Other than the pope, I don’t generally think of members of the clergy living in splendor. But from the 1500s through the 1800s, many European bishops lived like kings.
After spending time in Bratislava and heading north through Slovakia, we lunched in Trenčin at the foot of Trenčin Castle, which dates to the Roman Empire. We crossed the border into the Czech Republic and had a lovely drive through small villages and farms, where trees were covered with ripe apples and fire-colored leaves that signaled the arrival of autumn.
We were headed to Kroměříž to see the bishop’s palace and botanical gardens. The first residence on the site was commissioned by Bishop Stanislas Thurzo in 1497, and the present estate was constructed in 1666. It’s now open to the public as a UNESCO world heritage site.
The village surrounding the palace is ringed with buildings the color of French macarons – shades of strawberry pink, golden yellow, pale lavender, and pistachio green – that house cafes, shops, and boutique hotels. But while there are accommodations for tourists, the square seemed to be filled mostly with locals this Friday evening, including dozens of small children playing games and making crafts as part of a summer festival.
Also part of the festivities was a temporary art installation depicting skeletons carousing in underground catacombs, pirate style. Standing in just the right spot, the painting appeared three-dimensional. In fact, a placard explained that it would seem 70 percent 3D to the naked eye and fully 3D in photos.
The bishop’s palace is a large yellow-and-white striped structure that sits on one corner of the square. A grand portico at the rear overlooks the gardens, and as we rounded the corner, we discovered that the bishop wasn’t the only one strutting his stuff.
Half a dozen adult peacocks and more than a dozen babies live among the gardens, swaggering around the manicured lawns and drinking from the bubbling fountains as they bark at children who dare to get too close.
There’s also a small zoo that houses other birds as well as monkeys, deer, and goats, along with something that appeared to be a mausoleum for pets past.
After viewing the gardens, we walked back toward the town square and came across a cathedral that positively glowed in the sunset.
Already on the trip we’d seen a number of magnificent churches of all kinds, many of which had lines of people waiting to pay their entrance fees for a glimpse. But this small chapel sat quiet and empty, holding nothing but beauty.
We found a café with outdoor tables and watched the families enjoying the festival as night fell, with the honk of peacocks and the ghosts of bishops in the background.