To visit to Prague in autumn is a real treat. The city zings with colour, the thermometer has dipped from the heat of high summer and the chill of winter is yet to arrive. Looking down from a gently sloping hillside, tall trees show off a melange of rich shades that would make Joseph’s coat of many colours look pastel by contrast. The misty early morning fog hints of damp leaves and the snow to come. From beer halls the smell of gently simmering goulash melds with a yeasty, lagery brew that entices visitors off the busy streets to savour hearty Czech cuisine with its proliferation of dumplings of every kind.
Prague Castle, a glorious mish-mash of buildings from many centuries of regal development, oversees the city from its vantage point above the Vltava River. When I visited it just happened to be about the busiest day in the castle’s 1,000 year history! It had been closed for 3 days as there were various events to celebrate Czech Independence day (October 28th) so the world and his wife who’d come for the weekend, were all trying to get in at the same time. Fortunately our guide Martina was able to use her contacts to get us into the Old Royal Palace via the back door. And, in spite of the crowds, it was possible to imagine the old kings of Bohemia entertaining their guests with tournaments on horse-back in the enormous medieval Hall. Nearby is the 3rd floor window where the famous Defenestration of Prague took place – the very lucky Catholic Regents managed to land on a pile of manure and escape unharmed.
Our Castle tour included the newly restored Golden Lane. The name supposedly came from the city goldsmiths who lived there; Prague’s most famous literary son, Franz Kafka stayed with his sister at Number 22. The Lane has lost some of its simple charm as the eager visitors crowd into the chic shops and the carefully preserved cottages no longer give any real feeling of the hovels that used to house castle workers.
Unmissable in every sense of the word is imposing St Vitus Cathedral, surely one of the world’s longest building projects, having been started in the 14th century and finished in 1929. Again there were huge queues to get in (highly recommend NOT visiting on a Sunday as it is closed for morning service and gets VERY busy afterwards) but the gorgeously illuminated stained glass windows could still be seen in all their glory. However, one of the loveliest windows, the Slavic saints by famous Czech Art Nouveau artist Alfons Mucha, is actually painted not glass.
A short walk away is the Strahov Monastery, home to the Premonstratensians, an order of ‘canons regular’ founded in 1120 by St Norbert. It has a huge collection of rare books, including exquisite miniature illuminated manuscripts, but it is the two lovely libraries that bring visitors from all over the globe – and there a lot of globes there too … A quirky must-see is a really weird-looking black creature which turns out to be some wag’s idea of what a dodo might have looked like.
Opposite the Monastery is a small micro brewery, Klasterni Pivovar Strahov, run by a very passionate Czech who gave us a tour and explained how the monks originally brewed here from the 14th century and how proud they are to be continuing this tradition. We had an excellent meal – even the dumplings were divine (I’m not usually a huge fan) and I can highly recommend the Emperor beer …
Our final group outing was to Konopiste Castle, less than an hour’s drive from the city. It’s a fascinating Baroque chateau with a strong hunting theme. Its most famous owner was Archduke Franz Ferdinand, whose assasination stated WWII. Find out more about our visit to Konopiste Castle here.
We stayed at the Majestic Plaza Hotel which is situated just off central Wenceslas Square and, according to the journalists, has a very good nightclub. Many thanks to bmibaby and Czech Tourism for organising a really enjoyable break and a special thank-you to Rosie for hosting the trip.
For more things to see and do on a break in Prague read here.