In many ways Mikulov is the quintessential Moravian town, with pastel pink-and-yellow buildings and green rolling hills. For centuries it was one of the most important towns in the region—the seat of the Liechtenstein family in the late Middle Ages and then later the home to the powerful Dietrichstein family. The castle's size and splendor demonstrate Mikulov's onetime crucial position astride the traditional border between
Moravia and Austria.
But Mikulov began an extended decline in the 19th century, when the main railroad line from Vienna bypassed the town in favor of Břeclav. Historically, Mikulov was the center of Moravia's Jewish community, growing to a population of several thousand at one point, but many Jews left to seek out life in bigger cities. The 20th century was especially cruel to Mikulov. The Nazis Aryanized many of the industries and deported remaining Jews. After the war, many local industries—including the all-important wineries—were nationalized. Mikulov stagnated as a lonely outpost at the edge of the Iron Curtain.
Recent years have seen a slow revival. Much of the wine industry is back in private hands, and standards have been raised, thanks in part to EU wine regulations. Day-trippers from Austria have spurred development of a nascent tourist industry. And after many decades of decline, the old Jewish Quarter is getting overdue attention. Although the Jewish community is still tiny—numbering just a handful of people—work is under way to try to preserve some of the remaining houses in the quarter. You can tour the quarter, where many of the houses are now marked with plaques explaining their significance. The Jewish cemetery is one of the largest in Central Europe, and a must-see if you're passing through.
Grape-harvesting time in October provides an ideal moment to visit and enjoy the local pastoral delights. Head for one of the many private sklípeks (wine cellars) built into the hills surrounding the town. If you visit in early September, try to hit Mikulov's renowned wine-harvest festival that kicks off the season with traditional music, folk dancing, and much guzzling of local Riesling.