Check out Czechia (formally Czech Republic) Published in The Mail, May 2024

Check out Czechia!

Experience the magic of Czechia, where the captivating allure of Prague is just be the beginning. Explore castles and cathedrals beyond the bustling streets of the capital and uncover the hidden treasures of this enchanting country. 

The Czech Republic has a new-ish name: Czechia, but most of the residents are still getting used to the change. Like so many countries around the world, the Czech countryside gets overshadowed by its glamours, historic capital city, Prague. Full of gothic wonders, riverside attractions, art deco hotels, and many great restaurants, it’s easy to get lost in Prague and forget about other areas of this fascinating country.

I based my journey from Prague and struck gold by choosing Almanac X Alcron Hotel, where the Art Deco opulence meets the contemporary luxury of the Almanac group. The building is art deco splendour, with the recent multi million makeover gives it a lavish elegance and a contemporary feel. The rooms are stylish, and the original 1930s marble staircase will make you want to give the elevators a miss. On one side of the lobby there's Elias, a chic cafe on serving great matcha lattes and ‘plant-rich nutrition’ with a focus on local and sustainable. The location of the hotel is very handy if you plan to explore neighbouring cities.The Almanac is about ten minutes stroll to the central train station, Praha hl. n. 

I arrived late so decided to eat in the hotel’s main restaurant. The menu is mostly plant-based but also serves steak and fish and there were very clever plant based dishes I’d never tried before like sweet potato gratin with jalapeños and a light and zingy Kombucha sorbet. They were so good I could have eaten there every night. Well, I did hear they have an Irish chef, James (Jimmy) Larkin is on their team.

The hotel is only a few metres from another favourite restaurant from my trip. The delicious Seafood Market & Grill looks quite plain when you enter, but trust the process because it’s a great concept. You order  from their fresh fish counter, which will include oysters, squid, cod, and more. Take a seat either in the front bistro-style area or the softly lit back room area. The waiters bring you your delicious fresh fish, cooked to perfection. Czech wine is cheap and plentiful here, so enjoy it and don't leave without trying the homemade ice cream. It was pistachio when I visited, and it was so good I had to have a second scoop. The same owners also have Made in Japan Sushi, about 10 minutes' walk from Seafood Market, with excellent fresh sushi and other main Asian dishes.

I must recommend an after-dinner cocktail in Almanac’s Bar Alcron because it is everything I want from a bar: Womb-like lighting in a venerable building, attentive, skilled bar staff, an incredible cocktail list, and a steady flow of new people popping in for a pre- or post-dinner drink, all eager to chat about their particular trip. Most of the hotel guests were Americans, traveling on various river cruises; in fact, most of the tourists I met on my entire trip were from the US. I heard a few Irish accents, but after Americans, it was mostly Czech visitors I encountered, especially when I left Prague to visit other towns and cities.My trip had landed on a national bank holiday weekend, so lots of locals were out enjoying the great weather and the local sights.

It’s worth the pilgrimage up the hill to visit Prague Castle, but don't make the same mistake I did and visit when all the main buildings are closed. The grounds are open until 22:00, but to visit any of the buildings, you must visit between 09:00 and 17:00. Note that this is only for able-bodied people. There are lots of steps uphill to reach the castle.

I'm not sure anyone really travels to Prague for shopping, and with the exchange rate and prices, it's not somewhere I’d go for a bargain. Luxury brands are well represented on Pařížská street, which is the main area in Prague for high-end shopping. Even the second-hand luxury shops seemed more expensive than Ireland, but they did have excellent-quality goods. See shops like Armadio and Luxury Bags and look out for other small exchange shops on the same street, all very close walking distance from each other.

My first day trip outside of Prague was to Central Bohemian Region, Kutná Hora. After navigating the confusing system in the central train station, I finally managed to get the correct train. (Don't be afraid to ask some locals for directions; almost everyone speaks a little English.) Kutná Hora is a UNESCO-listed town brimming with historical marvels. Lose yourself walking the ancient cobblestone pathways, where Gothic cathedrals and 14th-century architecture stand as testaments to a bygone era. Explore the ornate splendour of the Cathedral of St. Barbara, a breathtaking masterpiece of Gothic architecture that took centuries to complete. The spectacular gothic St. Barbara’s Cathedral is worth the trip alone, but there's so much more to this cobbled, ancient area. Visit the local chocolate shop selling incredibly good chocolate. It even has a tiny museum where you can read up on the history of the company. (Chocolate Museum, Komenského náměstí) Everywhere you look, there's an ornate church or a 12th-century decorative building with Gothic stonework. Stop for lunch at Turistka  at the foot of the slope leading to St. Barbara’s Cathedral. It feels like a pocket of contemporary style in an ancient place. It serves delicious, healthy food but also bakes all its own cheesecakes and cakes with excellent coffee. Czechia's coffee is of a high standard in general; I didn't get substandard coffee on my entire trip.

For art, there’s GASK, the Gallery of the Central Bohemian Region, positioned in the old Jesuit College in the heart of Kutná Hora. The building itself is magnificent and renovated to best show the artwork inside. Exhibitions made up of unique installations and art are held here all year round. 

Of course Kutná Hora area also has castles in the region. Built in 1806 Kačina Château is one of the most important buildings of Empire-style architecture in the Czech Republic. Do a tour and visit the grand library of the Chotek family, which now contains over 40 thousand volumes of educational and fine literature from the 16th to the 19th century. Seeing the intricate, multiple designed parquet floors throughout the castle rooms is a hight light.

Kutná Hora region is probably most famous for The Sedlec Ossuary, also known as the Church of Bones. It is one of the most unusual chapels you will ever see and macabre as it sounds, it is rather beautiful. The bones that currently reside in Sedlec Ossuary were exhumed from this site in the 15th century to make room for the town’s expansion, as well as new burials. They apparently lay stacked in the basement of this Gothic church until 1870, when a woodcarver named Frantisek Rint was appointed to excavate and organise them. The result is both spectacular and shocking. You can see various different structures including a chandelier and a giant coat of arms all made from the human bones from over 60,000 bodies. (Sedlec Ossuary, Starosedlecká) 

Another day trip option from Prague is a visit to Karlstejn Castle, one of the most popular castles to visit after Prague Castle. Some parts date back to the 11th century, with some final touches added in the 19th. Be forewarned, there are lots of steps and steep climbs so it’s only accessible to people with a fairly good level of fitness. The whole area is very tourist-friendly, with lots of options for lunch and dinner along the road up to the castle. Try asian fusion KarlStejn34 Bistro for great lunch options. It recently won a Google Maps award for best-reviewed restaurant in the region.

If you feel up for a 10-15km hike after your castle visit you could visit the quarry Velká America (Czech Grand Canyon) You might be wise to download the Czech app as it offers local hiking trails that Google Maps may not pick up. In fact, along the routes there are corresponding signs consisting of coloured strips, (red, blue, green or yellow) depending on which route you’re on. 

Whether you're exploring the historic streets of Prague or venturing into the picturesque countryside, from its gothic wonders to its culinary delights, Czechia promises a travel experience like no other.

For information on traveling to Czechia visit