Rococo

Rococo is sometimes termed ‘Late Baroque’ and there are obvious reasons for this. If Baroque flutters its eyelashes and says “Look at me”, then Rococo goes a bit further and suggests that we might like to join it in an orgy. Rococo is not for the faint hearted.

Because of its outrageously over the top nature, Rococo is largely, though not always, confined to palaces, where its flamboyance can be let loose on both the exterior and interior. Unfortunately, Rococo will always be associated with the ludicrously ostentatious displays of the out-of-touch aristocracy, but at least these excesses have been left for the rest of us to enjoy.

Istanbul

The Pera Palace is Istanbul’s most famous hotel. Located just to the north of the Galata Tower, the hotel was built in 1892, chiefly for the benefit of travellers on the Orient Express. This leads us nicely to Agatha Christie, who was a regular guest between 1924 and 1933. Legend has it that she wrote Murder on the Orient Express in room 411 of the hotel. Plenty of other notable figures have stayed here, including Leon Trotsky, Mata Hari and Greta Garbo.

Pera Palace

Pera Palace

On a smaller scale, but also in Rococo style, are the fountain kiosk of Ahmed III, located at Topkapi Palace, and the fountain of Sultan Ahmed III.

Ahmet III Fountain

Ahmet III Fountain

Pushkin

Some 15 miles to the south of St Petersburg, the town of Pushkin was a regular summer residence for Russia’s Imperial families. Indeed, the town was known as Tsar’s Village, becoming Children’s Village after the Revolution before being named in honour of the poet who studied at the local school.

The Catherine Palace is often thought, wrongly, to be named after Catherine the Great, but was in fact named after Catherine I, the second wife of Peter the Great. The original building was far more modest that what can be seen today, the Empress Elizabeth having ordered a rebuilding of the palace. Initially, she commissioned two Russian architects, but brought in the inimitable Bartolomeo Rastrelli, whose style is all over the building’s façade.

Catherine Palace

Catherine Palace

While some might prefer to categorise the palace as Baroque, it is so magnificently, outrageously over the top in every aspect that is simply has to be described as Rococo. This is Rococo with a capital R, Rococo that jumps up and down shouting at the top of its voice while simultaneously beating you over the head with its outlandish attire.

Comfy little terraced house

Comfy little terraced house

If the palace itself is not enough, there is the beautiful park, with its lakes, pavilions, statues and bridges. Even if you are determined to remain unimpressed by all of this, stepping inside the palace is likely to make even the most resolute jaw drop.

Even the lake is Rococo...

Even the lake is Rococo…

Naturally, this was the exact intention. Jaws were supposed to drop, as visitors filed into the exquisitely ornate main hall and then drifted through the collection of equally lavish rooms bedecked in gold and jewels of varying colours. All of this extravagance, of course, was not going to impress the increasingly subversive peasantry and while it would be ludicrously simplistic to blame such buildings for the revolution of 1917, the outrageous opulence of these palaces was an obvious symbol of the vast gap between the top and bottom of society.

Jaw drop time

Jaw drop time

Prague

The pink and white stucco façade of the Kinský Palace makes it a building difficult to miss. The palace’s name is taken from that of the Imperial diplomat who bought it in 1768.

Kinsky Palace

Kinsky Palace

Other than being Prague’s finest Rococo building, the palace has a couple of claims to fame. Alfred Nobel once stayed here and, in 1948, Communist rule in Czechoslovakia was proclaimed from its balcony.

Nowadays, the palace is used by the National Gallery to house temporary exhibitions.

Vienna

Vienna does not lack for Baroque places, the most famous of which is, perhaps, the Belvedere. However, for a full-on, flamboyant Rococo experience, Schloss Schönbrunn takes some beating. Completed in 1713, it is the former summer residence of the Habsburgs, one of whose number, the Empress Maria Theresa, ordered much of he interior to be decorated in Rococo style.

Schönbrunn Palace

Schönbrunn Palace

The Grand Gallery lives up to its name, a hall of large windows, magnificent chandeliers and crystal mirrors. The room is still used today for state receptions and banquets.

Even more mirrors can be found in the Mirror Room, where Mozart once delivered a private performance for the aforementioned empress.

For a variation on Rococo, the Vieux-Laque Room combines the style with Chinese art. Black lacquer panels from Beijing depict birds, flowers and landscapes embellished in gold, an element the Habsburgs were not shy of displaying.

