Before going there, I knew Brno only for hosting the MotoGP Grand Prix. If you are not into motor sports, you probably haven’t heard of it.
Yet while planning my trip through Central Europe, looking on the map, I found that Brno is exactly halfway between Vienna and Prague. After a quick Internet search, I decided the city made for a perfect stopover between the two—turns out, I was right.
Second in size only to Prague, Brno is the administrative centre of the historical region of Moravia, which makes up the eastern part of the Czech Republic. (Or should I say Czechia, after the recent name change?) Moravia’s major city owes much of its vibrancy to the sizeable student population, being one of the country’s main academic cities.
As in most university towns, there is a strong coffee culture here, with a wide offer of classy and alternative coffee shops. They take coffee very seriously around here, and most baristas are real connoisseurs of espressos, cappuccinos and lattes.
But you should know that a cup of coffee seldom comes alone in Central Europe. To be honest, I’m no big fan of coffee—I normally sip a cup of espresso in the morning at most—but if that’s an excuse to eat delicious, homemade cakes and to settle into a comfortable chair while watching the world going by, I’m up for it any time.
The food in Brno is great as well, and, being a less touristy place, it is a lot cheaper than in Prague. The restaurants offer international cuisine as well, but when I travel I always like to try traditional food. I sampled roasted pork, halušky (soft cooked dumplings) and pies with cottage cheese and jam.
While the Czech Republic is known for its beer, and Moravia is no exception, the region is also renowned for its fine wine production. Unfortunately, I did not have enough time to visit any winery or cellar in the region, so I had to content myself with a few glasses of wine in restaurants and bars. In fact, the wine and beer are so good and inexpensive that I wondered if people ever drink water when eating out—because I certainly didn’t!
Of course, fine food and beverages are not the only reason to visit Brno. The old town is a jewel filled with splendid architecture, most of it dating back to the 19th century, when Brno flourished as part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Not by chance, Brno’s architecture reminded me that of other cities I have visited in Central Europe, such as Novi Sad and Sarajevo.
Strolling around the charming pebbled streets and squares of the historical centre, now and then crossed by rumbling tramways, you see everywhere fine buildings and churches such as the Old Town Hall, the Church of St. James and the Capuchin Monastery.
Brno’s most iconic religious building, however, is the 14th-century gothic Cathedral of St. Peter and Paul, built atop Petrov hill. The building struck me for both its bulk and elaborate decorations; from its bell tower, for a small fee, I could enjoy a stunning view of the old town.
The other major landmark is Špilberk Castle, towering the city from the top of a hill. I reached the fortress on foot since I couldn’t figure out how to get there by public transport, but I didn’t mind, for it was a pleasant walk: the slopes of the hill are not very steep, and completely submerged by a lush park. The structure of the castle itself is not that impressive, yet it’s the perfect place to surround yourself with some good, healthy solitude while soaking in the magnificent vistas over the vast carpet of red pitched roofs, dotted by the slender belfries of Brno.
The visit to the castle had a special meaning to me, too, as from 1822 in the dungeons of this fortress were imprisoned and killed many Italian patriots who were fighting for the independence of Italy.
Looking back, I wished I had at least one more day to spend in Brno. I didn’t get to see the countryside of Moravia, which I have heard is beautiful. Really, though, that isn’t such a pity, for it means I will have to visit again. I look forward to it.