TRAVEL

1918 - 2018:

100 Years of the Czech Republic

March 7, 2018

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View of Villa Tugendhat, Brno

IMAGE: Javier Larrea

From striking architecture and vibrant art to spa therapy, gastronomy and adventures in the great outdoors, the Czech Republic is a land of culture, beauty and wonder. And this year there’s an even better reason to book a trip to this cosmopolitan destination as 2018 sees the centenary of the birth of independent Czechoslovakia.

 

 

 

A land of stories

 

The central European country was founded after the First World War as one of the successor states of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

 

In the 1990s it officially split to form the Czech and Slovak Republics, and both countries are this year celebrating the 100th anniversary of their birth.

 

The story of Czechoslovakia begins in 1918 when the sovereign democratic state was formed. The architect of this scheme was the politician Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk, who went on to become the country’s first president. Known as the ‘President Liberator’, Masaryk is celebrated as a hero to this day.

 

The 20 years between the two World Wars represent a particularly rich chapter in Czech history. At the time, Czech lands became one of the centres of modern European life. The interwar era left behind numerous monuments, museums and cafés equipped with period

furniture and sporting traditions, all with their own individual stories.

 

The 1918-38 era, known as the First Republic, plays a key role in this year’s centenary events.

 

Worship at the temple of beer

 

What better way to toast the centenary than with a refreshing glass of Czech beer? After all, there’s nothing the Czechs are more proud of than their ‘liquid bread’.

 

And there’s no doubt that without the renowned hops from the town of Žatec, Czech beer wouldn’t have gained its worldwide fame.

 

The famous Žatec ‘cervenák’ hops serve as the basis of pils beer, and you can taste it for

yourself at the Hop and Beer Temple in the centre of the town. Here, you can walk through the hop labyrinth, take in the view from the tower, and experience the striking of the only hop

astronomical clock in the world.

 

And if you’re thirsty for more beer-related diversions, head for the Hop Museum, the world's

largest museum of its type, where you’ll find out all you need to know about growing hops.

 

 

 

 

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Easter Monday in the Czech Republic is a time full of traditional customs

IMAGE: Jan Volejnícek

Keeping traditions alive

 

The Wallachian Open-Air Museum provides a fascinating insight into traditional rural life in the

Beskydy foothills.

 

Situated in the picturesque village of Rožnov pod Radhoštem, the museum was created in 1925 and is said to be the oldest and possibly even the largest of its kind in central Europe.

 

Eastertime in Rožnov pod Radhoštem is deeply rooted in a whole host of customs and traditions. From craft fairs and hand-painted Easter eggs to Easter caroling, the village comes alive with the renderings of folkloric performers and the sights, sounds and activities of days gone by.

 

Indeed, this sense of festivity stretches throughout the Czech Republic. Take, for example, Easter Monday, otherwise known as "Whipping Monday", when men up and down the country will visit women in their homes to chase them around and slap their legs with a special osier stick plaited from willow branches.

 

But don't worry, this tradition is not an explicit sanctioning of violent behaviour towards women, but rather a gentle and joyful whipping which symbolises youth and vitality, with the ultimate objective of passing on health and beauty to the ladies.

 

Frozen in time

 

Overlooking the River Vltava, the town of Ceský Krumlov is described as a ‘pearl of Renaissance architecture’ and is a UNESCO-designated World Heritage Site.

 

Here you’ll find a 13th-Century castle, maze-like alleyways and pretty floral gardens, as well as medieval pubs, ale-houses, galleries and graphite mines.

 

 

 

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The stunning interior of the Villa Tugendhat

IMAGE: UNESCO Czech Heritage/Pavel Vopálka

Hradec Králové: the Salon of the Republic

 

When the walls of Hradec Králové began to be demolished at the end of the 19th century,

the city was about to undergo a major

modernisation.

 

The enlightened councillors invited top Czech architects, such as Jan Kotera and Josef Gocár, who gave the streets and squares of the East Bohemian city a new character.

