Daybreak on the Charles Bridge. Photo: Paul Allen
Low prices and cheap beer have made Prague a hen and stag magnet but don't let that put you off visiting a city perhaps even more captivating than Paris.
National Theatre; Jaroslav Jezek's Blue Room. Photos: Paul Allen
As music lovers, we were sorry to miss Prague Spring festival. Mozart composed Don Giovanni in Prague where it premiered in 1787 at the Estates Theatre (National Theatre). A tour of the National Theatre allows non-Czech speakers to get a sense of what a performance would be like at the country's premiere theatre for ballet, opera and drama. Spectacularly embellished gold interiors feature busts of various composers and directors. Jaroslav Jezek, an early 20th-century composer and associate of Stravinsky is a noticeable omission due to his forced exile to New York by the Nazi occupation. However, the 'Blue Room' a tiny museum in the Prague flat where Jezek lived, is packed with fascinating memorabilia from his short but intense musical career.
Jazz Dock on the riverside
Live music seemed essential after the Blue Room so we headed to the Old Town Square to hear Staromestsky Dixieland. They were an excellent taster for a gig at Jazz Dock, featuring a brilliant quartet led by Czech pianist Jiri Levicek and American trumpet player Evan Weiss.
Strahov Monastic Library in the castle grounds.Photo: Paul Allen
Along with our Prague cards which offered free transportation and museum admissions, our guide proved to be invaluable. Eva Kupr, booked via the Prague tourist office, showed us the main attractions plus less obvious places such as the 17th-century library in the Strahov Monastery. Two beautiful halls with glorious ceiling murals house 280,000 titles and glass cases display fine illuminated manuscripts.
Alphonse Mucha Museum. Photo: Paul Allen
After exploring the art nouveau Municipal House on the site of the fourteenth-century King Wenceslas's residence, we made our way to a museum dedicated to art nouveau poster boy, Alphonse Mucha. While modest in size, the museum provides a decent selection of the artist's posters, paintings and drawings.
David Cerny, The Babies. TV Tower and closeup at Kampa Museum. Cracking Art Group's 34 Yellow Penguins, outside Kampa Museum.
Photos: Paul Allen
We also enjoyed more eccentric sights like Frank Gehry and Vlado Milunić's curvy Dancing House. And while the communist-era TV Tower was voted second ugliest building in the world, we loved it. The observation tower provides panoramic views and the outside features ten wacky bronze baby sculptures by David Cerny. Larger versions of these are outside the Kampa art gallery.
The Mark hotel. Photos: Paul Allen
As one of the least expensive destinations in Europe, it's possible to splash out on hotels. We stayed in two equally swish hotels - The Mark and the Four Seasons. The Mark's elegant, large suite with lounge and balcony also had a kitchenette. Self-catering wasn't on the cards though with all the great restaurant options, including Le Grill at the Mark itself and the hotel's chic Two Steps bar where we indulged in delicious pear basil cocktails and burgers.
River view room; Cotto Crudo restaurant, Four Seasons. Photos: Paul Allen
Although our stylish room at the Four Seasons was more compact than our room at the Mark, the river views from our window were unbeatable. And like all hotels in the Four Seasons group, comfort, combined with luxury and impeccable service, was a given. Feeling lazy after a hectic day, we were happy to dine at the hotel's excellent restaurant, Cotto Crudo where we feasted on a delicious array of raw and cooked food. Highlights were red prawns tartar with spicy coulis and the astonishing variety of mozzarella di bufala and prosciutto.
Fantastical dessert at Field. Photo: Paul Allen
Cotto Crudo's charming Michelin-starred Chef Luca de Astis kindly recommended we go to Field. The imaginative menu offered crayfish with leek and bacon followed by lamb, sweet potatoes, walnut and fig and succulent angus steak with béarnaise ice-cream. The chocolate and coffee mousse was like no other, arriving on a steaming explosion of dry ice. Our foodie friends were thrilled with Field's food and by spotting Donald Sutherland at the next table.
Cafe Savoy; Chefs at La Degustation. Photos: Paul Allen
Prague's bleak food scene of the Communist era is clearly a distant memory. The art nouveau interiors at Cafe Savoy, were a treat, as was the signature Savoy cake of chocolate, cherries and marzipan. At Michelin-starred La Degustation we were impressed with how cleverly juices were paired with each course of our modern Czech feast. Favourites were river eel with dill sauce accompanied by delicate cucumber gooseberry juice and pumpkin soup with ham cracklings, and apple elderflower juice. More heavy duty was the signature beef tongue served with apple and yellow peas plus red cabbage juice.
Lokal Dlouha. Photo: Paul Allen
We went to Lokal Dlouha for the experience of eating in a Communist-era diner and we loved both the atmosphere and the food. After checking out the uber cool clientele at the front bar, we were pleasantly surprised by the high quality of the food, especially considering how cheap it was. We would go back there in a second for the perfectly cooked sausages, potato salad and the legendary coconut dessert.
Prague metro. Photo: Paul Allen
With an ancient castle, a fourteenth-century bridge across the lovely Vltava River, superb restaurants and an impressive contemporary art scene, Prague is a mini-break winner.