Fancy a sporting or cultural holiday? Tempted to discover delights as spectacular as central Europe´s largest cave system? How about the chance to sample Moravian wines and micro-brewed beers a stone´s throw from the vine or hop where they started life? Prostějov, in the heart of the proud Hana region of Moravia, could be just the town to satisfy, even on a budget.
Twenty minutes southwest of Olomouc by train, you can wile away many a happy hour in pretty, historical Prostějov, experiencing the way many Czechs live outside the main cities. Its plentiful amenities also make it an ideal base from which to explore the surrounding region.
A little history and geography
Steeped in folklore, the fertile Hana area spreads across parts of both the south and north Moravian regions. Its people, Hanaci, are known to be laid back. Their un-hurried pace even extends to their very distinct dialect and accent with drawn out syllables and own vocabulary. Although it is close to uplands, Prostejov, in the middle of Hana, is particularly flat and cycle friendly.
Industrious from the very beginning, records of this settlement date back to the 12th century. During this time the city has been home to various forms of commerce from early farmer´s markets, paper and embroidery to well-known clothing manufacturers, iron and steel. Next time you swing round a corner on a tram or train, the track underneath you is likely to have been made right here, the only producers of sliding rails in the country.
Burnt to the ground in 1431 for its pro-Husite stand, the fortunes of the town waxed and waned over the years. Once dubbed the "Jerusalem of Hana" owing to its sizeable Jewish community, today little evidence of that remains, although plans are afoot to commemorate this heritage. The malting and brewing industry has been evolving here since the 15th century and the Pernstejn family had the Renaissance Prostějov castle built in the early 16th century.
The resulting eclectic architectural mix was further influenced by a flurry of building at the turn of the 19th century, adding Art Nouveau to the Renaissance, Baroque and other existing styles enjoyed today by the town´s 50,000 residents.
Things to see and do
A statue of a thoughtful T.G. Masaryk peers across the main square which bears his name. Pleasantly tree-lined and largely pedestrian, the square is the focus of town life and there are plenty of benches on which to recline and admire the New Town Hall. With its 66m high tower and astronomical clock, the New Town hall dominates the park-like square. Built between 1911 and 1914 on the site of ex-military barracks, the hall´s stunning Art Nouveau interiors were decorated with 4.5kg of gold.
Take your questions about the town and surrounding area to the tourist information office next door (Mon - Fri 8:00 - 17:00, 582 329 111, www.mestopv.cz).
The original Renaissance town hall, at number two on the square, is now a museum (www.muzeumpv.cz, open 9.30am-noon, 1pm to 5pm daily except Mondays). It features a permanent exhibition of the history of the area and its people as well as a large clock collection.
Nestled behind the museum is one of the oldest buildings in town, the Gothic and Baroque Church of the Ascension of the Holy Cross.
A short hop away on Pernštýnské náměstí you can wander around Prostějov palace. Rebuilt after the Swedish Army destroyed it during the Thirty Year´s War, its original Renaissance appearance changed again at the start of the 20th century, when painter Jan Kohler decorated the façade with the sgraffito you see today.
Call ahead and a group of ten or more can visit the second-largest distillery in the Czech Republic for an hour´s tour and four-drink tasting for 60 CZK per person. Czech-owned Palírně u Zeleného stromu - Starorežná Prostějov (Green Tree Distillery, www.starorezna.cz, 582 301 311) is off the main drag on Dykova 8, and produces more than 50 varieties of liquor including absinthe and the local hooch, Hanácká Režná.
The town plays host to a number of annual festivals. The largest Czech celebration of ethnic Hana people comes to town at the beginning of each September. Here you can experience local music and a folk craft fair, attended by people in richly embroidered regional costumes. Wolkrův Prostějov is the national poetry festival held each June, named after national treasure, Prostějovite Jiří Wolker, a poet, journalist and playwright who died aged 24. Discodrome arrives in early May, showcasing national and international disco and break-dancing champions.
Designated a WHO healthy city, these industrious locals like to play as hard as they work and you can enjoy most sports here.
· Flat terrain makes cycling easy and with miles of designated cycle-paths you can ride right from the center out into the countryside. In warmer months a network of open air “pubs” spring-up at handy regular intervals along cycle routes so it is never long between chances to stop off for a pivo and freshly grilled mackerel.
· Pay your 40 CZK at the door to catch the hockey team playing at home in the Zimni Stadium (U stadionu 1, www.hkjestrabiprostejov.cz). With zeleno, a peppermint liqueur at 15 CZK a pop, you´ll soon warm up in the icy stadium as you join in some atmospheric cheering with an enthusiastic bunch of locals. Go Hawks!
· Check out the country´s biggest tennis event The Czech Open, held in Prostějov each year (www.czech-open.com).
· Play squash, badminton or bowl at the Bowling Palace (Újezd 4, www.bowlingpalace.cz) complete with restaurant for refueling.
· The town boasts one of the country´s leading basketball teams (www.bkprostejov.cz). Catch them playing live to a home crowd at Sportcentrum - DDM, Olympijská 4.
· The observatory (www.hvezdarnapv.cz) in Kolářovy Gardens is staffed by enthusiasts who for 10 CZK will roll back the roof and let you look at the sun through a special telescope. The park is also laced with in-line skating tracks and borders a fun pond to ice skate on when it freezes.
