Fionn Davenport joined Anton Savage on the hard shoulder, another episode of Europe’s Hidden Highlights, this week he is visiting Bohemia.
Just beyond the outskirts of Prague, the landscape changes – a land of rolling hills, rich farmland and
thick forests dotted with castles, castles and picturesque towns. This is Bohemia: rural, rustic but surprisingly elegant too. Less than two or three hours drive from the capital is a region which, for centuries, has allowed generations of city dwellers to escape, and has attracted European elites.
The day I flew to Prague, I saw on Twitter that it had been 20 years since the former Czech soccer star
Patrick Berger scored an impressive hat-trick for Liverpool against Chelsea. i watched youtube
link and remembered what a great footballer he had been.
By the time I landed, however, I had forgotten the vague coincidence. I was on a golf trip to a
unlikely golf destination, a country more associated with beer and Gothic architecture than with
good walk wasted. My first stop was Albatross Golf Club, a short drive from the airport and the Czech Republic.
The highest ranked course in Republic.
Sitting in the fancy clubhouse enjoying a sandwich and a coffee I notice the guy sitting at the table
next to me. Older, a little grayer but immediately recognizable. Handsome and athletic – a more mature –
looking for Jamie Dornan. I got up and walked over, not even trying to hide my smile. “Patrick Berger? “
I explained the coincidence. “A nice hat trick,” he said with a smile. “Reminds me that I could play a bit.” I
A little more fawn, he retaliates with charming false modesty, then I ask him about his golf game.
“Ah, not as good as my football,” he replies as we stand up for the inevitable selfie. “My handicap is blocked
at 7 years old. Golf is tough!
As a longtime golfer who has never managed to get below 12, my heart bleeds for you, Patrick.
Plzeň (Pilsen in German) is famous among brewers around the world as the mother seam of all lagers, the
fountain of eternal foam. The pilsner lager was invented here in 1842. It is an hour from Prague
It is the homeland of Pilsner Urquell (Plzeňský prazdroj), the first and arguably the best lager in the world –
“Urquell” (in German; prazdroj in Czech) means “original source” – and beer drinkers all over the world
the world flock to worship at the Pilsner Urquell brewery.
The city is close enough to Prague to see the sights on a long day trip – but you could easily pass the
night. There is also an amazing science center.
Karlovy Vary, about a 90-minute drive west of Prague Airport, in the heart of the wooded valleys of the west
Bohemia – known locally as Vary, but better known in history as Karlsbad.
For a few hundred years it was the most famous spa town in Europe, the place where Casanova,
Beethoven, Mozart and the It Crowd of old strutting around and taking therapeutic cures
mineral springs that bubble under the ground.
The city fell asleep after WWII and the Iron Curtain design, when most visitors
were retirees and workers from the Eastern Bloc on state-sponsored stays. Fortunately, communism did not
sacrificing form for function, so apart from a few Brutalist-style buildings from the 1970s, it’s still
quite a viewer.
Rows of colorful Art Nouveau buildings surround a wooded valley divided by the slowly flowing Teplá River.
along which run the pedestrian streets of the old town. This is where the sick, the sexy and the
sophisticated would wander past the grand cafes, the elegant boutiques and the beautiful colonnades that housed
the mineral springs from which the city’s fame was born.
Hotel Pupp – for decades it was the Grand Hotel Moskva with Russian flavors, one of the
housing of the upper echelons of the Communist Parties of Eastern Europe. It covers almost the entire south end of the spa and exudes old world glamor. It was featured in the James Bond movie Casino Royale and inspired Wes Anderson’s Grand Budapest Hotel. These days it’s a big budget, but it’s worth it if you can snag one of the period style bedrooms (you have to ask).
The Imperial Karlovy Vary hotel (spa-hotel-imperial.cz) offers double rooms from € 75
Cihelny Golf & Spa Resort, 18 hilly holes designed by Gary Player just outside Karlovy Vary. At first glance, the course seems a bit cramped and stuck in the hills, but it’s a great test of golf, although some holes are a real test of your heart shape and errant workouts will be severely punished – just like the fitness freaks and demanding Gary Player would have liked.
A little more of Leap…. Montenegro is doubled by Loket, 14 km from Karlovy Vary it almost makes an island (loket means “bend” in Czech, a reference to the bend of the river). In fact, “JW Goethe’s Favorite Town” (as the tourist likes to describe it) is so pretty that if you saw it in a movie, you’d think it was a painted backdrop. Mariánské Lázně (better known abroad as Marienbad) is smaller and greener than Karlovy Vary, which makes it look more like a classic spa destination (but also means there is even less to do the evening). In its heyday, Mariánské Lázně attracted celebrities such as Goethe, Thomas Edison, the King of Great Britain Edward VII and even the American writer Mark Twain. Nowadays, most visitors are German day trippers. Besides the colonnades, the city is surrounded by deep forests which make for beautiful walks.
Golf: Royal Golf Club Mariánské Lázně, This is the oldest course in the Czech Republic, founded in 1905 for the sporting entertainment of wealthy visitors to Marienbad.
Český Krumlov, in the deep south of Bohemia, is one of the most picturesque towns in Europe. It’s a little
like Prague – a Unesco World Heritage Site with a magnificent castle above the Vltava River, an ancient
town square, Renaissance and Baroque architecture, and hordes of tourists parading through the streets
– but all on a smaller scale; you can walk from one end of town to the other in 20 minutes. There are
many lively bars and picnic areas by the river. In summer it is a favorite place for backpackers, and
in winter, when the crowds are gone and the castle is covered in snow, it is a magical place.
The 13th century castle is fabulous; just like the private museum dedicated to the works of the Viennese painter
Egon Schiele (his mother was born in the city). The center of the old town is defined by náměstí
Svornosti, with its 16th century town hall and 18th century Marian plague column.