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Off the Brochure: Prague, Czech Republic

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Prague GeneralKnown as the “Pearl of Europe” for its old-world charm and picturesque beauty, Prague has gained much fame and popularity in recent years. The fall of the Iron Curtain in 1989 opened up Prague’s borders to invite new visitors to explore its ancient cobblestone streets.

Its streets are punctuated by grand Gothic cathedrals, stunning Baroque edifices, ancient castles, and well-situated squares that serve as meeting places and cornerstones of the city.

With many pedestrian-friendly areas, Prague is particularly suited to the active traveler. It is best explored on foot, or by using the trams that run along its main streets.

The city is split in two by the Vltava River which is easily crossed by using one of the city’s many spectacular bridges. Prague isn’t yet on the euro and is still relatively affordable compared to many other European cities, but that won’t be for long. So act fast and get set to explore this Central European gem.


MUSEUM CULTURE

Old Town SquareWhether or not you arrive with a familiarity with Czech artists, make sure to check out the Mucha Museum which houses an extensive collection of pieces from national favorite Alfons Mucha. Famous for his contribution to modern art, Mucha’s work was difficult to find until 1998 when this private museum opened to showcase the highlights of his long career. It holds close to 100 pieces including magazine covers, theater posters, paintings, photographs, and Czechoslovak bank notes designed by the artist. www.mucha.cz

The National Museum in Prague is the biggest museum in the Czech Republic. It focuses on fostering a national identity while still highlighting the Czech Republic’s connection to the European and world community, and holds pieces from many artistic spectrums and scientific disciplines. It is composed of five main institutes: The Natural History Museum, The Historical Museum, The National Museum Library, The Náprstek Museum of Asian, African and American Cultures, and The Czech Music Museum, and offers visitors the opportunity to sample the vast contributions of the country’s most talented minds. www.nm.cz/english

Fans of the modern style of Cubism won’t want to leave without a visit to Dum U cerné Matky bozí, a museum where even the building itself is in the Cubist style. In the early 20th century, Czech architects relied heavily upon Cubism’s radical principles to change the foundations of their understanding of architecture and design. The museum holds three floors of paintings, sculptures, drawings, furniture, and other “applied arts” that give the visitor a full picture of the nature of this movement and its role in the country’s art. www.ngprague.cz/9/detail/dum-u-cerne-matky-bozi

Mozart fans should hit Villa Bertramka where the famous composer often stayed as a guest. Visitors can wander around to examine musical memorabilia including classic instruments and mementos. In the summer plan ahead to attend a concert in this breathtaking venue. www.bertramka.com/lang=en

HOUSES OF WORSHIP

Prague is renowned for its stunning churches and places of worship. It is home to architectural and religious masterpieces of all styles, including dazzling and unique examples that reach out to visitors of all backgrounds. By walking through the city, every visitor will be able to notice appreciate the diversity of Prague’s religious community.

St.Nicholas churchWhen you arrive in the city, keep your eye out for posters and flyers with information about classical music concerts in special venues throughout the city. Churches often offer organ, violin or other classical performances which are a perfect way to appreciate the acoustics and ambiance. Spending a little extra time in one of them can truly prove to be a peaceful and relaxing experience.

St. Nicholas church (at left) is especially impressive. Designed in Baroque style, it sparkles almost completely in pink and gold, and is lavishly adorned. It showcases the vertical emphasis of this period of building, and standing within it you’ll see how it appears to reach for the sky. As the sun sets, the light changes, casting light on different elements and illuminating all different aspects of the interior.

OUTDOOR DELIGHTS

Prague is a beautiful place to be outdoors. Traverse its cobblestone streets, cross its famed bridges on foot, and get a feeling for its geography by hiking up its hills or climbing the tall towers of its churches.

If you’re an athletic enthusiast, Prague is the perfect city to let yourself run wild. Nothing can beat an early morning run through the quiet streets and narrow lanes in the crisp morning air before the bustle starts and the visitors wake up to flood the streets. Zigzag across the system of unique bridges and truly get a feel for the ancient cityscape on your own two feet.

