I stand on the magnificent Charles Bridge and take in the sweeping view – the Vltava River rushing below me, the fairytale-like Prague Castle on the hill, the proud spires, towers and turrets of the city pointing to the sky. Surrounding me on this bridge are statues of saints and heroes, frozen in time as if calling out from history to tell their stories to all who will stop and reflect. The evocative melody of Smetana’s The Moldau, the song of this river which was forbidden to be played in the dark years of Nazi and Soviet occupation because of the national pride it invoked, stirs in my mind as it has done for over a century in the hearts of the Czech people.
In an attempt to capture the allure of Prague, many have sought to nickname her – The Heart of Europe, The Golden City, The City of a Hundred Spires, A Symphony of Stone. . . all are apt, and combined, they speak eloquently of the essence of Prague – but you must visit and experience this enchanting city for yourself.
We arrived in Prague anticipating its fabled romance, culture and history. We were met at the airport by Dave, a most welcoming driver from Prague Airport Shuttle. On the 20 minute ride into the city, Dave regaled us with his stories of Praha, as it is called here, gave great advice on sightseeing, beer drinking (a great national pastime), and how to experience his city like a native. Our appetites whetted, we soon arrived at the door of our hotel, ready to begin our adventure.
FOUR SEASONS HOTEL PRAGUE
Enviably located on the Vltava River, just steps from the famous Charles Bridge and minutes from charming Old Town Square, the Four Seasons Hotel Prague embodies all that is gracious and beautiful about Prague. This great hotel of Europe actually has the intimacy of a small boutique hotel, its elegant lobby filled with dramatic fresh flowers and graceful European furnishings. Guest rooms are the epitome of serenity and comfort. Incorporating authentic Czech turn-of-the-century design, guest rooms feature ceilings which have been hand painted by local artists and chandeliers sparkling with the world renowned Czech crystal. Comfy beds, sumptuous carpets, spacious living areas and modern bathrooms featuring plush linens and amenities provide a luxurious retreat from a day of sightseeing. At The Four Seasons Hotel Prague where gracious service is hallmark, you’ll relax and soak in the ambiance of this city which is beloved by so many.
CottoCrudo, the Four Seasons’ stylish restaurant and lounge, is a “must dine” while you are Prague. CottoCrudo has a “cooked and raw” concept, featuring a tantalizing array of Italian antipasti – meats, cheeses, and sashimi as well as innovative Italian classics, Czech favorites, seafood and homemade pasta. The restaurant’s wine list and creative cocktails, coupled with its unique menu, energetic setting, river views and attentive service all make for a truly satisfying dining experience.
OF CASTLES, KINGS & ALCHEMISTS
Tops on the list of places to see for every visitor to Prague is the legendary Prague Castle. Its romantic storybook image is splashed across the skyline of this beautiful city, inspiring the imagination with stories of days gone by when Prague was the seat of the Holy Roman Empire. You can spend all day on the enormous grounds of Castle Hill, wandering lush gardens, the Royal Palace, St. George’s Palace and Golden Lane, home of yesteryear’s goldsmiths and mystical alchemists. The highlight on Castle Hill is surely the spectacular gothic St Vitus Cathedral, site of royal weddings, christenings, burials and coronations of the Kings and Queens of Bohemia. Inside are astonishing treasures, including the remarkable stained glass window by Czech artist Mucha. Wander down from Castle Hill via the long staircase to the Mala Strana – the “Little Quarter” filled with cafes and charming little shops, colorful marionettes hanging in their windows.
A SYMPHONY OF STONE
To visit Prague is to feel like you’ve stepped back in time. Prague was fortunate to sustain little damage during the world wars, leaving the city’s architecture through the ages still on glorious display. These venerable buildings have borne witness to momentous and heartbreaking events in history – oh, if their walls could talk! Visit the Old Town Square with its gothic Tyn Church, and join the throngs to watch the one of a kind medieval astronomical clock, its parade of golden apostles and a whimsical skeleton calling out the hour. A festival atmosphere reigns here – musicians and street performers entertain, and you can indulge in fragrant grilled sausages and beer at one of the many booths on the square.
For an experienced walking guide anywhere in Praha, look no further than Prague Walks. Owner Jitka delights to show visitors her beloved city, exchanging ideas and experiences with you as she goes. How about a walk of Prague Castle, a Ghost Tour or maybe a Pub Walk? From many options, we chose her excellent guided walk through the Jewish Quarter, where we visited the tiny 15th century graveyard where astoundingly, over 100,000 people are buried. Other memorable stops on this great walk was one of the oldest Jewish museums in Europe, the Pinkas Synagogue Memorial and the splendid Spanish Synagogue.
TOASTING AND FEASTING IN PRAGUE
You’ve heard it and it is true – Prague is world famous for its beer! Plus, it’s quite the dining destination. While you can always pop into a local pub or café to enjoy Czech favorites such as goulash, dumplings or strudel, the city is also filled with fine dining establishments. One of the best is the lovely Bellevue, located right on the Vltava River with commanding views of the castle. The setting is stylish, modern and elegant with rich plum, noir and crystal palettes. Specializing in international as well as Czech cuisine, Bellevue is especially known for its excellent food and wine pairings – every dish is a culinary perfection and artfully presented. Bellevue’s knowledgeable servers and sommeliers know how to choose from the extensive wine list for the perfect accompaniment. We promise, dining at Bellevue will be a highlight of your visit to Prague!
PRAGUE BY MOONLIGHT
As night falls, Prague lights up with like a wonderland. Stroll through the Old Town Square where the spires of Tyn Cathedral glisten like Sleeping Beauty’s Castle, and take a dreamy carriage ride over cobbled lanes. Or, head for historic Wenceslas Square, a place of great national pride for the Czech people. Filled with gardens, high end shopping and sidewalk cafes, by night, Wenceslas Square’s restaurants, clubs, and lounges come alive – people often party here until daybreak!
Prague is also home to first rate opera, performing arts and symphonies. For an evening to remember, take in the opera at Prague’s imperial golden-domed National Theater. After the opera, walk just across the street to Prague’s best-known café, Café Salvia. This lively gathering spot facing the river is something of an institution in Prague and has been frequented by all kinds of writers, artists, poets, actors and intellectuals in times past. Here, locals and visitors gather for a meal in spacious art deco rooms, have coffee or cocktails and listen to live piano music. As evidence that now-free Prague has taken her place on the center stage of Europe, don’t be surprised if you hear the pianist offering an emotional rendition of The Moldau, as the people gaze out of Café Slavia’s generous bay windows onto the magic that is Prague.