Roughly 25km from Prostějov, Moravian Karst (Moravsky Kras) is a star attraction not to be missed (www.moravskykras.net). Hundreds of caves honeycomb miles of forest-covered hills to form the most extensive karst (soluble rock landscape) area in central Europe. The most magnificent of the four cave systems open to the public are the Punkva Caves (Punkevní jeskyně). Take a tour of this spectacular underground labyrinth, including a romantic/atmospheric - depending on your travelling companion - underground lagoon boat ride. Also take in the dramatic Machocha Abyss which, at more than 138 meters deep, is the biggest gorge of its kind in central Europe.
Enchanting 14th century Bouzov castle (www.hrad-bouzov.cz) has been used as the setting for many a classic Czech televised fairytale. Squint and you might just catch Rapunzel letting her hair down from a window in one of the red-roofed turrets.
Plumlov is well worth a visit, boasting a dam reservoir for swimming, woods to wander in and a romantically set hilltop palace overlooking the lake with fantastic outdoor rock concerts in summer (www.zamek-plumlov.cz). It makes a nice bike trip from Prostějov - head west out of town following the signs to Moskovice.
Where to eat
Na špalíčku restaurant (Hradebni 25, www.naspalicku.eu) offers inexpensive hearty portions of traditional Czech dishes served up with a generous side of welcome hospitality.
For gastro-pubbing Czech-style, try Na Mánesce (Rostislavova 12, www.maneska.cz). Clean, traditional and stylish without a whiff of pretension, it is well worth the six minute stroll from the main square. A handsome building on a residential street, it offers free wi-fi and serves decent, locally sourced house wine as well as lunch and dinner.
Not visible from the street, go through a yard to reach U Krále Ječmínka (Újezd 4a, www.ukralejecminka.cz), a large, all-wood pub, restaurant and on-site micro-brewery decked-out with bundles of dried hops. Their cherry beer with whole cherries floating in it goes down a treat even with non-beer drinkers. Try the local pungent cheese Tvarůžka in beer batter or take your pick from the extensive menu.
If you just need a pick-me-up, Čajovna Jasmina, (Úprkova 18, www.cajovnajasmina.cz) is one of the most rejuvenating places to take a break, offering regional treats alongside a wide choice of teas from the Far East. Choose to lounge on scatter cushions on the floor or sit at a table all under the restful gaze of a giant golden Buddha.
Cukrárna Florida, nám.T.G.Masaryka 25 and Cukrárna Alda, Svatoplukova 4, have outdoor seating and a large selection of scrumptious ice creams.
For good coffee and cakes or a light snack though, it is better to head to the refined splendor of the theater kavárna inside the Art-Nouveau National House (Vojáčkovo nám. 1, www.narodni-dum.info/kavarna.php).
Night time brings further opportunities to sample the famed Hana hospitality as you join locals in that favorite of national pass-times: drinking.
Your one-stop-shop for dining and drinking is Fiesta (Wolkerova 5, www.fiestapv.cz). A hit-and-miss pizza and pasta place downstairs, the large upstairs bar is stocked with comfy red-pleather sofas, pool tables and a youthful crowd. Busy most nights there´s a good chance you´ll bump into international stars of the town´s very successful basketball team on a night off - you won´t miss them if they´re there.
Don´t let appearances put you off Skorpion (Krátká 2, www.skorpion-pv.ic.cz.) It´s run by two much friendlier-than-they-look music-loving brothers and is a heavy metal bar with heart. Ring the doorbell and descend the narrow stairwell into a hidden gem. Pretty it ain´t, but drinks are cheap and there´s atmosphere a plenty. A back room even has dance space for you to rock-out to the frequent live bands you won´t have heard of.
If you just don´t want the night to end, smoky, non-stop Camel bar (Plumlovská 4126, www.camel-pv.cz) has wide-screen televisions, wi-fi, pool tables and even a bowling lane in addition to plenty of seats.
Two movie theatres; Metro 70, Školní 1 and Kinokavarna Duha, Školní 4, make for a cozy night out with frequent art house films on offer as well as mainstream outpourings. Cinema-going at the kinokavarna is a bit like time-travel in that not much has changed from pre-Velvet Revolution days. Take your refreshments to one of the tables and chairs - no rows here - and as long as at least three of you show up, the pensioners staffing the state-owned joint will roll the film.
Where to stay
Find a place to stay through the local tourist office or try one of the following:
Hotel Gol (U Stadionu 1, tel.: 582 351 422, www.hotelgol.cz) is functional, near the winter stadium and not far from the bus and railway stations. Twin rooms start from 450 CZK a night with shared bathroom.
Hotel Avion (Nám. E. Husserla 15, tel.: 582 344 561, www.avion.prostejov.cz)
is centrally located with basic rooms sleeping two ranging from 700 to 1200 CZK.
You´d be hard pushed to find a more opulent place to lay your head in town than the central Art Nouveau Grand Hotel (Palackého 3, tel: +420 582 332 311, www.grandhotel.cz). A standard double room for two costs 1,700 CZK and a luxury double comes in at 2,200 CZK. Both include breakfast.
Regular trains from Prague´s Hlavní nádraží take just over three hours to Prostějov. Buses take almost four hours. Both require one change in either Olomouc or Brno. Check www.idos.cz for details. Driving from Prague takes about three hours via the D1.
From Prostějov´s adjoining bus and train stations head 700m straight up Svatoplukova Street to reach the main square.
Bouzov Castle near Prostějov
Inside Punkva Cave in Moravian Karst near Prostějov - so-called “Angel” formation
Plumlov Palace, near Prostějov
Plumlov Reservoir, near Prostějov
One of many cycle lanes from Prostějov
Photography by Amelia Nallamilli.