Czechia is where you can see the best of Europe – without having to pay the budget-unfriendly Euro.
Besides Prague, most of the country is quite off the mass tourist route and the exchange rate between Czech koruna and the rand is quite favourable for South Africans.
It’s not as cheap as a trip to Thailand for example, but you end up paying the same than you would in South Africa’s cities, but you can drink a beer with a 15th-century cathedral behind you.
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Essential info you should know
Visa requirement: South Africans need a Schengen Visa.
Currency: Czech koruna/crown
Key Airport Hub: Václav Havel Airport Prague
Peak Season: May to September over their spring and summer seasons
Time-zone: Same as SA
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The country, especially Prague, has an interesting history when it comes to the art of film, with three films winning the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film, with several nominated.
Watching a film in a local cinema could help with getting a grasp on the language. You can also check out one of their many film festivals or take a tour of the Barrandov Studios in Prague built in the 30s, which at that time produced up to 80 films a year. You can also check out Lucerna, the oldest continuously operating cinema in Prague, where Nazis and ageing Communist leaders once frequented.
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Prague Astronomical Clock: Newly renovated, Prague’s fabled Astronomical Clock in the Old Town Square looks like it comes out of a fantasy world. At a young 608-years-old, the clock still has its original mechanism and depicts all the days of the year, months, Zodiac signs and Prague’s coat of arms.
Kromeríž Castle: The Kromeríž Castle in Olomouc used to be the home of bishops and archbishops, as well as an impressive musical archive and library of 33 000 volumes. It’s most well-known for its gardens, which includes a maze to get lost in known as the Pleasure Gardens. You can also take a stroll through the Archbishop’s Wine Cellars where you can sup on holy liquid.
Prague Castle: The Prague Castle is a symbol of the city – and the country – founded around 880 by a prince. It holds the Guinness record for the largest coherent castle complex in the world, with palaces, cathedrals, towers, a picture gallery and treasury.
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Lednice Valtice Cultural Landscape: Known as the Garden of Europe, the Lednice and Valtice Chateaux are surrounded by gardens full of rare trees, fishponds and the romance of a time long gone. This landscape was cultivated by the Lichtensteins – once one of the most powerful families in Europe – and today is an example of ostentatious European luxury.
Cathedral of St Peter and Paul: The spires of this Baroque-style cathedral is hard to miss in the city of Brno, a national cultural monument. Interestingly, it rings its bells at 11:00, not noon, because legend says that an invading army said they would call off their attack at noon if they did not succeed in taking the city, and some citizens decided to trick them by ringing the bells an hour earlier.
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What to do
Sink into hot springs at Karlovy Vary: This beautiful city is famous for its hot springs, attracting visitors to its healing waters for centuries. Many hotels focus on bringing the hot mineral water to their hotels from its underwater source, but the main place to check out is the Hot Spring Collonade. Here you’ll see a fountain and take tours to the underground sections where locals show how they make their petrified Karlsbad souvenirs.
Get lost in a city of rock: Hruboskalsko Rock City in Czech Paradise consists of naturally formed rock towers the can reach heights of up to 55 metres. It’s quite popular with rock climbers, but enthusiasts have lost their lives here, with a symbolic cemetery set up underneath the Marian viewpoint. From here you can also see the Trosky castle ruins, hills and chateaux.
Hike through the Bohemian Switzerland National Park: On the border with Germany, straddling the Elbe Sandstone Mountains, you’ll find the picturesque Bohemian Switzerland, named so for its similarity to the Swiss landscape. It’s known for its fascinating rock formations, castles once used as robber hideouts and the beautiful Gorges of Kamenice.
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Beer your way through Pilsen: Did you know that the pilsner beer was first made in Czech? It’s named after the Bohemian city of Pilsen, where the original Pilsner Urquell is still produced. You can take a tour of the brewery and learn about this 175-year-old beer. You’ll also get to taste unfiltered and unpasteurised Pilsner Urquell tapped directly from an oak lager cask in the brewery’s historical cellars.
Scare up some ghosts in Sedlec Ossuary: If you have a taste for the macabre, this Bone Church is probably one of the strangest places you’ll ever visit. Between 40 000 to 70 000 human skeletons are on display, assorted into chairs, a chandelier, chalices and other bizarre ornaments.
WATCH: Creepy or cool? Visit this 'Bone Church' decorated with 40K skeletons
What to eat
Pick your own mushrooms: Considered almost a national sport, Czech families love to go out with their baskets to hunt for mushrooms in forests. The fungi are popular in traditional Czech cooking, and if you go on a hunt for yourself, be sure to take a Czech guide with you.
Pivní sýr: A popular bar snack, this is a strong, Cheddar-like cheese that’s normally splashed with beer, mashed together and the spread onto Šumava bread made from rye and caraway seeds.
Knedlíky: A typical side-dish for Czech food, the knedlíky is a type of dumpling that comes in various forms, served with a sauce or can be stuffed.
Soups: Meals are normally preceded by a soup, the most common of which is potato soup, but can also be beef, goulash or sour cabbage, among others.
Vepro knedlo zelo: In the top tier of Czech cuisine, vepro knedlo zelo is basically a roast pork meal, drenched in gravy and normally served with sauerkraut and knedlíky.
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