Czeching out Bohemia
There's nothing I like better than getting off the well-trodden tourist trail and finding places that aren't too well known (as yet) to the international visitor.
Monday, 17 September 2012
On a recent trip to the Czech Republic I was able to journey to small towns like Most, Zatec, Plzen and Tabor as well as spend a little time in the capital city, Prague.
It has to be said that the Czech people are creative, and when I discovered that I would be visiting a Coal Mine near Most, I was bemused to say the least. However, my bemusement soon turned to admiration when I saw the scale of the industry on a "Coal Safari" and how the Czech Coal Company has returned the land to the people of the town by creating housing, leisure areas and community spaces. The Coal Safari guided tour, which takes place in a huge 4x4 vehicle, takes you to various parts of the enormous site and it is certainly something different to do on a short break.
Nearby, in the town of Zatec, we saw industry of a different kind. Hops are this town's main produce and the excellent Hop Museum explains the process of hop production and its importance not only to the town, but to the brewing industry in the country.
Not surprisingly, the big name in Czech brewing is about an hour down the road from Zatec. The Pilsner Urquell brand is known throughout the world and if there's one thing you will learn on a trip to the town of Plzen, it is that Pilsner Urquell is the original pilsner style of beer. The brewery tour is well worth a visit. Visitors even get a chance to taste unpasteurised freshly brewed beer in the cellars.
My recent visit coincided with the annual 2-day party Pilsner Fest which featured 4 main stages of music acts and lots of beer on offer. Plzen itself is quite an historic town and well worth a wander.
The Main Square and Cathedral are only 5 minutes walk from the brewery and there's plenty of good restaurants to sample some traditional Czech dishes too. There's a great accommodation choice in Plzen too. I stayed at the Marriott, just beside the brewery. The rooms were very comfortable and the breakfast is great!
The Czech Republic is known for its stunning ornate castles. There are a few that are on every visitors itinerary and a few that haven't really been discovered yet. I visited one, Castle Orlik, which is a fascinating building with some stunning rooms and amazing views over an enormous man-made lake.
My favourite place on the trip was the town of Tabor in Southern Bohemia. It has a stunning town square and I spent an hour late one night savouring the view from the terrace of a bar. The town hall and church are beautifully lit and it provides for a stunning scene. The Hotel Nautilus is on the town square too. Each room as been designed individually and it has a very traditional feel. As with everywhere outside Prague, visitors from the UK & Ireland will find excellent value for money and the Nautilus offers fantastic accommodation for very little outlay.
The city of Prague is, obviously, the centre of the tourism industry. The Old Town Square is a tourist magnet and the 14th Century Astronomical Clock attracts a crowd almost every hour of the day. There are many ways to see the city and if you don't want to tire yourself out, you could see the sights by Segway which, for the uninitiated, is a 2-wheeled self-balancing personal transporter.
I'd love to be able to say how the 3 hour Segway tour lets you see the best of Prague. However, despite being taught how to control the unit, I lasted 10 minutes before crashing into a wall and no doubt someone somewhere will make a fortune if the video ever makes its way onto You've Been Framed.
There's all manner of accommodation options in Prague, from budget hostels to 5* hotels. I stayed in the Hotel Jalta, on Wenceslas Square, which was excellent. The bedroom was very well appointed and mine had a balcony overlooking the square. I also stayed at the nearby Fusion Hotel, which is a hybrid between an upmarket hostel and a hotel. It has an arty, minimalist approach and attracts all age groups. It even has a revolving bar, which is designed to aid conversation and chances to talk to lots of people during your visit.
Overall, the Czech Republic is a country well worth visiting. While Prague is a tourist magnet, there are many places to visit within an hour's radius of the city, which will be much easier on your wallet. One tip is to shop where the locals shop and use public transport where possible as it is very efficient and very cheap.
You can find out lots more about the country by 'czeching out" (sorry, had to be done) www.czechtourism.com