George W Bush has done it, but being an American, he's got a reasonable excuse. Former Italian PM Silvio Berlusconi has done it, and he had no excuse. I mean, of course, mix up Slovakia with Slovenia. If you know a bit about the CEE region, you may also have heard of Slavonia. But Slovácko? Surprisingly, at least one European King should know where that is, even if most of the continent's citizens have no idea.
Photo: A young lad enjoys himself amidst a pile of apples at the Veronica Eco-centre in the village of Hostětín, on the fringes of the Czech region of Slovácko. This was the last Apple Day at the centre in Sept, 2019, Covid19 having caused the cancellation of this annual event in the subsequent two years. But it's on again this Sunday.
It was all down to Helena. She had sorted me out when I was in the Czech Republic in 2014. I was there for the Finanncial Times, and needed help to write a profile on the city of Brno. Helena, then in charge of the PR for the development office, arranged an excellent programme that meant I saw the very best of the country's second city. (And hand on heart, I was very impressed.)
Four years later, I found myself in Prague. It was a Saturday morning, and, a little unexpectedly, I had nothing to do but catch the train to Budapest. I knew Helena had left her city job, and was doing something with an ecological project in a village somewhere in the sticks. Should I just drop her a line, I wondered? I fired off an email: would it be convenient to jump off the train and meet up that afternoon?
Probably not, I should have thought about it earlier, but it was worth writing on the off-chance.
I must admit it was a surprise when, within 15 minutes, she replied. It was even a bigger surprise when she said not only was it convenient, but I'd picked the best weekend of the year. Why so? Because it was the eco-village's annual Apple Day tomorrow, and she'd sort out a visit, assuming I had time.
Thus it was that late that evening I found myself in the Veronica Eco-Centre in the tiny village of Hostětín, a place most Czechs have probably never heard of, let alone foreigners. It is way out in the south-eastern corner of the country, on the borders of the local districts known as Slovácko and Valašsko. If you are up to climbing some steep hills, it's more or less within walking distance of the Slovak frontier to boot.
In the centre's main hall, perhaps 60 men, women and children were all busy preparing notices, food and all sorts of paraphernalia for the next day. There was barely a murmur between them, and certainly no shouting or dissonant voices. It was almost a religious experience.
Photo: Ye Olde Traditional Folkie Fool's Games are also available for suitable punters on Apple Day. Some readers may even recognise the happy apple dweller. Photo Astrid Liegis
The Veronica Centre was set up in the 1990s by ecologically minded Czechs, many of whom had opposed the by-then ousted communist government because of that regime's arguably criminally poor environmental record. Veronica was the name of their magazine (I'm not sure why), and the project took on the name.
Since then, a special effort has been made to preserve and enlarge the varieties of fruit trees, chiefly apple and pear, but also plum and cherry, growing in the farm's orchards. (Helena thinks there are something between 30 – 40 species of apple alone, but nobody seems exactly sure.)
Fruit growing is historically important in this area, and the various varieties were needed to ensure the harvest was spread out over time, with fruit best suited for different end products, such as dried, jams and the like. Indeed, one of the first tasks was to renovate the ancient fruit-drying kiln on the farm.
Another early and special effort went into creating an apple-juice plant, which is the centre's prime business unit, buying in apples from the region to process into both juice and the highly valued apple-juice vinegar, which has become in vogue in recent years for its healthy properties.
“This is not just an environmental project, but one of its objectives is social sustainability, to provide jobs for local people. If you can make this place work, with just 240 inhabitants and in the middle of nowhere, then it can work anywhere,” says Helena.
Pride of place in the centre is the so-called Passive House, an energy-saving building which hosts the hall and a dozen or so rooms, including offices and bedrooms for paying guests. (The centre puts a great emphasis on educational seminars.)
As noted above, after missing two years because of Covid19, Hostětín's Apple Day will be celebrated again this Sunday. Among the stalls and tables, plus the regular apple pressing programme, there´s an extra stage with advice and consultation available for energy saving measures to help people reduce their utility bills – so Helena assures me.
The centre's website is here – mostly in Czech only, except for this page https://hostetin.veronica.cz/en/model-projects .
In fact, the Apple Day event does not go out of its way to advertise in English, but not to worry, that makes it all the more authentic. Almost all the Czechs and Slovaks present will happily explain things in English if you ask. (In 2018, I think I was the only foreigner at the event, except for Abdul Karim, a Palestinian-Brit chappie who imports the apple-juice vinegar to London.)
Photo: Take your partners! If you fancy a twirl with a local Ivana on Sunday, the traditional folk band will provide the melody for your time on the floor.
Tickets are 150 CZK (EUR 6) for adults, 60 CZK (EUR 2) for kids and 350 CZK (EUR 14) for families. Families who travel by transport other than a car (bike or train*) will receive a 100 CZK voucher as part of their ticket that can be claimed towards any food and beverages at the event.
* Yes, the village of Hostětín actually has a branch-line railway station, and the Czech Railway website is very user friendly to help you access rail travel. See
Oh, I almost forgot, that King fellah who should know where Slovácko is located?
Photo: Don't worry, it isn't alcoholic, sir! A certain Karel Windsor visited the Veronica Eco-Centre back in 2010, causing quite a stir. In fact, during my first visit in 2018, several people asked if I had been sent by the Palace. Had I said yes, I'd have probably been mobbed, Karel's visit having been the biggest event in the village's history. :)
PS Perhaps I should add, if you are driving there from Budapest, you can cross into the Czech Republic on the old road from Kúty (Slovakia), then turn right. No need then to buy the Czech sticker for about 6 km of motorway.
PPS: Helena has since come back to me. She writes: "There are 20 apple, 10 pear, 4 prune [a prune tree? Plum, I assume :) ], 4 cherry, 2 quince and 2 rowan varieties."
"And then one medlar, one walnut and one sea-buckthorn tree and about 10 different varieties of edible hedges (raspberry, blackberry, blackcurrant, redcurrant, gooseberry, cornelian cherry...). "
So, in truth, there is more than just apples in Slovácko :) (Of course.)
Then Helena added: "Fun fact - there´s one sour cherry tree, too. The variety is Újfehértoi Fürtös."
In case you don't understand, the latter variety is Hungarian.