In the year the Czech Republic celebrates its century of independence, it’s a great time to visit its capital and beyond, writes Tomas Silberberg.

You only have to stop and look around you in Prague to get a striking sense of the city’s personality and creativity.

It can be found while looking at its breathtaking architecture, and a tour by Bonita of Insight Cities Tours brought to life its Cubist and Art Nouveau locations.

The Municipal House, with its embellished exterior wrought with golden leaves stands as a testament to the tastes of the early 20th century. Inside, cafes and restaurants provide excellent examples of Art Nouveau interiors, designed by craftsmen and artists such as Alfons Mucha, Jan Preisler, Ladislav Šaloun, and others.

The compact American Bar found within has an intoxicating atmosphere that takes a visitor to a world more akin to the Jazz age. Private booths offer secrecy from fellow patrons and allows for guests to engage in daydreams of hardboiled detectives and prohibition rum-runners while sipping a Manhattan from their wide selection of cocktails.

The Lucerna Bar, Grand Hotel Europa and the House of the Black Madonna provide a window in to how people lived at the turn of the century. The carefully considered designs and quality of workmanship demonstrate the optimism and humanity that flourished before the advent of wide scale war throughout Europe.

It was an altogether fascinating tour delivered professionally with great confidence and insight.

Juxtaposed with the earlier architecture, modern examples of Communist influenced design can still be found.

The Zizkov TV Tower provides a visual reminder of the Space Race, standing jarringly against the city’s mostly low level skyline.

Poised, as if ready to take off at any moment, the tower provides an excellent vantage point to survey the surrounding city. Despite heavy rain and thick cloud on the day I visited it still made for essential viewing.

I was fortunate enough to see my own display of Czech military helicopters and jet fighters pass close by, although I did miss out on viewing David Cerný’s statues Babies. Added in 2000, the giant space-age babies that crawl up the tower – undermining the Soviet megalomaniac elements of the structure – had been removed for cleaning.

There was plenty more to see and do in Prague but we were on a short trip to get a taste of the country and what an excellent taste we had the following day as we moved on to visit Pilsen, the home of the world’s first pale lager, or as it came to be known, Pilsner.

Architecture was on the agenda again and we saw some of the work of influential European theorist of modern architecture Adolf Loos... along with a trip to the famous brewery and a welcome opportunity to sink a pint at the place it was made.

The Pilsner Urquell brewery tour allows visitors front row access to its modern bottling and canning facilities, while also teaching a little of the historical beer practises.

The tour continued in to a fascinating complex of underground tunnels, around five kilometres had been dug over the years – mainly manually with pickaxes and shovels – so it was advised not to wander too far from the tour guide!

Through the labyrinth of passageways there seemed to be no end to chambers filled with barrels of beer, enough to warm even the most devout ale drinker’s heart. The ice room situated well underground demonstrates the difficulty of storing beer before the advent of electricity, and the chamber, now laid bare, would have stored hulking burgs of ice to ensure a quality product even in the summer months.

After an exciting day we retired to dinner at the Beer Factory, where we enjoyed some pub grub and an excellent selection of local and regional beers while watching England’s first World Cup game against Belgium.

The next day – packing a lot in to the four-day trip – it was off to Jablonec and Liberec.

First we got a glimpse of nature’s architecture with the magical rock formations in Bohemian Paradise. Jutting out from the coniferous forest the rocks take on myriad twisted and unique shapes. Each rockface, having been exposed to their own unique treatment of rain, wind, frost and human mining has resulted in alien forms that give an intriguing aura to the ancient forest around them and stand as testament to the creativity of nature.

On a nearby vantage point, framed against the azure sky, stands the ruins of Trosky Castle. All that remains of the 14th Century structure being twin towers left to fall to the encroaching tendrils of nature – forming an ominous yet portentous silhouette. Between the pines, weathered rock and crumbling structures, one feels the weight of history and a sense the location has moved through time inexorably, as if linked by a portal back in time to antiquity.

Then we were whisked to The Museum of Jewellery and Glass to look through 100 years of jewellery design and production in the area. The museum also contains items of interest from all over the world, from traditional tribal jewellery, sculpture, fashion and master-crafted art glass.

After witnessing beauty made by nature, and being dazzled by gems crafted by hand, it was time to combine the two together with a visit to the Ještěd Tower near Liberec. An almost impossible structure situated on the peak of Ještěd Mountain, we took a brief cable car ride to the summit. Drawing near the hyperboloid structure, the site seems to sprout from the rock, as if a natural extension of the mountains yearning to reach ever closer to the firmament above.

Despite looking like a fitting locale for a Bond villain, the Ještěd Tower houses a restaurant, hotel and antiquated television signal transmitting equipment – rather than the death laser I suspected. We arrived on a clear day and were able to see great swathes of Bohemia and even parts of Poland and Germany in the distance.

Catering to a wide range of clientele, The tower offers quick meals for cold, hungry skiers enjoying the nearby slopes but also fine dining for longer meals, giving time to digest the startling view – or for the fortunate, as we were, a sensational sunset.

Our final day saw us packing more attractions in: first there was a walking tour of Hradec Králové which offers an elegant combination of Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque and modern architecture, along with the museum of Eastern Bohemia and the A. Petrof factory and piano showroom .

Then it was Pardubice, where we first visited the distinctive crematorium, immortalised in the Czech black comedy The Cremator, then the Art Nouveau Eastern Bohemian Theatre, designed by architect Antonín Balšánek and built in 1907-1909.

Also of note was the Bakla Cafe where I had an excellent Bushmills whiskey coffee. I’d highly recommended it.

After a final dinner in the Cartellone restaurant we sadly said our goodbyes to the wonderful country that had been opened to us for all to brief a time.

I hope to return soon to such a diverse, beautiful and kind spirited place, filled with art and optimism.

Happy anniversary Czech Republic!


See for suggestions of itinerary and accommodation
There are flights from Stansted to Pardubice three times a week with 
Bonita Rhoads and Vadim Erent of were Tomas’s guides
His base in Prague was at, a centrally located hotel with clean modern furnishings