. Numerous fish ponds dotted the landscape, providing fresh fish for the villages we passed through on the way, as we travelled along winding country roads, lined by blossom-laden apple trees. It seemed a shame when the journey ended and we arrived back in Jihlava!
Typical rural station. Note the stationmaster with his red hat.
It was the train again for our final day in Jihlava, with a lunchtime tour booked of the Chotěboř Brewery, in the town of the same name. Our train from Jihlava dropped us at the important rail junction of Havlíčkův Brod; a town we would return to later in the day. From there we caught a rather crowded local train to the small town of Chotěboř.

We returned to the station, after our trip round the Chotěboř Brewery, for a lunchtime drink, or three, in the substantial, and popular, station restaurant, before catching the train back to Havlíčkův Brod. This town is home to the Rebel Brewery, and our itinerary included a visit to the brewery restaurant, situated in the centre of Havlíčkův Brod.

Havlíčkův Brod
After a substantial meal in the brewery restaurant, and several Rebel beers, we returned to the station for an interesting train ride back to Jihlava. Czech Railways are a bit like journeying back to the days of British Rail. Whilst investment in the rail system is starting to come through, many of the actual trains are either hangovers from a bygone era, or are other railway’s cast-offs. Our train, which was hauled by a massive locomotive, was running 20 minutes late on its journey from Prague. When it arrived we found it was made up of compartment type carriages, of the sort not seen in the UK for many years. They were, however, fondly remembered by members of our party, and we thoroughly enjoyed our journey back to Jihlava, packed tightly into two adjacent compartments.

The above is just a brief synopsis of our trip, and I intend to write in more detail, later on, about some of the places we visited, the pubs and restaurants we found and, of course, the beers we drank.


Jeffrey Bell said...

Please do follow up with more detail! I've been to Telc but apart from that all these places are new to me, despite having toured Bohemia and Moravia quite a bit

Paul Bailey said...

Jeff, I certainly intend following this post up; although it may take me a couple of weeks to sort out all the information I’ve accumulated on the trip/area.

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