LuxeGetaways Magazine – Fall/Winter 2017 | Brno (sounds like “BIR-no”) is the Czech Republic’s second-largest city. Although Prague gets all the attention, this second-largest city has everything it needs to be the country’s next go-to destination.
My introduction to Brno took place at the city’s new tourist center, which was celebrating its own arrival with a little welcome get-together of folks in the local tourist industry. Expecting an event that included plenty of speeches and wine in little plastic cups, I was greeted with a craft cocktail on the center’s sunny rooftop and DJs pumping out chill tunes. I knew, at that moment, I was going to like — check that, love — Brno.
Located in South Moravia, and surrounded by vineyards, Brno has some typical tourist-ready attractions — the Old Town Hall originally dates back to 1240; the Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul dominates the skyline at night; the Brno City Museum that was founded in the 14th-century Špilberk Castle; and the grisly yet fascinating Ossuary of St. James’ Church (with its more than 50,000 skulls of plague- and cholera-infected victims). However, it is the locally known hidden hotspots and less visited enclaves that best define this fresh city of 400,000.
Architecture: Functionalism, Modernism and More
As you walk through the center of the city, there are plenty of buildings from the 17th- and 18th-centuries (even prior to these dates too), but look closer, and inside these buildings you will find spaces that have been repurposed and reborn to suit a modern ethos, a telltale sign of the nature of Brno’s people.
Barceló Brno Palace (Šilingrovo námestí 2/265) is a perfect example of the “old is wonderfully new again” aesthetic. On the site of the city’s old pig market, the hotel is in the city’s former Municipal Court. Today, it houses 119 posh rooms and suites, a good modern Czech restaurant, a fitness center and salon, and one of the hippest lobby bars you will find in the city. With the lavish lobby soaring upwards, Alice in Wonderland chairs that hide you from public view, and LED lighting that reflects off of the white surroundings – this chic lobby can be light and bright, or shadowy and sexy.
A good breakfast is also part of the attractiveness here, as it is the most important meal of the day, after all. You will be ready to nosh after having a good night’s sleep in what is one of the most stylish and well-designed rooms that I have experienced. Tip: if you can, book room 315 for the two stone balconies that look out over the city from the comfortable digs.
But not everything is centuries old in Brno. The city had a resurgence of building design in the early 20th-century, and it is one of the leading centers of functionalist architecture in Europe today. A philosophy that states that a structure should be designed based on its practical use may seem obvious, but in a time when historical revival was rife, the idea that “form follows function” was not nearly the norm.
The most visited functionalist building in Brno is Villa Tugendhat, built by Mies van der Rohe in 1930. Open to the public only since 2016, and listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, this is the home that has made the Moravian metropolis a favorite of fans of the modernist movement. Elegant in its simplicity, it sits on (and within) the green landscape surrounding it, with views extending out to the city beyond. If you love modern architecture, it is not to be missed, and ticket reservations should be made well in advance of a visit.
Villa Tugendhat (Černopolní 45) is not located in the city center. However, it can be reached by taxi or a longer stroll through tree-lined streets. Tip: You must have a tour reservation to visit, which are made by emailing them at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Aside from this functionalist beauty, what most people do not know is that the entire neighborhood around Villa Tugendhat is a dream for lovers of modernism. In the Černá Pole district (when translated means “black field”) you will find classic examples of functionalist houses, flats, and other First Republic buildings. In particular, check out Café Era (Zemědělská 1686/30) for good coffee to go with the good design.
Brno is a city of students, scholars and scientists. There are 34 colleges and seven universities in Brno, and no, this is not a typo. It means that a quarter of the population goes to school in their city. The rest, it seems, are in the tech industry – AT&T, IBM and Honeywell all have major operations here.
With this many young, creative and cosmopolitan types in a city, having good and strong brew available is a must. I took the responsibility wholeheartedly, and began finding the best coffee in the city, and I now have plenty to recommend.
Housed in a building from 1659, Café Mitte (Panská 362/11) is the sort of place that a visitor might walk past without noticing unless they were staying at the adjoining hostel, but that would be a mistake. This wee café is dark and cozy, with doors that open out to the street. Locals wait in line to grab a cup of espresso with tonic water, which is a big deal in Brno right now; and then mill about chatting or reading at one of the few café tables.
Skog Urban Hub (Dominikánské náměstí 187/5) is the exact opposite of Café Mitte. Brno’s largest coffeehouse has a definite Scandic slant to its design, with rustic wooden floors and tables, iron fittings, white-painted brick walls, and a cool crowd. This café roasts its own coffee in the lighter “Nordic” style to perfectly suit its surroundings. And, as evening arrives, patrons start to shift from coffee to cocktails.
Trust the owners of two of Brno’s most unique bars — Super Panda Circus and the Bar That Does Not Exist — to open the most unlikely of coffee houses: one without espresso and espresso beverages. Forget about getting a cappuccino, 4pokoje (Vachova 45/6) means ‘Four Rooms’ and only serves filtered coffee. But good filtered coffee.
The café has the feel of a more traditional European coffeehouse with its red brick walls and parquet floors, but the fuchsia pink accents have you realize that traditional, it is not. With a bevy of bartenders working at the company’s other two lounges, coffee is treated as the base for both alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks here. Nine different menus of food and drink take the coffee lover in all of us from morning to night — for all 22 hours that the café is open.
As the Days Turns Into Night
So, you have seen the sights while on your coffee high, but now it is time for a bite to eat and nightcap. This is when having insider intel is key: some of Brno’s best nightspots do not even have signs to indicate when you have arrived at your target.