Petrin HillIf you are up for a long afternoon of walking and exploring, head out to Petrin Hill. This vast expanse of steep, green hillside is covered with blossoming apple orchards in the spring, and its well-maintained trails invite visitors to relax and enjoy the simple pleasures of Prague’s natural side. Petrin Hill stands more than 1,000 feet high, and offers rose gardens, a variety of sculptures by Czech artists, and an observation tower at its summit.

Pass through the quiet gateway and enter Vojanovy Sady, an exquisite garden now part of the Ministry of Finance. Filled with weeping willows, fruit trees and winding paths lined with benches, this relaxing oasis provides the perfect afternoon escape from the city life. If you’re lucky, you’ll be greeted by the resident peacock who roams the grounds. Watch for modern sculpture exhibitions which are held throughout the seasons.

The garden of Vrtbovská Zahrada is a magical open space which holds one of the most coveted views over the Lesser Quarter. Spread among five different levels, its terraces and courtyards are full of romantic vistas and are ornamented with pieces by Mathias Braun, one of the most famous Czech baroque sculptors. While you stroll, admire the Renaissance architecture of the Vrtba Palace built in the late 1500s.

Královská zahrada is a sweeping green sanctuary with views of St. Vitus’s Cathedral as well as many Renaissance structures. The Královský letohrádek (Royal Summer Palace) is renowned as one of the most beautiful Renaissance structures north of the Alps. Its Renaissance-style adjoining garden the contains the Italian-designed Singing Fountain, which resonates from the sound of the water running down its skillfully crafted structure.

ECLECTIC CUISINE

If you ask a local where they go out to eat Czech food, most will probably tell you they simply don’t. The best traditional Czech food is cooked inside the home, so when locals go out it’s usually to indulge in some of the city’s excellent international fare.

Craving some old Mexican favorites? Try Cantina for some fresh fajitas in a vibrant, lively atmosphere. Known as the place for Mexican food in the city, the restaurant’s selection of traditional dishes will not disappoint. 257-317-173

For a meal that’s quick, affordable and fresh head for a quiet lane just off Old Town Square where you will find the natural food store and vegetarian restaurant called Country Life. It’s always packed, especially at mealtimes, but the self service line moves quickly. Serve yourself from a variety of unique salads, homemade bread, pastas, stews, and desserts and then pay based on the weight of your lavish spread. 224-213-366

Deriving all its ingredients, produce, and grains from Czech organic farms, Albio is thought to be the only organic restaurant in the Czech Republic and was also home to the country’s first certified leaven organic bakery. Here, fresh bread comes out of the oven twice a day, and the attached shop sells an abundance of natural cosmetics to take home with you. The restaurant serves healthy yet hearty choices such as creamy pumpkin soup or penne with goat cheese, spinach and walnuts. 602-159-508, www.albiostyl.cz

Situated directly on the river, Don Pedro serves traditional Colombian cuisine, with a focus on dishes from the city Bogotá, and provides a stunning view especially at sunset. The multitude of steak and other meat-based dishes, as well as arepas filled with cheese, are house specialties. 224-923-505

For a special dinner that’s far from ordinary head to Ambiente Restaurante Brasileiro a Czech take on the Brazilian steakhouse, or churrasco. Come hungry, as the stream of servers continually passing by your table to offer all cuts of meat and seafood will be hard to resist. Or stick to the equally tantalizing buffet. With an assortment of salads and antipasto including heart of palm salad, marinated vegetables, and caramelized onions and eggplant, as well as freshly shucked oysters, sushi, and sashimi, you won’t leave unsatisfied. In addition, piping hot cheese puffs are brought to each table and constantly replenished throughout the meal. After this one, you may need to recover with a long evening walk back to your hotel. 221-451-200

By Alix Proceviat for PeterGreenberg.com

Don’t miss the rest of our Off the Brochure series, including other European hotspots like Paris, London, and Rome.

Want more destinations with top-notch cuisine? Check out our Culinary Travel section.