Vieux Laque Room

Vieux Laque Room

Berlin

The Charlottenburg Palace (Schloss Charlottenburg), on the west side of Berlin, is a typically grandiose palace of the type beloved by imperial families. It was built in the late 17th and early 18th centuries of the behest of Frederick III, who bore the suitable grand title of Elector of Brandenburg. The palace is named Charlottenburg after Sophie Charlotte, Frederick’s wife.

Charlottenburg Palace

Charlottenburg Palace

The interior is a mix of Baroque and Rococo. The most glittering display of the latter can be found in the apartments of Frederick the Great, located in the palace’s New Wing.

The gardens are extensive (and free to visitors). They were originally designed in Baroque style, were redesigned in English landscape fashion when the style was in vogue, but reverted to the original style in the late 18th century.

Rococo a-go-go

Rococo a-go-go

The palace was, for a brief period between 2004 and 2006, the official residence of the German President while the usual seat (Schloss Bellevue) was being redecorated.

Baroque

These days, we tend to think of ‘Baroque’ as symbolising stylishness. In fact, the word was used as a term of derision by those that felt it was excessive and quite simply too loud. Whereas the Renaissance drew its inspiration from the Classical, with its rational straight lines, Baroque was colourful, curvy and just a bit too loud for some tastes.

Baroque survived, however, and not only did it survive, it thrived. Germany, Austria and Russia proved to be centres for the style and it is not too difficult to find Baroque architecture in most European cities. Even sober Englishmen like Wren and Hawksmoor could not resist a touch of Baroque in their designs.

With so many examples to choose from, it is not an easy task to reduce the list to a mere handful, but the buildings described below are, in our opinion, among the finest.

Kyiv

Baroque caught on in Eastern Europe and is quite often found in Ukraine, Russia and neighbouring countries. Churches, in particular, are a popular building for the style and there are many wonderful examples in Kyiv.

St Andrew is not only Scotland’s patron saint, but that of Ukraine as well, and the church dedicated to him is one of Kyiv’s best. It was designed by the great Baroque architect Bartolomeo Rastrelli and nowadays is the patriarchal cathedral of the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church. The building was completed in 1767. As with many Orthodox churches, the interior artwork is stunning and features a lavish, three-tier iconostasis, also designed by Rastrelli.

St Andrew's

St Andrew’s

Also worth a look, though sadly one cannot go inside, is the Mariinsky Palace, designed by the same architect. This lovely blue and cream building is an excellent example of the Russian Baroque style. It was built in 1755 as a residence for royalty visiting Kyiv.

Mariinsky Palace

Mariinsky Palace

St Petersburg

The fingerprints of the ubiquitous Rastrelli can be seen all over St Petersburg, never more evidently than in the Winter Palace and at first sight, the visitor might assume that St Nicholas Cathedral was another Rastrelli classic. In an indirect sense, it is, having been designed by one of the Italian’s pupils, one Savva Chevakinsky, who was also the architect responsible for the rebuilding of St Petersburg’s first museum, the equally lavish Kunstkamera.

Kunstkamera

Kunstkamera

The cathedral is quite unmissable, a giant turquoise and white wedding cake set amidst trees and gardens. The interior is just as decorative as the external appearance. It has a long association with the Russian Navy and is sometimes referred to as the Naval Cathedral.

St Nicholas

St Nicholas

St Nicholas - tower

St Nicholas – tower

Across the Neva River stands the Peter and Paul Cathedral, designed by Domenico Trezzini (who also designed the Twelve Collegia, the main building of St Petersburg University) and completed in 1733. The bell tower is the tallest of any Orthodox church and the lavishly decorated interioor houses the tombs of most of Russia’s emperors and empresses.

St Peter and Paul

St Peter and Paul

Istanbul

Istanbul’s varied and turbulent history means that there are buildings of varying styles and, in some cases, a mixture of styles. The city does not lack for beautiful buildings and one of the very best is the Dolmabahce Palace.

Designed by Armenian architects at the behest of the Europhile Sultan Abdul Mecit, the palace was completed in 1856. It is not a modest affair; the waterfront façade is 284 metres long and the building contains 46 reception rooms and galleries. Everything is magnificent, from the highly ornamental gates to the Paul Garnier-designed clock tower, added 30 or so years after the construction of the palace.

