Dominated by a castle at the confluence of the Vltava and Elbe rivers, Mělník – built on a rocky outcrop midcentre of the country’s wine region – draws tourists to its grape harvest and September festival: three days of music, theatre, and convivial quaffing around Vincenc Makovsý’s fountain sculpture in the town square.
The fruit of the vine is Mělník’s passion and much revolves around the intoxicating grape. Ubiquitous bars offer tastings every April, August, and November, while the locals stage outdoor battle recreations with wine, women, and medieval knights throughout the year – an oddball adventure but entertaining nonetheless.
Mělník offers good restaurants but much gets lost in translation and my own meagre smattering of Czech was not up to the czallenge.
Among the items on the menu of the Restaurace U SV.Va’clava, where we dined one evening, was “Angus Aberdeen meat with a greasy eye” and “steak tartar with six pieces of toast”.
I fancied the tartare but without the gluten. Using Google translate on my phone, I typed out: “steak tartar with no toast please” showing the waitress the interpretation. Baffled, she squinted at my phone and asked: “Please? No cheers with your tooth decay?” Just stick to the menu, hissed my husband. “I’ll eat the toast.” Fine!
We rented an apartment behind the church tower where cobbled streets offered a forested park in one direction and the town square in another.
The best way to explore is to start from the Tourist Information Centre in Legionaru Street, which is also the entrance to a maze of underground tunnels, cellars – and a 14th century stone wall. When the town was under threat, citizens would hide here. Stroll around the gothic villa to the viewpoint of the Central Bohemian Uplands, then amble up to Mělník’s chateau.
Framed both sides by vineyards, Mělník is a lavish Baroque affair with wine cellars and a restaurant. The crypt in its ornate St Peter and Paul’s Church tower contains the bones of 15 000 people – Bohemian royalty and plague victims from the 1520s.
Seeing many shaped into anchors, crosses, or hearts, I reflect on Hamlet’s words to Horatio as he holds Yorick’s skull aloft: Now get you to my lady’s chamber and tell her, let her paint an inch thick, to this favour she must come. Make her laugh at that.
Caroline Hurry flew to Czech Republic courtesy of British Airways