100 years on since the Czech lands were first united into one nation, it’s the perfect time to savour the country’s captivating history and bustling present.
100 years on
In 1918, as the First World War finally ground to a halt, the Czech nation was born. Founded by Tomáš Masaryk, the so-called “President Liberator”, Czechoslovakia ushered in remarkable new era of political, architectural and cultural achievement.
In the country’s beautiful capital, the imposing Prague Castle was reimagined in striking fashion by Jože Plečnik, the Slovenian architect; at the same time, Alphonse Mucha, a pioneer of the Czech art nouveau movement, produced his masterpieces; and composer Leoš Janáček took his operas to the world stage.
Industry followed suit, with the emergence of Czech brands such as Skoda and Pilsner Urquell, the first golden lager, named after Plzeň, the city where it was first brewed. Bohemian Crystal, famous since the Renaissance, continued to signify, as it does today, artisanship, beauty and quality.
Although the Velvet Divorce of 1993 saw the country split and the Czech Republic emerge as its own nation, the successes of Czechoslovakia’s early years can still be enjoyed in this centenary year. Now is the perfect time to visit.
From 1918, many cities in the new republic, such as Brno, Hradec Králové and Zlín, saw their architecture transformed as Czech modernism swept all before it.
Brno embraced functionalism, an austere style which gave the country’s second largest city a reputation as one of Europe’s most progressive metropolises. Direct flights connect London to the city where striking examples of this architecture survive: you can visit the magnificent Villa Tugendhat, completed in 1930 by Mies van der Rohe and now a Unesco World Heritage Site. The city also boasts incredible bars and a burgeoning restaurant scene.
In Hradec Králové, 30 minutes from Pardubice (served by direct flights from London Stansted), you will find the incredible buildings of Jan Kotěra, a leading light in Czech modernism.
With 13 non-stop flights a day from London (and six more divided between Manchester, Bristol, Edinburgh and Birmingham), Prague, with its Gothic architecture, bustling bars and arts scene, is just two hours from the UK. In the Czech capital you can visit the cafés played host to an underground anti-communist movement. It was around these tables that dissident poets, philosophers and musicians, including the country’s future president, Václav Havel, met to co-ordinate their opposition to the regime which finally toppled in 1989.
Some of the best cafés are the remarkable Parisian-style Café Louvre, visited by the likes of Franz Kafka and Albert Einstein; Café Imperial, with its stunning art deco interior; and the Municipal House Café, designed in the art nouveau style. See czechtourism.com