A tantalizing mix of history, culture, and natural beauty await in the Vysočina region of the Czech Republic.
The rolling hills of Vysočina, which means highlands in Czech, are dotted with forests and ponds; peppered with charming towns and verdant fields of grass and wheat. The region epitomizes the essence of the word idyllic.
Scattered into the rustic and rolling landscape of Vysočina lay relics of the past. Countless castles, churches, walled towns, and towers have withstood the tests of time, serving as constant reminder of centuries long gone. Much of Vysočina’s past is either preserved or restored, and stands proudly on display amid the trappings of modern society.
Vysočina is home to three UNESCO Heritage Sites. From the historic and tragic Jewish Quarter in Třebíč to the sprawling old town center of Telč, these Heritage Sites are a time capsules into various points of the past.
All of this, and more, is a mere 90 minute car ride (or two hour bus ride) from Prague. Vysočina’s proximity to the capital make it an ideal area to explore for travelers and visitors who want to experience more of the Czech Republic than just its most famous city. And unlike a few more popular areas of the country, Vysočina is still relatively undiscovered by international tourists. Thus, the region offers travelers a chance of intimate exploration, and a mostly crowd-free experience.
The best way to explore the the history and beauty of the region is to chart a course combing three destinations. The cities of Telč, Třebíč, and Žďár all make excellent day trips from Prague, and can be melded into an epic road trip if you rent a car and plan your day out efficiently.
There aren’t very many place in the world where you can visit three UNESCO World Heritage sites in one day, so you should probably (definitely) take advantage of that while you are visiting the country. We, of course, recommend you spend as much time as you can in each location, but if all you have is a single day in your itinerary to explore the region, do it anyway.
The UNESCO Heritage Sites of Vysočina
Uniquely colorful and historically quaint, Telč is an absolute gem. In fact, after spending a couple of days exploring it, we decided it might be our second favorite town in the Czech Republic.
Surrounded on all sides by small lakes and fish ponds, Telč’s old town center, known as Zachariáš of Hradec Square, has been uniquely preserved over the course of the last eight centuries. The charming square is lined with Renaissance and Baroque buildings whose colorful facades add a vibrant streak to the stately architecture.
The rest of the Old Town is similarly attractive, and seemingly every cobblestone street leads to an alluring view. Walking around the tree lined outskirts of the town is highly recommended, both as a meditative exercise and as a way to get some sweet views (and incredibly photos!).
Telč Old Town Square – Zachariáš of Hradec Square
Telč’s old town center is one of the best preserved and authentic squares we’ve seen in the Czech Republic. Stepping into the elongated space is like stepping back in time. The Renaissance and Baroque buildings, each with their own long and storied history, enclose the square as if to protect it from the changes of time. Which is why UNESCO declared the entire square a World Heritage site in 1992.
Each building in the square is unique and interesting but three buildings in particular are worth taking a closer look. The Town Hall, the unmissable green house with sgraffito decorations, and the black and white sgraffito adorned Baker’s Home (seen above) should all be given some extra attention.
In addition to wonderfully restored buildings the square also contains three stunning works of art in the form of two fountains and a plague column.
The lower fountain contains a statue of Saint Margaret, the town’s patron saint, which was built in the 17th century and originally brought fresh water from one of the nearby ponds to the townspeople. The second fountain, from 1827, contains a statue of the Greek mythological figure Silenos holding Dionysus, the god of wine.
A Marian Column, or plague column, stands high in the upper half of the square. Adorned with saints, angels, and the Virgin Mary the column was erected to commemorate the end of a vicious plague which ravaged the region in the early 18th century.
Church of Saint Jakub
A few steps from the main square stands the Church of Saint Jakub, a Gothic place of worship that dates back to the 14th century.
The church tower has an observation point, which we highly recommend visiting. Anyone who climbs the 145 stone and wooden stairs up the church’s bell tower will be rewarded with a spectacular view of the town square, surrounding ponds, and the stunning countryside horizon.
Also dating to the 14th century, Telč chateau was originally a Gothic castle that has transformed over time. Today visitors can enjoy various stunning Renaissance halls and their lavishly painted wooden panel ceilings depicting various historic and mythical stories.
The Chateau grounds also contain the ornately decorated Chapel of All Saints and the Telč Museum, a branch of the Museum of the Highlands.
Where to Stay in Telč
Žďár nad Sázavou
Žďár nad Sázavou is a tiny city of no more than 26,000 people. It has a definite small town feel and possess a certain air of antiquity. Žďár is surrounded on all fronts by the gorgeous countryside of Vysočina, making it a great base for hiking and biking trips in the summer, and some light skiing in the winter. Visit in late Spring for lush greenery or in the fall for vibrant colors and moody skies,
You can check out Žďár on a day trip for its UNESCO Heritage Site, or use it as a base to explore the countryside in depth for a couple of days. In either case Žďár should be high on your list of places to see while visiting the Czech Republic.
