Not to be confused with the diminutive Bulgarian town of the same name, Melnik sits at the meeting point of the Elbe and Vltava rivers in historical Central Bohemia, just over 20 miles north of Prague. Take a river cruise down the Elbe in the direction of the Czech Republic's capital and you’ll find yourself passing the town, which is known locally as the Town of Wine. The wide green countryside around the town has always been home to vineyards, and every September, Melnik comes alive with street theatre, fireworks and a costumed procession during the traditional Melnik wine festival. Originally a fortress built by the Psovan tribe in the 800s, Melnik stands in an area that saw the first beginnings of the Czechoslovakian people. Over the ages the town developed distinctive landmarks that still stand today: Melnik Chateau, which was once home to the widow queens of Bohemia; and the distinctive Church of St Peter and St Paul. The historic town centre deservedly received a European grant and has since benefitted from 18 months of reconstruction work whichmake it an even more enjoyable place to explore.
Melnik Chateau is a great example of Renaissance architecture, a white-walled complex with extensive wine cellars built beneath, in the lower levels. Inside the chateau are a concert hall, dining room and the great hall. Among the chateau’s bedrooms is the room of Prince George Christian Lobkowicz – a keen driver who died in 1926 while racing his Bugatti Type 54 on Berlin’s AVUS circuit. The chateau was once taken over by the communist party, but its ownership has since been returned to the Lobkowicz family, who allow it to bring pleasure to thousands of vistors each year.
Close to the chateau is the Gothic Church of St Peter and St Paul, which was built in the 10th and 11th centuries and enjoys a commanding cliff-top location. It makes for a satisfying place to explore, with towering Gothic arches, stained glass windows and even a bone-walled crypt beneath its floors. Also nearby and Gothic in design is the Villa Karola, a stately building which is painted a bright, pale yellow and which houses the town library. Some of the town’s popular restaurants include the Nocni bar Dira and Na Hradbach, a stone and wood eatery serving traditional Czech cuisine.
In a place with a colloqual name like The Town of Wine, there are certainly no prizes for guessing which beverage you should sample if you have a little time in the town. If you are indeed a wine-lover, then be sure to visit in September during the wine festival.