Spas are fragrant places with splunky music. They typically don’t contain baths full of lager. But that’s exactly what the Purkmistr beer spa offers just outside the Czech city of Pilsen.
At this steamy hotspot, I stepped into a wooden bathtub of hot, beer-infused water — and was given a quart-sized dimpled beer mug to fill from a keg next to the bathtub.
Both the beer – and I, sorry – were bottomless. I felt like Cleopatra for about £30 (purkmistr.cz) and it was driving me insane.
Majestic: Oliver Bennett explored the Czech Republic’s ‘beer, gastronomy and culture’, stopping at Prague’s Charles Bridge (pictured) on his tour
I had come on a trip to Prague and Pilsen to enjoy beer, gastronomy and culture in anticipation of the 30th anniversary of the separation of the Czech Republic and Slovakia on January 1st. Nowadays, the capital city of Prague is known for its bachelor parties. hen mess. Luckily, the town dials the Swill and Spill gang and is looking for foodies.
So, shortly after landing, I dove into a deep Czech meal of garlic soup and duck at Cafe Imperial (cafeimperial.cz), a place of Habsburg splendor, and met guide Eva Vondrusova, who was named by King Wenceslaus, the “Father of the Czechs”. swarmed nation’.
This ‘good king’, also the patron saint of wine, watches over the republic and under threat his heroic Wenceslas Square statue comes to life and leads a zombie army to war. Don’t even think about it, Putin.
On a crisp morning I gathered at the Strahov Monastery overlooking Prague. Here Eva showed me the most beautiful view of the city, artistically arranged around the Vltava, as eternal as Rome in the spring light.
Oliver enjoyed the “most beautiful view” of Prague from the Strahov Monastery, which has an impressive interior (above)
I wandered downhill through the bohemian district of Hradcany, a Montmartre of Prague full of beautiful gabled farmsteads, then through the beautiful district of Mala Strana towards Prague’s crowning glory, Charles Bridge.
More boulevard than river crossing, this monument has its fair share of bums and buskers. But nothing can detract from its splendor, and there, frozen in stone, is a series of statues, including Wenceslaus, blessing the thousands of tourists who propose marriage here every year.
“We Czechs prefer Petrin Hill for suggestions,” Eva said. ‘The bridge means a lot to you.’
Was it time for a lunchtime beer? Not far away, but first I had to make my pitcher.
At the Prague Glass Experience (pragl.glass), a dedicated Australian named Matthew, who, like so many travelers had ended up in the Czech capital as if by accident, gave me an introduction: “Take this pipe, take the molten glass at the end, blow slowly – and don’t touch the hot piece.’
Prague’s “excellent” Museum of Communism, pictured, holds many bitter memories of the hardships before 1989
I left an hour later with a wobbly light green glass mug that looked like a mint-colored aero, the fitting result of a new ability in the UN Year of Glass.
Matthew’s red-hot workshop made me thirsty, and at Restaurant Stupartska (pivnicestupartska.cz), an Arts-and-Crafts-themed interior with an uncompromisingly carnivorous menu, I was met with copious amounts of lager and a giant pork knuckle, while Eva discussed the cleavage of the Landes spoke from Slovakia.
“It was awful and families had to choose between being one or the other,” she said, adding that the latest political trend is the country’s anti-EU movement known as “Czexit”. .
Oliver in a beer-infused bath at Purkmistr beer spa outside the Czech city of Pilsen (pictured)
The story goes on, and in the afternoon I lingered in the excellent Museum of Communism (muzeumkomunismu.cz), with many acrid memories of the deprivations before 1989, like a shop with hardly any goods. The museum made the jump to bustling Cerveny Jelen (cervenyjelen.cz) even more incredible. At the center of this former palace was a tower of tanks of unpasteurized lager, tall as a stack of amps at a status quo gig – and perfect for its menu of modern Czech classics.
Eva showed me how to pour Pils: snyt, some foam; hladinka, more foam; mliko, all foam.
“For the Czechs, these are almost spiritual matters,” she said.
Most tourists get stuck in Prague. But a contender for best beer town is 60 miles away, an hour by train.
Pilsen is a prosperous city that brought the world Emil Skoda car fame, Petr Cech goalkeeper fame – and Pils beer fame.
A beer town with several breweries, its pride is Pilsner Urquell: a village-sized brewery celebrating its 180th anniversary this year.
At the Pilsner Urquell brewery pictured, Oliver discovered a malty maze filled with rows of massive casks of “the world’s best lager.”
I was received by the guide Martina. A tour here is surprisingly interesting, even for those unmoved by fermentation, especially because there is a 12-mile stretch of wet tunnels beneath the brewery.
This malty maze is home to rows of massive kegs of the world’s best lager – and a few bars. For £18pp, 15 people can rent these troglodyte taverns for three hours, served by a barmaid who counts customers in and out.
As Martina said, ‘We’ve lost people down here.’
Stepping into the light, I walked through the pretty provincial town to see St. Bartholomew’s Cathedral, the Great Synagogue, the early 20th-century interiors by architect Adolf Loos, and the Zapadoceske Museum, which has an exhaustive selection of old swords and muskets – maybe for Wenzel’s zombie army.
Back at the Parkanu pub (about £1.90 a pint, naparkanu.com) I drank a Hladinka-style beer, reflecting through the foam that in the Czech Republic an ap***-up at a brewery is a rich cultural experience can be .