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Prague (Praha) is alive. It’s the only way I can think to adequately describe it. It has a life all its own and it’s consuming, spellbinding even. When you step foot on its streets you become part of its ceaseless energy. It reminds me of New York City in that way – always moving and filling you with its very breath. But unlike New York City, where I feel a need to match the fast-paced energy; in Prague I could both walk for hours without tiring, or sit for hours without feeling a need to accomplish anything.
At times I was surrounded by happy, gregarious people – families, friends, couples, children, stag or hen parties, retirees – dining, drinking, or reveling in the squares and parks. Then, I would turn a corner and find myself practically alone on a quiet, narrow, cobbled street with interesting shops, or atop a hill with a stunning view of the largest ancient castle in Europe. It amazed me that in a city with a constant buzz and people awake at all hours, that I could find these quiet, solitary places so easily.
It’s no wonder this Bohemian city in the Czech Republic is one of the top five most visited European cities, and one I think every Winetraveler needs to experience.
Wine in Beer Country?
While Czech maintains the highest beer consumption per capita in the world and production of oft revered brews dating back to 993 AD, it also offers wine lovers an opportunity to discover a growing number of high-quality wines gaining international notoriety. In fact, Czech’s wine history predates known beer production by more than 700 years when the Romans first planted vines.
However, as was the case for much of communist-held Europe throughout the Cold War, wine production was state-owned, focusing on quantity production of easily grown, less superior grape varieties over quality. As a result, it suffered a significant decline. Fortunately, after the fall of communism in 1989, the state-run cooperatives were broken up and the vineyards returned to the winemakers. Since that time, Czech has returned its winemaking to the traditional methods, emphasizing terroir and modern methods utilizing stainless steel tanks and new technology.
Most vineyards planted, and wines produced today lie in Czech’s southeastern region, historically known as Moravia, about a three-hour drive from Prague. With its continental climate, rolling hills and rich soils, this region accounts for 96% of Czech wine production. And while this lush and romantic region with its more than 700 miles of wine trails, the Czech National Wine Center and numerous wine festivals is well-worth its own in-depth exploration, these brilliant Moravian wines are also easily found and enjoyed at the numerous salons, cafes, restaurants and bars throughout Prague.
In fact, if you’re traveling to Prague in September, you could even visit the annual Prague Wine Festival running this year from September 15 to September 16, 2018.
Tasting Moravian (Czech) Wines
It is not difficult to find an outdoor café, salon or restaurant in Prague at which to try a local wine. However, for a quick and accessible, yet informative tasting that will give you an introduction to the superior and vast wine selection more characteristic of the Czech Republic, I recommend getting your start at Vinograf.
Vinograf, a wine bar with three locations, offers wine by the glass or bottle, as well as for purchase. Depending on your itinerary, you can begin your tasting adventure near the Charles Bridge, across the Vtlava in the New Town, or further away from the center in the Smíchov district. However, for a more intimate and cozy experience, I’d recommend the location near the Charles Bridge at Míšeňská 8. It’s a small, limited table wine bar/boutique with helpful hosts to walk you through myriad options (At the time of this writing there are 337 wines on the menu with 24 available by the glass!).
Or if you are looking for bio/organic wines, you could visit VELTLIN in the trendy Karlín district which also offers an extensive array of locally produced Czech wines.
While your local hosts will be able to recommend specific producers and vintages, as well as which varieties will be most to your liking, Winetraveler is happy to offer a few insights to start your Moravian adventure. Each of the wines listed below will offer a unique taste of wines not likely found outside of the Czech Republic, so grab a bottle to take home if you can (and be sure to avoid stolní víno, a table wine produced with any number and types of European grapes).
The Best Czech Wines to Try
Veltlínske zelené (Grüner Veltliner) – a fresh white wine with citrus aromas, often spicy and complex
Pálava – a hybrid of Müller-Thurgau and Gewürztraminer, this unique white is aromatic, full-bodied, can be produced sweet or dry and has a characteristic spiciness
Hibernal – another full-bodied white wine with an intense aroma and clean acidity
Mopr or Muškát moravský (Moravian Muscat) – this Muscat is unique to Moravia with floral notes, balanced flavors and low acidity
Svatovavřinecké (Saint Laurent) – this is a dark red wine with silky structure and hints of dark cherry
Frankova (Blaufränkisch) – a medium to full-bodied red, often intensely colored with notes of black fruits and peppery spice
Zweigeltrebe (Zweigelt) – a hybrid of St. Laurent and Blaufränkisch, this is a silky, light-bodied red with cherry aromas and good acidity
Cabernet Moravia – a blending of Cabernet Franc and Zweigelt to produce a spicy and fruity medium-bodied red
As for what to do between your wine tastings and meals, WineTraveler is happy to get you started in one of our favorite European destinations. Prague, spared by the bombs that decimated much of Europe in the World Wars, is a fairytale city where you can easily lose yourself for days. In fact, I recommend it!
Get lost in the cobbled streets of Old Town and its eclectic mixture of Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque, Rococo and Art Nouveau architecture; meander your way along the bluffs above the orange-tiled roofs of the city to Castle Hill; and be sure to relish in the charm and whimsy of the Charles Bridge several different times of day (but especially at sunset). I guarantee you will find a new treasure worth exploring and adventure to be had around nearly every corner.
The Best Things to See and Do in Prague
Castle Hill – Castle Hill sits above Prague and the Vtlava River and is where you’ll find the Prague Castle, St. Vitas Cathedral and the Royal Palace. This is where Prague began with construction of this vast fortress ranging between the 10th and 20th centuries. (Winetravler tip: Begin at the National Technical Museum and begin the easy hike through the wooded parks to the backside of the Prague Castle for a unique perspective far from the tourist crowds.)
