In the Czech Republic, visitors tend to confine themselves to Prague, only making day trips perhaps to the World Heritage city of Český Krumlov or the medieval Bohemian town of Kutná Hora. But there is much more to see in this South Carolina-size country, so I decided to stay at hotels in two of the Czech Republic’s other major cities: Brno, the second largest, and Karlovy Vary, a picturesque spa town also known (in German) as Karlsbad.
Rather than drive about two hours to Brno, we opted to take a three-hour train ride southeast from Prague, passing through relatively flat Bohemia to the rolling hills and rocky bluffs of Moravia. The industrial suburbs of Brno make for a poor initial impression, but the old center and its immediate surrounds are beautiful and unspoiled. Much of old Brno has been pedestrianized, making it a great pleasure to explore the city of 400,000 on foot. Like Prague, Brno has retained much of its prewar architecture, and sharp gothic spires spear the sky. The city was also an important center of the functionalist movement, exemplified by Villa Tugendhat, a Mies van der Rohe masterpiece of residential design on the outskirts of the center (reserve tickets six months in advance). Nowadays, university students give Brno a youthful energy. And the city has a surprising wealth of excellent restaurants, in addition to notable cocktail bars and brewpubs. Best of all, Brno has yet to make it onto the tourism circuit, allowing visitors to enjoy its attractions without battling the crowds.
Grandezza Hotel Luxury Palace
We checked into the Grandezza Hotel Luxury Palace, housed in a former bank building facing the Cabbage Market, one of Brno’s oldest and grandest squares. This 73-room property has a striking Secessionist-style décor, influenced by early 20th-century Vienna and more specifically the Austrian painter Gustav Klimt. A Klimt-inspired mosaic decorates the wall above the front desk, which forms the centerpiece of an atrium lobby with wood wainscoting, a broad stained-glass skylight and some original Secessionist antiques. The Grandezza Restaurant continues the theme, with its glass pendant lights, warm paneling and chairs upholstered in a Klimt-style design.