Church of the Pilgrimage of St. John of Nepomuk on Green Hill
The Church of the Pilgrimage of St. John is Žďár’s main attraction, with good reason. Once you lay eyes on this highly unique building you’ll have no trouble understanding why it was added to the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites.
The church was the final masterpiece of the great Bohemian architect Jan Santini Aichel. It was devoted to Saint John of Nepomuk, who was drowned at the order of King Wenceslaus because he would not divulge certain confessional secrets. Supposedly upon Nepomuk’s death, five stars appeared above his head. With these five stars in mind, and the number three to signify the Holy Trinity, Santini formed the design and decor of the church.
These numbers shaped the very layout of the church and resulted a highly unusual, albeit, beautiful structure. A sculpture of the tongue of St. John is even used to adorn the ceiling of the church!
Way back in the 13th century Cistercian monks settled the land where Chateau Žďár proudly stands today. The chateau has transformed into its current glorious state over the centuries, a far cry from its modest and humble beginnings as a wooden log cabin.
Over time, the property has changed hands from church, to state, and finally to the hands of the Kinský family who inherited it in 1930.
The gorgeous grounds of the Chateau contains several buildings which were part of the Cistercian monastery, a grand courtyard, the Baroque Gothic Church of the Assumption of the Virgin, a soaring tower, and the New Generation Museum.
New Generation Museum
Located on the grounds of Chateau, lies the New Generation Museum, showcasing eight centuries of Žďár History from the Middle Ages to the Baroque period.
Don’t let the word “museum” fool you though. The New Generation Museum feels more like an interactive art space than a typically dry and one dimensional collection of historical artifacts.
Visitors are taken on a journey through the space by two hosts, a young girl and a man, via audio guide. They tell the tales of the exhibits on display, including those dedicated to the Cistercian order of monks, the dark middle ages, and the Baroque period. It’s a truly fascinating experience that tantalizes visitors audio and visual sense.
Old Town Žďár
Unfortunately not much of Old Town Žďár has survived the ravages of time so visiting it on your own may feel like an underwhelming experience. We strongly suggest hiring a guide knowledgeable of the history of the town and the region to get the most out of your visit. We happily recommend Lenka Šimo, a passionate, pleasant, and well-informed local historian who will share the secrets of the Old Town with you! She can be reached by email to book your private tour of the city.
Other things to see in Žďár:
- Relaxacní Centrum: A sports center with a swimming pool, relaxation centre, holiday resort.
- Modelové Království: Model trains and rail yards
Where to Stay in Žďár
For a rustic experience, step back in time and spend the night in one of the tower rooms at the Žďár Chateau. The furnishings within the tower rooms are disappointingly modern, which takes away from the feeling of sleeping in an ancient building, but we’d say an overnight experience is still worth the relatively small price.
Note: as you can imagine the tower does not have an elevator so guests should be fit enough to ascend the narrow stairwell that leads to the rooms. Click here for reviews, more info, or to book your stay.
Small and rather industrial, Třebíč doesn’t seem like the most exciting place to visit at first glance. However there is more to this city than meets the eye.
Třebíč is home to two impressive UNESCO Wold Heritage Sites. The Jewish Quarter and Saint Procopius’ Basilica both harken way back to the 13th century, and represent an interesting juxtaposition of two religions that existed side by side for hundreds of years.
In addition to the two UNESCO sites, Třebíč is also home to a sprawling old town square, a fantastic brewery, and a fascinating museum, making it an excellent destination to visit as a day trip from Prague.
St Procopius’ Basilica in Třebíč
The monastery church of St Precopius’ Basilica is unquestionably one of the most impressive 13th Century structures in Central Europe, and is a must visit site in Třebíč. UNESCO obviously agrees, and named the basilica a Heritage site in 2003.
The imposing structure had humble beginnings, and morphed over time in a big way. The original wooden monastery church has given way to its current state as an extraordinarily impressive baroque style basilica. The structure is adorned with ornate Romanesque and Neo-Gothic style rose windows, decorated archways, fresco painted walls, and saintly carvings and sculptures throughout.
The entirety of the Basilica is impressive in size and ambiance. There is a storied feel to the church that transcends religion. We’ve explored many a church in our time traveling around Europe and this one felt a bit different to both of us.
Additionally, the Basilica is home to an underground crypt that was originally a resting place for monks. As time went by, their virtuous remains were relocated to make space for fermenting beer and the storage of other goods. Currently the space is free of both bodies and beer, and is used for events and art exhibitions.
