The town of Stramberk is one which any visitor to the Beskydy mountains should visit. More correctly, it lies in the foothills of the Beskydys and is a perfect place to stop off at on your way.
The town is built on a hill dominated by a castle tower known locally as Truba (The Tube) and features wonderful examples of folk architecture comprised of log-walled and shingle-roofed buildings as well as an 18th Century baroque town square.
Nearby are the Sipka Caves, which are not very remarkable to non-geologists, except perhaps, for the fact that in 1880 a neanderthal girl’s jaw-bone was found there. This proves that tourists have been visiting here since the Dawn of Humanity.
Stramberk – A Town With… Ears?
Stramberk next entered the history books when the Tartars swarmed West in the 13th Century. Legend has it that in 1241, they were encamped at the foot of the hill. With them were a lot of dead local Christians. The surviving local Christians were up on top of the hill, huddled in the darkness and wondering how not to join their brethren below. The Tartars were amusing themselves by cutting off the ears of the corpses, which they salted and send back to their Khan to prove what a bunch of murderous thugs they all were.
Meantime, the Lord, moving in mysterious ways, caused a dirty big rainstorm on the night before the Ascension Of Christ which filled up the pond that the Christians maintained at the top of this hill. The Christians, with the cunning born of persecution, dug through the dykes and inundated the attackers below.
In the morning, whilst engaged in a little victorious looting of the enemy’s bodies, they came across the bags of human ears. Christians: One, Tartars: Nil!
To celebrate this glorious triumph over the forces of evil, the annual town fair is held on Ascension Day. The business with the ears is commemorated by Stramberk’s famous delicacy, Stramberk Ears (Štramberské uši).
Like Champagne, Gorgonzola and Stornoway Black Pudding, Stramberk Ears are protected by the EU – meaning that a product can only be made in the place whose name it bears. Although they are now sold all over the country, if they’re not actually made in Stramberk, they have to be called Mock Stramberk Ears, or something.
They are basically a cone of gingerbread flavoured with star anis and cloves, although the exact recipe varies from family to family and is a closely guarded secret. They should be firm but not brittle when you eat them, so they need to be fresh. The further you are from Stramberk when you eat them, the less likely they are to be at their best!
Stramberk – A Town With Beers!
No visit is complete without paying a visit to the Town Brewery, either. Mestsky Pivovar has been producing beer for over 150 years. The first records of beer being brewed in the town go back a little further – to 1359, in fact.
Their regular offerings are a live 11° beer called Truba, after the castle tower and a 14° special called Ušák (something like ‘Ear Beer’), named after the incident with the marauding Tartars. Like most micro-breweries over here, they produce limited runs of other beers from time to time, so every visit can bring you new joys!
The Town Brewery also boasts a fine selection of local traditional cuisine as well. Apart from Ears, there are fine soups and a bewildering number of ways of preparing pork to choose from.
If drinking beer is not your thing, why not try bathing in it? That’s right, a beer bath! It’s not actually the finished product that you bath in, but the combination of hot water, hops and grist is very relaxing and many regular bathers say it’s good for the skin as well as the soul.
As you walk up the hill from the fine baroque town square, you enter narrower cobbled streets lined with quaint log-built homes. This ‘Wallachian’ style is characteristic of folk architecture in the Beskydy mountains although here it differs in that the logs are rounded rather than squared-off as they generally are.
People live here all year round, so during the summer you may see bright displays of flowers in the gardens. In the winter, warm, cosy light spills from the windows as you make your way up to the castle and the almost inevitable pub which graces the summit of any self-respecting Czech hill.
The castle has a museum and you can climb to the top of the tower for a panoramic view of the surrounding countryside. The pub at the top also provides jolly good food but I have to say that after the beers from the Town Brewery, even the mighty Pilsener Urquell tasted thin and watery!
All in all, Stramberk is a delight for visitors. There’s a warm welcome to be found in all of the hotels and pubs, food and drink to tempt anyone and some quirky little bits of history which you won’t find anywhere else but here!