The main attraction of Kromeriz, however, is a collection of a different kind: the area’s 17th-century bishop, Karl II von Liechtenstein-Kastelkorn, had assembled an entire museum’s worth of great oil paintings in his own palace.
I climbed the massive stone staircase to the chateau’s third floor, passing statues of allegorical figures nestled in alcoves. In the room dedicated to the big-headed portraits of the Gothic era, the standouts were famous works like Lucas Cranach the Elder’s “The Beheading of John the Baptist” and ghostly, nearly life-size diptych portraits of St. Catherine and St. Barbara. But beyond the well-known names — like Titian, whose “Flaying of Marsyas” has pride of place in the main viewing room — I found that many of the most interesting paintings were from lesser-known artists. Jan van Kessel’s “Still Life With Lemon,” for instance, practically came alive in the corner of the room dedicated to Dutch and Flemish artists, revealing hidden caterpillars and other insect life that hardly seemed to be still at all.
Many towns have a mix of Itlianate Renaissance architecture combined with timbered buildings, columns, etc.
In Mikulov, Hotel Templ (Husova 50; 420-519-323-095; templ.cz) has charming guest rooms in a beautifully restored building in the former Jewish quarter. Doubles start at 1,650 Czech koruna per night (about $94 at 17.5 koruna to the dollar).
Overlooking a lake between Lednice and Valtice, within walking distance of several follies, a former Liechtenstein chateau has been turned into the Hranicni Zamecek (Hlohovec 16; 420-519-354-354; hranicnizamecek.cz). Guest rooms, in a separate, newer building that is more motel-like than majestic, start at 1,500 koruna for a double.
In Kromeriz, go to the Cerny Orel, or Black Eagle (Velke namesti 24; 420-573-332-769; cerny-orel.eu), a combination hotel and microbrewery with some of the best meals and nicest beers in all of Moravia — as well as newly decorated rooms. Doubles start at 1,300 koruna.
As I learned later, that idea could be extended to other aspects of the town, including its population. Mikulov, I knew, had been a center of Jewish culture for centuries, the home of the great Rabbi Judah Loew ben Bezalel — more commonly associated with Prague and the golem he allegedly created there — for more than 20 years in the 16th century. Climbing one of the hills I’d seen from the castle balcony to see the Jewish cemetery, I stopped to pay a nominal fee at a small museum. There, I saw a picture of Adolf Hitler visiting Mikulov in October 1938, after the Munich agreement had ceded parts of Czechoslovakia to German rule. He was surrounded by smiling children and saluting adults, with hundreds of swastika flags and a German-language banner declaring eternal support for the Führer and the Reich.
I turned to a grandmotherly museum guide and said I had no idea there were so many German speakers in Mikulov before the war.
“Everyone,” she said drily. She beckoned to another employee, not yet out of her teens, who, in Oxford-accented English, explained that Mikulov had been a German-speaking city in Czechoslovakia before the war. A good part of that population had been Jewish, and many of them had been murdered by the Nazis. After the war, the remaining German-speaking population had been expelled, and the region had been repopulated by Czechs.