Třebíč Jewish Quarter
The Třebíč’s Jewish Quarter is one of the best preserved in all of Europe. Its winding cobblestone streets guide you on a journey through time as you explore this former Jewish Ghetto.
The first known Jewish merchants settled in the land near St Procopius’ Basilica as far back as the 1300s. Eventually (and quite tragically) the area was converted into a ghetto when Christian inhabitants were instructed to sell their property to Jews and vacate in the 18th century.
Today, the area remains remarkably well preserved despite the fact that not a single Jewish descendant from the original ghetto remains in the quarter. The entire small district functions as a museum of sorts, and offers an interesting, if at times troubling, look into how the Jewish people of Europe lived at one point in time.
We highly recommend visiting the Old Synagogue, New Synagogue, and the Rabbi’s House (which the oldest house in the quarter). If you are like us and find cemeteries to be fascinating, you’re in luck. The Jewish Cemetery in Třebíč is the largest in the Czech Republic outside of Prague, and should not be missed when exploring this UNESCO World Heritage site.
St Martin’s Church Tower Třebíč
Great views of Třebíč and its surrounding landscape can be had from the top of the observation deck of St. Martin’s tower. Who doesn’t like a good view, right?
Fun little fact: the clock in this tower is one of the largest in Europe.
Pivovar Dalešice (pivovar means brewery in Czech, by the way) is a 600 year old brewery made famous in the 1980s by the prominent Czech film Postřižiny. The brewery, which ceased beer production for 25 years, received a much needed makeover 15 years ago and began producing delicious Czech beer once again.
To say that Pivovar Dalešice brews beer is a bit of an understatement. In fact, after a very thorough and entertaining tour of the brewery and firsthand glimpse at how their beer is produced, we happily came to the conclusion that Pivovar Dalešice treats beer making as an art form. Their love of the craft is well reflected by the quality of the final product.
Dalešice produces some of the best beer in the Czech Republic that we’ve been fortunate enough to sample. High praise indeed, as we have sampled a LOT of beer during our months in the Czech Republic.
In addition to the brewery, there is also a fantastic on-site restaurant and a lovely little hotel at Pivovar Dalešice. We highly recommend taking the time to visit this fine brewery while in Třebíč to sample a traditional Czech dinner, tour the brewing facilities, and to try as many of their fine beers as you can!
Eco-technological Centre Alternator Třebíč
Touted as a museum for children, the delightful Eco-technological Centre Alternator is suitable for ALL ages. Curious mind will be rewarded with the museum’s 100 scientific and technological exhibits, and its devotion to providing visitors with interactive and fun lessons on energy sources, science, and technology.
The center is great place to spend a rainy afternoon with your family in Třebíč. The only caveat? You will need a translator, as the museum only caters to Czech language speakers at the time of writing.
Jan Kubis House
If you’re fanatical about WWII history a trip to the Jan Kubis House to learn about one of the Czech Republic’s most noted war heros may be worthwhile. Be forewarned, however, all information posted is in Czech without English translation.
Where to Stay in Třebíč
Have you ever spent the night in a brewery? No? You can’t call yourself a true lover of beer until you do, and the brewery of Dalesice is a perfect spot for an intimate beer experience.
Other highly rated hotels in Třebíč to consider:
Other Notable Places to Visit in Vysočina
Jihlava is a capital of the Vysočina Region and home to the Jihlava International Documentary Film Festival. It’s a lovely town worth a visit for a few hours, especially for film buffs during the festival.
Not technically in Vysočina, Pernštejn Castle lies just on the other side of the border in Moravia. The Gothic castle, which is nearly eight centuries old, is something straight out of a storybook. We can totally see it as the setting of a Tim Burton movie.
The caretaker of the castle is a cankerous bridge-troll of a man, and not particularly pleasant, but he adds to the overall ambiance of “cool evil castle”. You might have to arrange your own transportation, but the castle is worth a visit for history buffs, and lovers of castles or fantasy novels.
Our Final Thoughts on Vysočina
Vysočina is an absolutely stunning region of the Czech Republic full of interesting and unusual history and sites. My favorite moments during the trip were spent viewing Telč’s Town Square from St Jakub’s Church Tower and experiencing the truly interactive and fascinating New Generation Museum in Žďár. I was also pleasantly surprised by how accommodating the staff at most restaurants were of my vegan diet! It was a true delight exploring this region!
Well, we knew that there was FAR more to the Czech Republic than what most foreign tourists get to see, but every time we visit a new region in this country we’re mildly surprised. Vysočina was no exception. It’s undulating countryside was a feast for the eyes during the height of Autumn (another great reason to travel in “off-season”) and its towns were fascinating. Definitely a must visit region for anyone who wants to explore the Czech Republic.
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