32km (20 miles) N of Prague
Bohemia isn't known as a winemaking region -- this is beer country. Except, that is, for the town of Melník, where the Vltava and Labe (Elbe) rivers meet. While it's not quite the Loire Valley, Melník has a decidedly French bent, as the vineyards are stocked with vines that originated in the Burgundy region.
Princess Ludmila began the tradition centuries before Bohemia passed through the hands of the Romans and eventually King Charles IV. The center of Melník winemaking is the Renaissance Lobkowicz Château, owned since 1739 by the family of the same name (except for a 40-year Communist-imposed interruption). The confluence of the rivers provides a stunning backdrop to the château, where another French pastime -- sitting on a terrace with a glass of Ludmila, Melník's finest, as the afternoon sun slowly fades -- can be an art.
If you get a chance to visit in mid-September, check out the harvest festival, Melnické Vinobraní (www.melnicke-vinobrani.cz), for the latest vintages. Even if wine isn't your cup of, well, wine, Melník's historic center is worth a look, with its Gothic church of St. Peter and St. Paul and its tower that provides a beautiful panorama of the area.
Getting There -- If you're driving from the north end of Prague, follow Hwy. 9, which leads straight into Melník. The trip takes 30 minutes.
Buses leave for Melník from above the Nádrazí Holesovice metro station in Prague every hour or so. The trip takes about 40 minutes and costs 39Kc.
It's also possible to take a boat to Melník down the Vltava river. The Prazská paroplavební company runs occasional all-day boat trips during the summer from the company's dock on the Vltava at Rasínovo nábrezí, Prague 1, just in front of the Dancing Building. This romantic and scenic tour takes about 6 hours (one-way); a round-trip ticket costs 490Kc adults, 250Kc students. Find out more on www.paroplavba.cz.
Visitor Information -- The information center is at námestí Míru 11 (tel. 315-627-503; www.melnik.cz), and is open from May to September daily 9am to 5pm, October to April Monday to Friday 9am to 5pm.
Touring the Château & Tasting the Wine
Melník's main attraction is the Renaissance Lobkowicz Château (tel. 315-622-121; www.lobkowicz-melnik.cz). The château is a mélange of styles, from its Renaissance balconies and sgrafitti (decoration made by cutting away parts of a surface layer -- like plaster or clay -- to expose a different-colored layer beneath) to its Gothic touches and baroque southern building. The tour showcases the Lobkowicz's fine taste; in the living quarters, you'll see a barrage of baroque furniture and 17th- and 18th-century paintings. A second tour lets you into the 13th-century wine cellar, where wine tastings regularly occur.
Admission to the château is 90Kc for adults and 70Kc for students, free for children under 12. The wine cellar tour is 40Kc, and wine tastings run from 90Kc for two wines to as much as 350Kc for VIP treatment. The château is open daily from 10am to 5pm.
Where to Dine
The château has a decent restaurant, Zámecká Restaurace (tel. 315-622-121), with stunning views out over the valley. The menu is organized as a series of price fixe meals running from 250Kc to 300Kc, including soup, dessert, and coffee. The restaurant is open Tuesday to Sunday from 11am to 6pm.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.