The Stunning Sgraffito Houses Of Slavonice
We love exploring hidden gems in Europe, and very few we have discovered have been as well hidden as the Czech town of Slavonice. This small country town at the end of the railway line, around a mile from the border with Austria, harbours a secret that should be far more widely known – around ten stunning Renaissance sgraffito houses from the 16th century.
Slavonice , known as Zlabings in German, was an important trading town on the route between Prague and Vienna, and grew rather wealthy off this by the 16th century.
The main trading route eventually bypassed Slavonice, leaving behind the legacy of these astonishingly beautiful merchants’ and burghers’ houses.
At the time of writing, one of the houses serves as a guest house, while most of the others seem to be private residences. We thought it was well worth showing you a photo essay on the Slavonice Renaissance houses, as it’s within an hour of the gorgeous UNESCO World Heritage town of Telč and one of the most amazing – and surprising – places to visit in the Czech Republic.
What Is There To See In Slavonice?
The main things to see in Slavonice are the magnificent Renaissance houses.
Most of them can be found on Horni náměstí, one of the most impressive squares in Europe, and there is also a small house tucked away behind a tree at the opposite end of náměstí Miru.
While in the centre of Slavonice, climb the church tower for a bird’s eye view of the two squares.
What Exactly Is Sgraffito?
Sgraffito is a form of wall decoration that was at its most popular in the 16th century. Layers of stucco or plaster are applied to a wall, then the surface is scratched through, revealing a layer of a different colour.
Black – or dark grey – and white were frequently used in the late Middle Ages.
Examples of sgraffito can be found throughout Europe. One of the best is the superb University building on the Piazza dei Cavalieri in Pisa. Visitors to Old Town Square Prague will have seen another example at the Dum U Minuty, once a residence of author Franz Kafka.
Nearby, in the Prague Hradčany castle district, the magnificent Schwarzenberg Palace is another fine example.
There are also other superb sgraffito buildings in Cesky Krumlov and in the Waldviertel region of Lower Austria, to the south of Slavonice.
The Renaissance Houses In Slavonice
The Slavonice Renaissance houses are unique because of the incredible detail and artistry shown in their facades.
The buildings are covered with intricate artwork, often depicting Biblical narratives, but also historical episodes.
Four of the best sgraffito houses in Slavonice are very close to each other on Horni náměstí.
Number 520 is extremely impressive, and it’s possible to stay in apartments there.
Numbers 517 and 518 are a few metres along the street, opposite the fountain, and number 522, next door to the Besidka Italian restaurant, is also stunning.
There are several other sgraffito buildings around the square, with three (536 to 538) beautifully decorated, but what the current use of these buildings maybe is not immediately apparent.
There’s another lovely old house opposite the Italian restaurant, which appears to be in residential use.
The other jewel of Slavonice is hidden away at the far end of náměstí Miru. Number 453 is exquisite, a small house decorated with some of the finest sgraffito you’ll find anywhere in Europe.
It’s a pity that you can’t get to see inside these buildings, as some have impressive vaults by local master architect Leopold Estreicher.
That said, the facades warrant going well out of your way to see. The Slavonice Renaissance houses were nominated for UNESCO World Heritage Site status back in 2001, but the application was withdrawn by the Czech government in 2006.
They remain on UNESCO’s Tentative List of applications for World Heritage status.
Where Is Slavonice?
Slavonice is in the far south of the Czech Republic, just 2 km north of the border with Austria.
If you’re driving between Prague and Vienna or vice versa, it’s an easy stopover. It’s marginally closer to Vienna than Prague if you’re travelling by car.
Getting To Slavonice
We advocate public transport wherever possible, and Slavonice can be reached at the end of a branch line that ends very close to the Austrian border.
We travelled to Slavonice by train from Prague, a journey which can take close to five hours.
After leaving Prague, you alight at Havličkuv Brod, and usually have around five minutes to cross the platform for the train which runs to Telč and Slavonice.
The train from Havličkuv Brod is an old rattler that ambles through the countryside, taking an eternity to get there.
I don’t often find myself saying it when the train is available, but we should have driven instead.
Either that or take an incredibly weighty, long book with you and make some serious inroads into it instead.
I have always promised myself I would read The Brothers Karamazov a second time, and so wish I had had my copy to hand.
If you’re approaching Slavonice from Austria, driving is the only real option.
The railway was dug up at the end of World War II, and hasn’t been reinstated since the fall of the Iron Curtain.
We stayed at the Hotel Pivoňka on náměstí Miru, the busier of the two main squares in Slavonice.
We paid a reasonable €40 for a family triple with en suite, and the location was ideal, no more than a couple of minutes’ walk from the burghers’ houses.
The best of the other hotels in Slavonice is Hotel U Ruže, also on náměstí Miru, where prices rise to around €60 for a double for the night.
Where To Eat in Slavonice
There aren’t a great many options for restaurants in Slavonice. The most popular place is Mazhauz on náměstí Miru, which serves a mixture of soups, schnitzels and other meat dishes.
The food was fine, the service not so good. We also ate at the Besidka, which serves a mixture of Italian and Czech food. The pizzas were enormous and great value, the pasta not quite so good.
Things To See Near Slavonice
Sleepy Slavonice is very close to the old Iron Curtain, and parts of the border fortifications to the west of the town have been preserved.
We didn’t have time to visit it, but the Slavonice Fortifications Complex looks to be an intriguing Cold War museum, where you get to see some of the bunkers and military paraphernalia.