To fill your tummy before hitting the bars, any one of these tasty restaurants will fill the bill nicely.
Restaurant Borgo Agnese (Kopečná 43) is one of those rare and impressive restaurants with a sophisticated interior, an abundance of bow-tied and friendly waiters, and excellent food that is truly cooked to order. The restaurant states in its menu that if you do not see a dish (or type of preparation) that you would like to enjoy, simply ask the staff, and they will do their best to accommodate your request. The chef will even make an appearance if deemed necessary. And so, I did.
My waiter simply asked me what I was in the mood for and I told him. The results were perfection. It began with a luscious creamy potato soup that was drizzled with cool bleu cheese foam that was ever so slightly sweet, and then sprinkled with a hint of sour green apple and an earthy walnut paste. It was a great beginning. I moved on to have a perfectly seasoned, local beef tenderloin, as recommended by the waiter that was served with a green peppercorn sauce and a pappardelle side dish that I requested the chef prepare how he/she thought it should be served when paired with the beef. Chef chose to lightly bathe it in olive oil, and then sauté it with scallions and garlic confit. It was truly scrumptious.
Grab a table here for either lunch or dinner. The restaurant is open daily from noon.
Palazzo Restaurant (Biskupská2) is at the Barceló Brno Palace, and is a small restaurant serving modern Czech cuisine with a Mediterranean slant in an elegant, but contemporary space. Think warmed goat cheese with grilled vegetables, and then seasoned with chili and delicate hibiscus to add fruitiness; and braised beef that is served with a sour cream sauce, dumplings and cranberries that is so rich that there is a chocolatey hint that pairs nicely with a Czech cabernet sauvignon (98% of the country’s wine comes from just south of Brno).
The restaurant is only open daily for dinner between 7 pm and 11 pm.
For an atypical Italian trattoria-style menu, I suggest that you try Retro Consistorium (Mečová 4). Stone walls, café chairs, solid wooden tables and wine barrels raise the bar of authenticity when it comes to this stylish restaurant. Menu items such as tuna crudo with arugula and homemade mayo; trout en papillote served alongside olives, capers and lemon; and simple panna cotta for dessert all grace the menu, along with a mostly Italian wine list.
Retro Consistorium is open daily for lunch and dinner.
One of the most popular nightlife spots with locals is the oddly named Super Panda Circus (Šilingrovo náměstí 3). It is surreal. It is disconcerting. It is theater. It is crazy cool. There is no name above the door, so you need to keep track of where you are before ringing the doorbell and waiting to be allowed inside by a costumed resident of this dreamlike world. Upstairs, patrons sit in tiered rows where the focus is on the barkeeps. There is no cocktail menu; you are asked to choose a character — when I was there the “story” consisted of archetypes: a spaceship representing the explorer, a Superman figurine representing the hero, a happy face signifying the jester, and a rubber ducky is the caregiver. Then choose light or dark, and the mixologist concocts the cocktail that corresponds to the character. Prepare to be delighted (and slightly confused!).
Super Panda Circus is open Monday to Saturday from 6 pm – do not forget the address, or you will never find it.
For something completely different, the Petit Cru Wine Bar (Údolní 1) is the perfect destination to try some local Czech wine. Operated by the charming and affable owner, Janko Martinkovič, this stylish, warm bar has a steady stream of tastings and events, and if you happen by when there is a tasting taking place, you are welcome to join in the fun if they can fit you in.
With 500 wines available and about 50 open at any one time, the choice can be daunting, but each member of the staff is a trained sommelier. They can tell you everything there is to know about Moravian wine, or any wine really, while you are sipping on a glass or two. Small plates on offer ensure that you’re sober enough to keep tasting, and enjoying.
Petit Cru is open daily from 3 pm.
Know Before You Go
How to get there: Several North American airlines fly into Prague. Some European carriers can then take you on to Brno. I flew into Prague and stayed for a few days before taking the Czech Republic’s RegioJet intercity bus service. RegioJet buses are ridiculously inexpensive — tickets from Prague to Brno are EUR 5,10 — with services similar to short haul flights, such as a snack menu and in-seat TV (in Czech).
What kind of cash is king in Brno: The Czech Republic uses Euros, and credit cards are widely accepted.
Get acquainted with the city: Local tour company, Holiday Moments, is tapped into the culinary, architectural and nightlife scene in Brno. Tours are offered at great prices.
To get insider knowledge on the hottest coffee cafés in Brno, visit European Coffee Trip, a local company that is spreading its coffee love across Europe.
I need to know more: The Brno Tourist Information Centre has great info both on their website or in person at Radnická 2.
- Czech Tourism http://luxegetaways.info/czech-tourism
- Brno Tourism http://luxegetaways.info/brno-tourism
- Barceló Brno Palace http://luxegetaways.info/brno-palace-hotel
- Villa Tugendhat http://luxegetaways.info/tugendhat
- Café Era http://luxegetaways.info/era-cafe
- Café Mitte http://luxegetaways.info/cafe-mitte
- Skog Urban Hub http://luxegetaways.info/skog
- 4pokoje http://luxegetaways.info/4pokoje
- Restaurant Borgo Agnese http://luxegetaways.info/borgo-agnese
- Palazzo Restaurant http://luxegetaways.info/palazzo-brno
- Retro Consistorium http://luxegetaways.info/retro-consistorium
- Super Panda Circus http://luxegetaways.info/super-panda-circus
- Petit Cru Wine Bar http://luxegetaways.info/petit-cru
- RegioJet http://luxegetaways.info/regiojet
- Holiday Moments http://luxegetaways.info/holiday-moments
- European Coffee Trip http://luxegetaways.info/european-coffee-trip