For a couple of decades in the ninth century the Great Moravian Empire encompassed not only Czech and Slovak lands but also parts of what are now Austria, Hungary and Poland. This agglomeration of territories rapidly disintegrated, and neighbouring Bohemia began to take shape and take priority.
Ever since then Moravia has been the lesser member in an enduring partnership with Bohemia. Yoked together, they fell together under Habsburg suzerainty in 1526, emerged together in 1920 to form (with Slovakia) the new Czechoslovakia, and stayed together in 1993 to form the Czech Republic (shorn of Slovakia).
It may have been politically provincial but it was a prosperous area and quite close to the chief metropolis of Central Europe, Vienna. Its rich architectural and artistic patrimony includes fine Renaissance country houses, outstanding Baroque palaces and churches, bizarre buildings by Jan Santini-Aichel, historic gardens both formal and landscaped, galleries of fine and decorative art, much beautiful streetscape in towns and villages, and rolling landscape.
Moravia gets better every year. Architectural conservation proceeds apace, towns are smartened up, hotels and restaurants are improving, and more and more museums and historic buildings are refurbished and better presented. In spite of these developments Moravia is much less on the tourist track than Bohemia and remains fairly unspoilt.
Zd’ár nad Sázavou, Brno. Fly at c. 9.45am from London Heathrow to Prague (British Airways) and drive south into Moravia. Visit the pilgrimage church at Zd’ár nad Sázavou, a Baroque-Gothic creation by the maverick architect Santini-Aichel and among the most bizarre and fascinating buildings of the 18th century. Continue to Brno where the next five nights are spent.
Brno. The present capital of Moravia, and the second largest Czech city, Brno has a wealth of Gothic and Baroque churches and fine architecture of the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries. A walk includes the mediaeval town hall, the fine Gothic church of St James and the Baroque Minorite church, among other treasures. Villa Tugendhadt is a superb house by modernist architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe.
Slavkov, Kroměříž. Alias Austerlitz, Slavkov gave its name to Napoleon’s 1805 victory against Austro-Russian armies. After surveying the battlefield, visit the imposing Baroque mansion, which contains a fine art collection. The Bishop’s Palace at Kroměříž with magnificent Rococo hall and fine art collection (Titian, van Dyck, Brueghel). The 17th-century walled garden with pavilion and immense colonnade is an astounding survival.
Lednice, Rajhrad. On a vast estate straddling the Austrian border once owned by the Liechtensteins, the richest magnates in the Habsburg Empire, Lednice has a superbly crafted Gothic Revival mansion, magnificent Baroque stables and a landscaped park dotted with architectural follies. Rajhrad monastery was built in the eighteenth century on a vast scale, and has a magnificent church by Santini-Aichel, the genius of Bohemian Baroque.
Olomouc, Bučovice. Olomouc, former capital of Moravia, has many fine churches, a Romanesque episcopal palace and Renaissance town hall. Several magnificently sculpted fountains are spread through a large tract of highly attractive historic townscape, surely the loveliest little city in Europe which is not yet on the tourist trail. Bučovice has a splendid Renaissance mansion with arcaded courtyard and stucco interiors of a quality virtually without equal in northern Europe.
Naměst nad Oslavou, Telč. Dramatically sited above a little town in the valley below, the fabric of the castle at Naměst nad Oslavou dates largely to the later 16th century. There is a large Baroque hall with frescoes by Carpoforo Tencalla, 1670–73. Telč is a tiny town with the loveliest square in the Czech Lands, lined with Renaissance and Baroque façades above a meandering Gothic arcade. First of two nights in Telč.
Vranov nad Dyji, Jaroměřice. Perched high above a gorge close to the Austrian border, the great oval Hall of Ancestors at Vranov is one of the most impressive Baroque creations in Central Europe, the creation of the greatest architect and greatest painter in the region at the time. The splendid mansion at Jaroměřice sprawls irregularly, but contains some wonderful 18th-century interiors and an enormous chapel. Overnight Telč.
Telc. The castle in Telč was extended in stages during the 16th century with a series of halls of brilliant, eccentric decoration around elegant, arcaded courtyards; a jewel of the Northern Renaissance. Some free time before driving to Prague for the return flight to Heathrow, arriving c. 20.55pm.
Participants combining this tour with the A Festival of Music in Prague are taken to their chosen hotel this afternoon. On the final day of the festival return to London Heathrow on option 3 flight, arriving at c. 12.30pm.
Many of the houses on this itinerary require special permission to visit. The order may therefore vary a little from the description above.
Dr Jarl Kremeier
Art historian specialising in 17th- to 19th-century architecture and decorative arts; teaches Art History at the Berlin College of Acting and the Senior Student’s Department of Berlin’s Freie Universität. He studied at the Universities of Würzburg, Berlin and the Courtauld, is a contributor to the Macmillan Dictionary of Art, author of a book on the Würzburg Residenz, and of articles on Continental Baroque architecture and architectural theory.
Price – per person
Two sharing: £2,820 or £2,610 without flights. Single occupancy: £3,060 or £2,850 without flights.
Included: air travel (Euro Traveller) on scheduled British Airways flights (Airbus A320); travel by private coach; accommodation as described below; breakfasts, 4 lunches and 6 dinners with wine; admission charges for all museums and places visited; all tips for waiters, drivers and guides; all airport and state taxes; the services of the lecturer and local guide/interpreter.
Grandezza Hotel, Brno: a newly opened boutique hotel, located in the heart of Brno’s historic centre The Green Market. Hotel U Hraběnky, Telč: the only usable hotel for many miles around, this 4-star hotel is fairly old-fashioned, if adequately equipped.
There is quite a lot of walking on this tour, some of it up slopes or up steps. To be able to enjoy the tour it would be essential to manage daily walking and stair-climbing without any difficulties. There is also a fair amout of driving. Average distance by coach per day: 100 miles.
Between 10 and 22 participants.
Before booking, please refer to the FCO website to ensure you are happy with the travel advice for the destination(s) you are visiting: www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice.
'Interesting mix of history and nature.'
'The lecturer was quite amazing.'
'A very professionally organised and conducted tour. Very enjoyable. I would definitely do another Martin Randall tour.'
'The itinerary presented a balance of old and new, secular and religious sites.'
'The lecturer is a master of his subject, very enthusiastic in his lectures, giving us a dizzying amount of information. He is a very pleasant and approachable, has a sense of humour and was ever patient in dealing with questions.'