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Czech Republic - fascinating beauty in every city
November 26, 2017, 4:09 pm
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The Czech Republic's location at the heart of the former Austro-Hungarian Empire has seen a long history of raiding tribes, conquering armies and triumphant dynasties. This turbulent past has left a legacy of over hundreds of castles and chateaux scattered all across the region that are simply awe-inspiring and include grim Gothic ruins clinging to a dizzy pinnacle of rock, to majestic, baroque mansions filled with the finest furniture that Europe’s artisans could provide.

The immense pride the local population has for the region’s rich history and tradition is evidently reflected in their welcoming and hospitable demeanor towards tourists and travelers. This welcome attitude is most apparent in South Bohemia and Moravia, where a still-thriving folk culture sparks into life during the summer festival season. During this time, local communities from Český Krumlov to Telč to Mikulov don traditional garb, gather their musical instruments and join each other in celebrating their unique culture through song and dance, while inviting visitors to do the same.

Prague

Prague's maze of cobbled lanes and hidden courtyards is a paradise for the aimless wanderer, always beckoning you to explore a little further. One of Europe’s biggest and most beautiful urban spaces, Old Town Square is a bustle of activity that swallows you in with jazz bands and alfresco concerts, political meetings and fashion shows, seasonal markets during Christmas and Easter, all of which are watched over by Ladislav Šaloun’s brooding art-nouveau statue of Jan Hus, the 15th century Czech religious reformer. Just a few blocks away from the Old Town Square you can stumble across ancient chapels, unexpected gardens, cute cafes and local restaurants, with minimal touristic chaos.

Prague Castle (hrad to Czechs) — the largest ancient castle in the world according to the Guinness World Records — is undeniably the most popular attraction here. Looming above the Vltava River's left bank, its brimming ranks of spires, towers and palaces dominate the city centre like a fairy-tale fortress. Within its walls lies a varied and fascinating collection of historic buildings, museums and galleries that are home to some of the Czech Republic's greatest artistic and cultural treasures.

Bohemia

Beyond the serried apartment blocks of Prague's outer suburbs, the city gives way to the luscious green hinterland of Bohemia, a land of rolling hills, rich farmland and thick forests dotted with castles, chateaux and picturesque towns.

This is a region of surprising variety. Český Krumlov, in the deep south of Bohemia, is one of the most picturesque towns in Europe and is in a class of its own. Often described as a miniature version of Prague, this UNESCO World Heritage Site offers a stunning castle above the Vltava River, quaint riverside picnic spots, an old town square, Renaissance and baroque architecture and more.

The lesser-known towns such as Třeboň in the south and Loket in the west exude an unexpected charm, an invitation for the traveler keen on escaping the crowds. Big cities like České Budějovice and Plzeň offer great museums and restaurants, while the famed 19th-century spa towns of western Bohemia retain an old-world lustre.

Kutna Hora

Enriched by the silver ore that veined the surrounding hills, the medieval city of Kutná Hora became the seat of Wenceslas II’s royal mint in 1308, producing silver groschen that were then the hard currency of Central Europe. Boom-time Kutná Hora rivaled Prague in importance, but by the 16th century the mines began to run dry, and its demise was hastened by the Thirty Years’ War and a devastating fire in 1770. The town became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996, luring visitors with an array of historic sites. 

Also referred to as ‘the country’s treasure chest’, the rich history in this town has given it an air of mystery that can be felt within its cathedrals, monasteries, nobleman’s houses, vaulted cellars and gems of Gothic and Baroque architecture, sculptors and urban corners.  A curious spectacle unique to this region is the descent into the Sedlec ossuary, a trip that fills you with awe and unease as you explore its altars, coats of arms, chandeliers, pyramids and obelisks made from the bones of plague victims.

Karlovy Vary

The Czech Republic is interwoven with healing springs like gold thread running through rare tapestry. Although a number of these are abundantly scattered throughout the country, Karlovy Vary, with its 12 hot healing springs is the real jewel in the crown of Czech spas. Legend has it that the now world-famous spa spring was discovered in the 14th century when the hunting party of king and Emperor Charles IV happened upon it.

It is hard to resist Karlovy Vary’s carefree spirit and the sense of stately calm on the promenade that runs between splendid facades of grand houses and colonnades richly decorated with columns. Day trippers come to admire the grand 19th century spa architecture and to stroll through these impressive colonnades, sipping on the supposedly health-restoring waters from spouted ceramic drinking cups. Knowing that Peter the Great, Bach, Goethe, Casanova and Beethoven have taken the waters here just adds to the experience, and a trip to this serene region makes for a unique and restorative break.

Moravia

 The Czech Republic’s easternmost province, Moravia, is yin to Bohemia’s yang. If Bohemia is about towns and cities, Moravia is all rolling hills and pretty landscapes. The capital, Brno, has the museums and castles, but the northern city of Olomouc has captivating architecture and an unexpected number of important historical landmarks, including grand cathedrals, charming churches, splendid burghers’ palaces and monumental monasteries.

The main square is among the country’s nicest, surrounded by historic buildings and blessed with a UNESCO-protected trinity column. The evocative central streets are dotted with beautiful churches, testament to the city’s long history as a bastion of the Catholic Church. Explore the foundations of ancient Olomouc Castle at the must-see Archdiocesan Museum, and do not forget to try the cheese, Olomoucký sýr or tvarůžky, reputedly the smelliest in the Czech Republic.

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