Destination – Prague
Owing to its now relatively more pricey beer than its neighbouring countries, Prague is no longer home to stag and hen parties. It has become a cosmopolitan travel spot and a delightful place to spend a long relaxing weekend. The city with 100 spires, with its colourful history and baroque architecture, will certainly leave you in awe.
Having emerged relatively sombre from the diffusion of the country?s Communist regime almost 25 years ago, Prague is a small city that promises one of the most culture-filled retreats across the whole of Europe.
Three days should give plenty of time to explore the sites and soak up the local culture. Visiting more than once at different times of the year is also recommended. From late spring to late summer the sun shines and the air is clear and during the autumn and winter months the city is shrouded by gothic, snow-capped spires and an icy air, which is best kept at bay with regular stops at the plethora of cafés and bars.
If you need convincing of Prague?s skyline of gothic spires, you must stay at the Golden Well Hotel.
One of my favourite cafés is Café Savoy on the western riverbank on Vítezná 5, which since 2001 has seen a few incarnations with a clean-up wiping away some of the atmosphere and charm created by tobacco stained walls, spilled beer and interiors hailing to a Stalinist era with an Art Nouveau refurbishment in 2005, restoring original plasterwork and bringing an unseen sparkle to the crystal chandeliers. The menu is the kind of versatile all day ?grand café?-inspired menu that you would expect, ranging from every kind of eggs to soups, salads, small meals and my personal favourite, the Wiener Schnitzel.
If you need convincing of Prague?s skyline of gothic spires, you must stay at the Golden Well Hotel. Tucked away in the Old Town below the walls of Prague Castle and surrounded by the Castle?s rose gardens and the Malá Strana, the boutique hotel has a great selection of individually Renaissance-styled rooms with breathtaking views over Prague.
The history of the hotel is quite impressive; having originally belonged to a Roman emperor in 1552 and served as the residence of the famous Dutch astronomer Tycho de Brahe, the building was left ruined after the country?s Communist regime. Although a renovation took place around 12 years ago, the hotel maintains a charm and character reminiscent of bygone times.
The hotel also has an excellent culinary team with superb restaurants to match. You can choose either the fine dining Coda Restaurant where I tried and loved the sous-vide Monkfish from the dégustation menu, which arrived with creamy slices of pumpkin, or the Terasa U Zlaté Studné, both with roof terraces overlooking Prague?s rooftops and spires. The view is the real attraction at both restaurants and during warmer months, dining outside can be amazing for a peaceful lunchtime stop.
Our G&Ts came warm with no ice or lime; unusual to say the least, but something I?m told is served in many of the city?s bars.
Located just off Wenceslas Square is the stunning Prague State Opera. Set in a neo-classical building, its ornate interior and popular performances make for an ideal early-evening endeavour. I went there to see Aida. The theatre itself was beautiful and the Opera of good quality, although I wouldn?t say it quite matched the character of Covent Garden. Also, it is quite an experience ordering a drink before as this seems to be the latest phenomenon. Our G&Ts came warm with no ice or lime; unusual to say the least, but something I?m told is served in many of the city?s bars.
Your evenings in Prague should be spent exploring the city?s restaurants and bars. If you?re staying at the Golden Well, the Barego bar at the Mandarin Oriental is a great place to start. A short ten-minute walk across the Maltézské náméstí and past the Ministerstvo Kultury (Ministry of Culture), you arrive at an imposing former 14th century monastery which the Mandarin Oriental is set within. Barego has an extensive list of delicious cocktails, so you?d be wise to not get too drawn into its ambience but enjoy the other bars Prague has to offer.
There?s also Bars&Books on Týnská 19, just off Old Town Square; a cosy cigar bar that draws in a more exclusive crowd. Like its sister bar in New York, the Týnská Bar&Books has a large selection of whiskies adding to its masculine allure, although a collection of fine wines and cocktails is also available. But if it?s stunning views of Prague you?re looking for, you must try Cloud 9, the rooftop bar at the Hilton, which is a bit of a hotspot at the moment.
Dining in Prague can also be fantastic but you do need to know where to go. One of my favourites is Céleste, located on the top two floors of Frank Gehry?s Dancing House. My choice of dishes from the A La Carte menu has to be either the roasted guinea fowl or the red mullet, although everything is seriously good and there is also a great selection of wines.
If you?re in the mood for a cosy, steak frites type place, Café de Paris, close to Barego at the Mandarin Oriental, is perfect. Always providing great service, the restaurant has a warm atmosphere, which is heightened by the olde worlde, rich mahogany interior.
Another of my favourite restaurants in Prague is a great little Asian place called Sansho. Great with friends, the ethos of dining here is that all dishes are served to share. Sansho combines the sophistication of being created by Nobu?s former sous-chef Paul Day, with the theatrics of fun and entertaining food creating a great conversation topic amongst friends.
My favourite dish has to be the crispy, crunchy soft shell crab slider, although I?ve heard rabbit livers on toast is the latest addition to the menu, which is certainly tempting me back to the city.
No trip to Prague would be complete without a visit to the Castle. An ancient symbol of the Czech Republic, the Prague Castle is a composition of palaces and ecclesiastical buildings of various architectural styles dating from the 10th century right through to the 14th century. Although I would recommend visiting the Castle via a walking tour in the evening; not only is it quieter then, but the Castle carries with it a certain sense of medieval alchemy that you only feel when you visit it at night.
In the dark, the Castle dominates Prague?s skyline and makes for the perfect photograph to end your break.
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