Want to go on a European wine-country ramble, biking or driving between vineyards and villages and sampling wines and the sights along the way? If you can't afford to shell out for a trip to a traditional wine region like Provence or Tuscany, consider a vacation to the Czech Republic's little-known Moravia region. There you can stay in friendly inns for as little as $60 a night and sample as many of the area's prized white and ice wines as you like, for about the same price as a single bottle of ho-hum Napa Chardonnay.
Located to the south of Bohemia (where Prague is), Moravia is a more traditional, rural part of the Czech Republic, that is well set up for inn-to-inn touring. "There's a great deal to see if you're driving or biking," says Tim Leffel, author of The World's Cheapest Destinations, who went on a cycling tour through Moravia last fall. "Some people have compared Moravia to the wine districts of France, with its rolling hills covered with vineyards, 300- to 400-year-old architecture, and little villages with the traditional town square and colorful houses. It hasn't been gentrified the way other wine regions in Europe have been (although it's starting), so it's a lot cheaper."
You could easily spend a week hopping from one town to the next, visiting boutique wineries, castles, monasteries, and other sites. "One fantastic place to visit is the National Wine Centre, which is in the cellar of a castle in this beautiful town called Valtice," says Leffel. "For less than $25 you can try any of the 100 best wines in the country. Most people have never heard of these brands, but they are surprisingly good."
Other area highlights include the towns of Telc and Znojmo. Telc has one of Europe's few unreconstructed 16th-century town centers, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and Znojmo is home to one of region's largest wineries, Znovin Znojmo, which offers tastings and tours of its cellars and vineyards.
Trip planning:Moravia has a well-maintained biking and walking network, which is part of the extensive Prague-Vienna Greenway. "Most of the routes are either on bike trails or on country roads without much traffic. Many of the hotels, restaurants, and wineries are biker-friendly and have signs indicating they have places to lock up your bike," says Leffel. The Friends of Czech Greenways website publishes detailed maps and biking guides of Moravia, which make it easy to plan an itinerary and arrange for bike rentals or tours. You can book a pre-arranged tour (starting at 1,090 euros for eight days), but Leffel says it's cheaper and not all that difficult to do a self-guided tour through an established bike rental company.
Most Moravia accommodations are cheap, simple, family-run establishments. Leffel recommends the Hotel Drnholec, an inn and pub housed in a 18th-century manor house that's run by a British-Czech couple and located in a small town by the same name near Mikulov. "At around $60 a night for a room and breakfast, it's a great deal," says Leffel. He also likes the B&B Hotel Templ in Mikulov (near Znojmo), which starts at about $80 per night. In Telc, try the Hotel Telc, the town's highest-rated hotel on TripAdvisor, where nightly rates for doubles start at 45 euros.