Staré Mesto (Old Town Square) – This is the lively cultural heart of Prague brimming with colorful umbrellas dotting the numerous cafes, street performers, tarot card readers, musicians, tourists and locals surrounded by a diverse architectural landscape dating back to the 10th century. One of Europe’s most iconic squares, highlights include the elaborate Astronomical Clock, built in 1410 and featuring an astronomical calendar and procession of the twelve apostles. (Winetraveler tip: The Astronomical Clock is in repair until August 2018; however, the observation deck 200-feet above the square remains open and offers stunning views of the square.)
The Jewish Quarter – Home to the oldest Jewish synagogue in Europe, a Jewish cemetery with more than 12,000 tombstones dating back to 1439 and numerous memorials to the victims of the Holocaust. (Winetraveler tip – Visit the Pinkas Synagogue where 80,000 names of the Czech and Moravian Holocaust victims are hand-painted on the interior walls.)
Klementinium – The most beautiful library in the world. Opened in 1722 and featuring exquisite Baroque architecture, the breathtaking library is home to 70,000 novels and Renaissance-style ceiling murals and the astronomical tower offers stunning views of Prague and the Old Town Square. (Winetraveler tip – Looking for a romantic evening? The Klementinium offers a romantic, private tour with a bottle of sparkling wine served in the tower. Or check out a musical performance in the Klementinium’s Mirror Chapel.)
Karlův most (Charles Bridge) – Built in 1357 with 16 arches spanning the Vtlava River and 36 Baroque saints leading the way, the Charles Bridge is one of the most recognizable sights in Prague and one that really must be on every traveler’s itinerary. Day and night this pedestrian walkway is filled with smiling and awe-filled admirers, artisans, musicians, and peddlers. Despite the mass crowds of tourists, the Charles Bridge retains its charm and magic and offers beautiful views of Castle Hill and the surrounding city. (Winetraveler tip – Just past the Kafka Museum in Lesser Town on the west bank of the river is a small sand strip where you can see Prague’s swans with a backdrop of the Charles Bridge.)
Malá Strana (Lesser Town or Little Quarter) – Sitting below Castle Hill, Lesser Town is a quiet and charming neighborhood of Baroque buildings and beautiful parks. Across the river from Old Town, the Lesser Town square has been a hub for more than 10 centuries. (Winetraveler tip – Walk the Lesser Town streets after sunset for a quiet walk on the lantern lit streets.)
The Dancing House – One of the more iconic (and more modern) images of Prague these days, is undoubtedly the Dancing House hotel designed by Vlado Milunić and Frank Gehry. It’s also called Fred and Ginger. This design breaks the mold of the traditional Baroque and Gothic architecture dotted throughout the city, but former Czech President Václav Havel supported the project and believed it would attract a new cultural crowd. (Winetraveler tip — try to go early in the morning for fewer crowds obstructing pictures. Avoid midday, as the sun will be almost directly behind the building which isn’t ideal for photography.)
The John Lennon Wall – John Lennon never visited Prague. However his music and progressive thinking inspired a generation to stand up against communism in the 1980s. Since then, its been painted with his picture and lyrics from various Beatles songs, inspiring freedom.
Wallenstein Palace & Vojanovy Sady Park – In Lesser Town, sits the quiet respite of the Baroque-style palace and current home of the Czech Senate. The palace, gardens and adjacent Vojanovy Sady Park are well worth exploration. (WineTraveler tip – Make sure to find the peacocks roaming the gardens!)
St. Nicholas Church – A Baroque-style cathedral in Lesser Town that offers a stunning views of Prague’s orange-tiled roofs and surrounding hillsides. (Winetraveler tip – Make sure to catch a glimpse of the Charles Bridge at mid-day from high-above. You’ll be astounded by the sheer number of people!)
Petřín Hill – Overlooking Prague from above, Petřín Hill once served as the vineyards of King Charles IV. Today the Hill is a tree-filled park with rose gardens, outdoor games, a mirror maze and the Petřín Tower. (Winetraveler tip – Skip the funicular and take the hike up the hill for a less crowded and more scenic journey.)
Places to Eat in Prague
Terasa U Prince – Dine atop the U Prince hotels with one of the world’s best rooftop views.
Café Louvre – Grab breakfast at this traditional café which dates to 1902 and has seated the likes of Kafka, Einstein and Capek.
U Medvídků – A traditional Czech restaurant and brewery dating back to 1466. This was home to Czech’s first cabaret and is now one of the largest pubs in Prague.
U Fleků – Licensed to make beer in 1499, U Fleků has been drawing crowds to its communal tables and raucous environs for centuries. Enjoy a draft of this signature beer in any of six tavern rooms or the outdoor gardens.
Kolonial – Located near the Jewish Synagogues, Kolonial makes one of our favorite burgers in Prague. It’s a great quick stop for lunch.
La Degustation – An upscale, Michelin star restaurant featuring Czech cuisine and an extensive wine list with local Moravian selections.
Red Pif – A wine bar, restaurant and shop located in the Old Town, Red Pif offers a wide selection of natural wines available by the glass or bottle.
Havelské tržiště Market– a local open-air market featuring fresh produce, touristy gifts and Czech street food.
The “Golden City” is charming, eclectic, modern and old. Prague is a medieval city brimming with Renaissance energy in its post-Velvet Revolution rebirth. It is a cultural hotbed of life with museums, theatre, art, music, an exploding gastronomical scene, and of course its world-renowned beer.
It is also rich with history waiting to be explored from castles and cafes, to Europe’s oldest active synagogue. And then there are the squares, the parks, the hilltops and the magical Charles Bridge spanning the winding Vtlava River that beckon to be experienced both actively and passively, or better yet, with a glass of Moravian wine.