Prague: An incredible stay in the Czech capital full of history, culture and picture-perfect views | Short Breaks & City Breaks | Travel
After a 30-minute drive from Vaclav Havel airport, I arrived at the Boutique Hotel Golden Key, a stunning building with a completely reconstructed look, which earned it a spot in the Louis Vuitton Prague City Guide. A quick stroll near Prague Castle and a pint of Staropramen later, it was time for a group to cross Charles Bridge to Old Town Square. The warm weather created the perfect backdrop as we toured the area and learned about centuries old history.
Bohemian glass is one of the staples of Czech culture, having been internationally recognized for its high quality craftsmanship and detailing, and what better way to experience it than by trying to blow glass as a complete novice at PRAGL.
With the help of our very talented glass blowing expert, David, we set out to make some of our own glasses in front of the sweltering 1500 degree oven. After a few minutes, some suspicious blowtorch use, and a few cups of local Sklář beer, we had our own glassware and were invited on a tour of their pretty amazing gallery.
A short, slightly cooler walk later, we met at Červený Jelen – or Flying Stag – restaurant for a traditional dinner of braised deer leg and Carlsbad Czech dumplings. As with all great restaurants and nations, the pivo (beer) was flowing and made for a great end to a first night in Prague.
The second day was a complete detox as we traveled to the wonderful spa town of Poděbrady. The town is popular for its springs and quiet atmosphere surrounded by beautifully maintained parkland and stylish cafes.
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Since 1908, the spa town of Poděbrady has become famous for carbonated hydrotherapy which has excellent therapeutic effects on various body systems, with Czech citizens sometimes being prescribed stays in these spa towns to cure various ailments.
The spa was completely renovated during the pandemic and only reopened at the beginning of this year, much to the delight of locals and anyone wishing to bathe in the healing mineral spring water.
The city also had a glass factory that makes the world famous Bohemian crystal with its iconic blue and gold seal. They are one of the world’s leading producers of lead and lead-free crystal and by far the largest producer in the Czech Republic.
After a tour of the expansive glassworks campus, a short drive took us to Přerov nad Labem and the open-air museum, which shows what life was like in Bohemia in the 18th century. With over 32 structures preserved, visitors get a glimpse of how people lived, learned, worked and subsisted over 200 years ago.
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As the hot 30 degree summer continued to descend on us, what better time to visit a beautiful vineyard on the outskirts of Prague with a great view of the whole city. The St. Clair vineyard is a piece of Czech history and is just one of eight vineyards surrounding the capital and dates back to the 1200s. But it was Charles IV who revolutionized the winemaking ability in St. Claire, by issuing a decree on the establishment of the vineyard and ensuring that all suitable south-facing slopes within five kilometers of Prague were planted with vines. And what a decision it was.
After a walk through the vineyard, admiring the view of the city and the phenomenal smell of the grapes, we were taken to a hidden cellar where we were greeted with countless bottles of wine for tasting, snacks of accompaniment and a wonderful breath of cold air. For me, Riesling, Pinot Noir and Portugieser were the crème de la crème. Rather conveniently, our trip to the vineyard was followed by a few drinks at Three Fiddles Irish Pub opposite our hotel. Another excellent choice!
Another staple of Czech heritage is the arts, with Prague being home to the stunning National Theater that carries as much heritage as any corner of the city. First opened in 1881 and then again in 1883 after a devastating fire, the spectacular theater is adorned with gold embellishments as well as masterpiece paintings by some of the biggest Czech names like Aleš, Ženišek, Hynais, Myslbek and others.
What followed was something quite unexpected. A visit to Břevnov, which acts not only as an active monastery but also as a brewery. The first Benedictine monastery was founded in 993 AD and has the oldest beer brewing tradition in the Czech Republic. The old building turned out to be the perfect base for a quaint brewery, with beer samples a treat.
The monastery grounds were impeccably maintained and even had a tavern where we stopped for lunch. The beer tasted even better knowing it was produced a stone’s throw from where we were seated, especially when paired with Halusky – traditional potato gnocchi with smoked meat and sour cabbage .
Czech traditions were at the heart of the trip and the next excursion was no exception as we made puppets with master puppeteer Pavel Truhlář. As we sat around Pavel’s studio, we were given plans to create our own puppets, all based on aspects of Czech history. I was lucky enough to receive Vodnik, or Vodyanoy, an evil aquatic creature spirit. As with most art projects, I had a big idea in my head that I couldn’t quite pull off, but Pavel worked his magic and made it look great.
Once we learned the basics of walking with puppets, we returned to the Golden Key Hotel and prepared for dinner at the stately Municipal House Restaurant where we had a three course meal of traditional Czech cuisine. . To top it off, the local pianist dedicated “The Girl from Ipanema” to our table – a great touch. As we continued into the night, we encountered the first instance of weather to remind us at home and when it rains, it rains. But even the torrential rain couldn’t dampen our mood as we ended the night in a wonderful bar in the heart of Prague.
The fourth day took us to the “City of Money” in Kutná Hora. The wealth of resources from the early days of the Czech Kingdom helped ensure the nation’s rise and we were fortunate to follow the same path that miners would have taken in the 16th century. Through the 250 meter long cave system, we were able to capture a glimpse of what life would have been like for these workers hundreds of years ago, albeit with helmets and lights. The perfectly preserved cave now attracts thousands of tourists every year who thread their way through the narrow passages.
A guided tour of the UNESCO World Heritage Site allowed our group to see the interiors of the magnificent Italian Court and St. Barbara’s Cathedral, two must-see sites. The craftsmanship and design on display was truly remarkable, especially since construction of the cathedral began in 1388.
Our final stop in the quaint town of just 20,000 people was Kutná Hora Chocolatier. There were delicious choices and, most impressively, one of the smallest dedicated chocolate museums in the world. Camel milk chocolate, matcha flavored and 95% cocoa chocolate were on offer. It will come as no surprise to learn that he won eight medals at the International Chocolate Awards last month.
As the trip drew to a close, we had one last chance to explore Prague before a final supper. My curiosity led me to a botanical garden before trying out the tube system, which certainly gives the London Underground a hard time before wandering the streets of Staré Město (the old town) and Josefov (the Jewish).
Our final dinner was at Restaurant U Labutí, a beautifully secluded restaurant less than five minutes from Prague Castle, which once again offered incredible views of the city. As with most of the monuments we had seen during our stay, the castle – which is the largest ancient castle in the world – took your breath away with its size and immaculate design.
Unfortunately, my stay in Prague ended on Sunday morning. As I drove back to the airport, I got one last glimpse of the magnificent views Prague had to offer, grateful to have the chance to visit one of the golden cities of the world.
For more information on Prague, Bohemia and the Czech Republic, visit Czech Tourism.