Monday, January 4, 2010

Beautiful Towns #1 - Štramberk, Czech Republic

There are many fine small towns to see in the Czech Republic, but most of them have been well and truly discovered - Český Krumlov is now an essential stop for almost every visitor to the country, and the one place visitors usually see outside Prague. Other fine examples of small-town architecture include Telč in south Moravia, with a postcard-perfect town square, Loket (near Karlovy Vary) with hilly cobbled streets and a castle surrounded by a sharp river bend, and Mikulov (south of Brno) a pretty town to spend a day or two in to check out the wine industry (try the local white wines). However, these places have also begun to see foreign visitors and even tourgroups, so I would like to mention a town with heaps of charm which is still completely off the foreign tourist radar (lots of Czech tourists make the trip though). Štramberk, near Nový Jičín in north Moravia, is as memorable a place as any you can find in the Czech Republic. It's the sort of place you'll want to settle into for a relaxed day or two to soak up the vibe, as the town is especially atmospheric to walk around in the early morning or after sunset. It has the finest examples of traditional Vlach wooden architecture in Moravia with its array of tidy wooden cottages that spread across a hillside, and a tall red castle tower sticks out from the trees lining the crest above them. A pastel-painted square of bright buildings with curvaceous facades sits at the centre of it all, where locals sell the town's unique specialty, a sweet pastry called Štramberk ears. According to legend, the 'ears' are so named because they resemble the shape of the ears of captured soldiers from the Tatar raids. The best view of the town can be had from a hilltop in the direction of the train station when walking from the old square; a marked path leads off to the right and up through the forest. Standing at the top you'll see what I mean - the view of the town is so perfect you'll find yourself photographing it from every angle. Part of the way up the trail through the forest is a cave where bones of prehistoric humans have been found. There are many fine pensions and homestays along the main street heading to the train station, and in the back lanes of wooden cottages surrounding the square. Several restaurants serving Czech and Moravian specialties can be found around the main square. For backpackers, it is possible to make a day trip from Olomouc, which involves a train connection through Nový Jičín. The Poet's Corner Hostel in Olomouc is without doubt the best place to stay in that wonderful city.

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