 

In 1904, Kotera's first house was built, and from then on, remarkable constructions were built

until 1935, transforming the city into the ‘Salon of the Republic’.

 

A 3.5km walking route can comfortably be completed in two hours, taking in various sights

including a winter garden, spa and gallery. Or, if you prefer, you can travel the route by bicycle.

 

Brno: centre of European functionalism

 

Discover a marriage of functionality and beauty in the buildings of Brno, the Czech Republic’s second largest city.

 

The Tugendhat Villa is one of the most revered monuments in Brno. Its interior features an onyx partition and specially-designed furniture that uses steel tubes.

 

The Stiassni Villa, meanwhile, has played host to most of the Czechoslovak presidents and official visitors to the city.

 

 

 

St. Bartholomew's Cathedral in Pilsen

IMAGE: Ladislav Renner

Nové Mesto nad Metují: discover an intriguing history

 

Situated in north-eastern Bohemia, the stand-out feature of the town of Nové Mesto nad Metují is its castle.

 

Back in the 17th century, the chateau and estate came into the possession of the Scottish soldier Walter Leslie, who was involved in the murder of Czech aristocrats accused of a plot against the Emperor.

 

As a reward, Leslie was elevated to the position of Field Marshal and Imperial Count.

 

In the early 20th century the castle and estate were bought by the Barton family, who have carried out extensive renovations.

 

It’s now open to the public, and in 2008 was listed as a National Monument.

 

Plzen: a centre of industry

 

At the time of the First Republic, Plzen was one of the most important centres of Czechoslovak industry and a town with a strong Jewish community.

 

The wealthy Jewish investors enlisted the yet unknown architect Adolf Loos, who gradually created a set of eight elegant interiors that represented the quality of design and culture of housing under the First Republic.

 

You can now explore four of these sites, including the Kraus family’s apartment. Here, thanks to the clever use of mirrors, Loos created an impression of endless corridors in the dining hall of the chemical specialist Kraus.

 

Zlín: geometrically pure architecture

 

Today, the city of Zlín, in East Moravia, is famed for its link to the businessman Tomáš Bata. The rapid rise of his footwear company paved the way for the city’s development and gave it its character.

 

Bata founded his shoemaking company in 1894 and built his first modern factory in Zlín in 1900. He went on to establish a shoe-making empire, which expanded throughout the world.

 

Bata invited renowned architects of the time to Zlín, including Le Corbusier, and together they

gave the city a functional feel.

 

A dominant feature of the city's skyline is the ‘Bata Skyscraper’, also known as Building 21. At

the time of its construction, it was Europe's second tallest skyscraper.

 

And Zlín now plays host to the largest children’s film festival in the world, the International

Festival of Films for Children and Young People.

 

 

The Czech Republic is full of exciting and beautiful cycling trails

IMAGE: Štepán Vrzala

Two-wheeled adventures

 

If you’re a fan of pedal power, or simply fancy giving it a try, the Czech Republic is the place for

you.

 

Cycling is the most widespread form of recreational activity here. There’s a growing network of cycle routes and cycleways to enjoy, as well as bike parks and trail-centres for the more adventurous.

 

The popularity of extreme biking is increasing, and conditions and facilities are improving.

Admission to parks is free, and fees are required only for rentals, cable cars and other services.

 

Last year, U.S. travel vlogger Brian Cox embarked on a 14-day expedition across the Czech Republic – on a bicycle.

 

During the course of the trip he travelled 700km (about 435 miles), taking in spellbinding

attractions, sampling gastronomic delights and learning about the country’s culture.

 

Exploring on foot

 

Hiking is another popular pastime, which is no surprise, considering the wealth of natural beauty the Czech Republic is blessed with.

 

There are more than 40,000km of marked trails here, which is particularly impressive when you realise this is equal to the circumference of Earth.

 

The Czech Tourist Club takes care of the trails. And there are also several European long-distance trails going through the Czech Republic, connecting, for example, the Atlantic with the Black Sea.

 

You can find tourist markers almost anywhere – in the mountains, lowlands, forests, and even in the cities.

