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Czech Republic Travel & Holiday Tips
 
 
 

A historic jewel hidden away at the heart of Europe, the Czech Republic packs a lot of punch for such a small country. No bigger than Scotland or South Carolina, it’s crammed with fairytale castles, medieval towns, elegant spa resorts and scenic national parks. And on top of all that, it’s the birthplace of the world’s finest beer.

Part of Czechoslovakia until the ’Velvet Divorce’ of 1993, the Czech Republic encompasses the ancient lands of Bohemia and Moravia, and boasts a rich cultural heritage represented by the likes of classical composer Antonin Dvorak and writer Franz Kafka.

Almost everyone who visits the Czech Republic goes to Prague, with its imposing castle, great museums and galleries, jazz clubs and concerts and other attractions. Many day trips are possible from here, including the spa resort of Karlovy Vary, the historic towns of Mělník and Kutná Hora, and castles like Karlštejn and Konopiště.

But the rest of the country has just as much to offer the independent traveller, with no fewer than 11 UNESCO World Heritage sites including the picture-postcard town of Český Krumlov, the chateaux and landscaped gardens of Lednice-Valtice, and the Renaissance architecture of Telč.

Among the most beautiful scenic areas are the Šumava National Park in the southwest, which takes in the forested mountains and lakes around the headwaters of the Vltava River, the wierd and wonderful rock pinnacles and gorges of the Adršpach-Teplice Rocks in the northeast, and the spectacular caves and underground rivers of the Moravian Karst in the southeast.

The rich agricultural area of Moravia in the eastern half of the country offers rolling ranges of wooded hills, vineyards, folk art and yet more castles. Here wine is more popular than beer – a speciality of Bohemia – and life moves at an even more relaxed pace.

Prague

Picturesquely sited on the banks of the Vltava (Moldau) River, Prague has always played an important part in the history of Europe. It is noted for magnificent Gothic, Baroque, Romanesque, Belle Epoque/Art Nouveau and Cubist architecture, as well as its cultural scene of elegance. Since the fall of Communism, Prague has rapidly regained its cafe culture and is again very much the ‘Paris of the East’. The city’s historical centre, never bombed in World War II, is a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site. Key places to visit are the Hradcany complex of Prazsky hrad (Prague Castle), including Palace rooms like the Vladislavsky sál (Vladislav Hall) which was once used by Bohemian knights for jousting, the Katedrála sv Víta (St Vitus Cathedral) and the Basilica of sv Jirí (St George Basilica). Views over the Vltava, spanned by many bridges, including the famous medieval Karluv most (Charles Bridge), contribute to Prague’s reputation as a ‘fairytale city’. The Lesser Town (Mala Strana) beneath the castle is a quarter of winding, narrow streets with palaces from the 17th and 18th centuries and small artisan houses. The Old Town (Stare Mesto) across the Charles Bridge includes important tourist sites like the Old Town Hall (Staromestska radnice) with its astronomical clock, the Gothic Tyn Church behind the square and the Jewish Town with its old cemetery and six synagogues. The area around Vaclavske namesti (Wenceslas Square) is the principal shopping area of the city. To the south is Vysehrad with its Slavin Cemetery honouring the intellectuals and artists, and its Cubist villas.

Near to Prague is a grim reminder of the horrors of World War II – the site of the ‘show’ concentration camp at Terezin, which is now a museum. Also in the area are the castles of Karlstejn, Krivoklat and Konopiste. Near Karlstejn is the Cesky kras (Bohemian Karst), a region of limestone caves, of which Konepruské jeskyne is open to the public. The historic silver mining town of Kutna Hora with the dominating Gothic cathedral of sv Barbora (St Barbara) is another UNESCO Cultural Heritage Site. North of Prague, at the confluence of the Vltava and the Labe rivers, is Melník, with its Zamek (Castle), built by the Lobkowitz family; this area is now returning to its former role as an important wine-making region.

Bohemia

Heavy industrialisation in Northern Bohemia has taken its toll and many of the forests suffer greatly from the effects of acid rain. A start to correcting this situation has been made but it will be many years before significant results are shown. However, the north remains a popular destination with Czech and German tourists. Much of the area’s interest lies in the sandstone ‘rock-cities’ (spectacular mini-canyons and steep bluffs of volcanic rocks in a densely forested area) of the Cesky Svycarsko (Bohemian Switzerland) especially around Tisa, the Cesky raj (Bohemian paradise) between Turnov and Jicin and the area around Broumov. The Krkonoše (Giant) Mountains National Park of northeast Bohemia offers superb scenery, excellent hiking and many downhill and cross-country ski and snowboarding facilities; Spindleruv Mlyn, on the banks of River Labe, is the most visited mountain town in the park.

Southwest of Prague, Plzen, the second-largest city in Bohemia, boasts eclectic architecture from the Gothic to Art Nouveau, interesting museums and galleries like the Brewery Museum and the Západoceské Galérie (one of the best art galleries outside Prague), and the world-famous Pilsner beer to which the town has given its name; beer had been brewed since the town’s foundation in 1295 but it was only in 1842 that the Pilsner style was established. Guided tours of the Plzensky Prazdroj brewery are available.


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