 

In the mountains walkers can take in stunning views, wander along ridges, gorges, beside rivers and through deep forests. Tourist paths through sandstone rock towns are especially appealing.

 

Sleeping under canvas

 

For travellers keen to get close to nature, the Czech Republic offers a wide choice of campsites spread across the country’s 14 regions.

 

Facilities at the different sites vary, but many feature swimming pools and children’s play areas. And you may even find activities such as water sports, horse riding and golf.

 

 

 

 

Relaxing by the spa

IMAGE: David Marvan

Spa therapy that doesn’t cost the Earth

 

Unwinding at a spa and letting your cares melt away is something many of us enjoy, especially while on holiday, and the Czech Republic offers plenty of opportunities for this wellness treat.

 

There are spas throughout the country providing treatments that take advantage of mineral springs.

 

Luhacovice

 

The spa town of Luhacovice boasts a fairy tale atmosphere thanks to its surrounding countryside and distinctive architecture. Before the First World War, architect Dušan Jurkovic built several houses in the original style of the ‘folk Art Nouveau’ here.

 

The Luhacovice Valley still heals people to this day. It’s interwoven by 16 curative springs, led by the popular Vincentka spring. Respiratory and digestive complaints, as well as disorders of the musculoskeletal and circulatory systems, are treated here. The key to the healing is the use of natural sources, combined with modern treatment and rehabilitation techniques.

 

Probably the greatest and most faithful of the famous guests of the time was the composer Leoš Janácek, who spent a full 23 spa seasons here, gaining inspiration, composing and presenting his compositions.

 

Janské Lázne

 

The thermal mineral water and fresh mountain climate allow visitors to indulge in natural healing at Janské Lázne.

 

The most important curative springs here are Jan's and the Black Spring, which can be found next to the main spa building, and treatments are

combined with walks in the surrounding area.

 

Although the local springs have been used for treatment since the 14th century, the greatest

expansion of the mountain spa took place in the early 1920s.

 

The area is known for its breathtaking countryside, and in 1925 the World Ski Championships took place here. Then, three years later, a cableway travelling to the top of Cerná Hora was put into operation.

 

Today, the largest ski resort in the Czech Republic can be found here.

 

 

Spa Janské Lázne

IMAGE: UPVISION

Podebrady

 

On the banks of the River Elbe lies Podebrady - a town in a park. For more than a century it’s been one of the country’s most important spa towns, mainly because of its springs, stable weather and pleasant environment.

 

One of the reasons people visit the town is because of the Podebradka mineral spring, which helps with circulation problems. It also treats conditions connected with the heart, blood vessels, metabolism and motor system.

 

The local mineral baths and drinking regime have helped a large number of patients, including

Czechoslovakia’s first president, Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk, no less.

 

A feast for the taste buds

 

As they say in the Czech Republic, ‘Love passes through the stomach’.

 

Czech cuisine has its roots in ancient traditions. For centuries, the country’s ancestors relied

on what they grew or raised on the land where they lived.

 

But, due to changes in farming and trade, ingredients and food preparation altered over the course of the 19th and 20th Centuries.

 

But more recently, Czechs have been reinventing their eating habits. Meals have become more varied and rich, the variety of food available has grown, and many now recognise the benefits of healthy eating.

 

 

What are you waiting for?

 

The Czech Republic is a land brimming with possibilities for travellers looking for adventure but who want to limit their impact on the planet.

 

It celebrates and cares for its pure natural beauty and resources, from its mountains to its

restorative mineral springs.

 

It’s also a country of contrasts, especially when it comes to architecture, which ranges from

functional to fairy tale.

 

And don’t forget the various opportunities to enjoy the great outdoors, whether on foot or two wheels.

 

One thing’s for sure, a trip to the Czech Republic is guaranteed to be an unforgettable, magical

experience.

 

 

 

 

 

To find out more about how you can book the perfect holiday or business trip to the Czech Republic, then please visit the official website of the Czech Tourist Authority - CzechTourism:

 

www.czechtourism.com

 

 

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