Dolmabahce Palace

Dolmabahce Palace

It was, though, the sheer extravagance of the palace that helped bring about the downfall of the Ottoman Empire and it was from the Dolmabahce that the last emperor fled into exile in 1922.

Zagreb

Visitors in search of fine buildings make a good start if they arrive at Zagreb’s main railway station. Like many of the stations on the route of the Orient Express, it is a stylish affair. Outside the station, the view across King Tomislav Square is of lawns, flowers and a large fountain, behind which stands the elegant Art Pavilion.

St Catherine's Church

St Catherine’s Church

It is, though, up the hill in the Old Town, that the visitor needs to be to enjoy Zagreb’s magnificent Baroque St Catherine’s Church, a 17th-century construction in shimmering white and featuring gloriously outrageous pink stucco on its walls. It is located close to St Mark’s Cathedral, with its famous chequer-board roof tiles.

St Mark's Cathedral

St Mark’s Cathedral

Prague

Prague may have an extensive collection of Gothic buildings and at least one renowned Art Nouveau structure, but there is a lot of Baroque around. Indeed, the Czech Republic is something of a feast for lovers of Baroque and most churches in the countryside are built in this style.

Prague Castle, like many medieval strongholds, has been rebuilt and reconstructed many times down the years, resulting in a mixture of styles. While its cathedral is unmistakeably Gothic, there are Renaissance and Baroque structures throughout the whole complex. The Matthias Gate is believed to be the very first Baroque construction in Prague.

Prague Castle

Prague Castle

Another Prague landmark, the Charles Bridge, is noted for its Gothic towers, but one should not overlook the collection of Baroque statues – some 30 of them – on the bridge itself. The statues, by various sculptors, were added in the late 17th and early 18th centuries.

St Luitgarda (Charles Bridge)

St Luitgarda (Charles Bridge)

Prague has many Baroque churches, the most famous being the Church of St Nicholas, built in the 18th century on the site of an old Gothic Church. Its architect was Christoph Dientzenhofer, who was also responsible for the rebuilding of the imposing (and Baroque) Břevnov Monastery. The monastery is known as the oldest brewer in the Czech Republic and Benedictine beer is still brewed today.

St Nicholas

St Nicholas

Eastern Europe is a happy hunting ground for lovers of Baroque and one of the pleasure is to see the variances in style from place to place.

Art Nouveau

Art Nouveau is a relatively recent concept, originating in the late 19th century as a rebellion against classical and formal designs in art and architecture. Its proponents believed that beauty lay in nature and flowers, and plants feature prominently in its designs, which are also marked by asymmetrical shapes, curves and mosaics. Like many new art forms it had its origins in France, but the enthusiasm for Art Nouveau soon gripped much of the rest of Europe.

Everyone has their favourite buildings a the brief sample below is not intended to represent any kind of ‘best’ list. It just happens to contain some buildings we like…

Prague

Next to Prague’s Powder Tower stands the Municipal House. The contrast between the Gothic tower and the Art Nouveau building is stunning. The latter stands on the site of the former Royal Palace, the residence of the king between 1383 and 1485. The palace remained derelict for centuries and the Municipal House was built in the early years of the 20th century.

Municipal House

Municipal House

The building’s main function is that of Prague’s main concert venue, Smetana Hall. There are many other smaller halls and other rooms, plus a delightful café that is open to the public. Here, one can sit with a coffee and take in the superb decoration of the building’s interior. The outside is impressive, too. Above the main entrance is a vast, semi-circular mosaic entitled Homage to Prague.

Municipal House mosaic

Municipal House mosaic

If this is not enough to satisfy your thirst for Art Nouveau, take a trip to Prague’s main railway station, Hlavni Nadrazi. The large departures hall is a 1970s addition and none too aesthetically pleasing, but there is still plenty of the original left and the station’s façade and interior décor remain stunning.

Hlavni Nadrazi

Hlavni Nadrazi

Belgrade

Belgrade is not exactly teeming with Art Nouveau, but there is one building that it’s well worth seeking out. The Moskva Hotel is a glorious peppermint gateau of a building, another early 20th century creation that deserves its accolade as one of the city’s most famous structures. This is another place where you can stop off for a cup of coffee and take in the splendours of the artwork and imagine you’re sitting in the seat that Einstein, Hitchcock or any of the hotel’s other famous guests once occupied…

Hotel Moskva

Hotel Moskva

Vienna

1897 was a big year for Austrian art. Gustav Klimt found the Secessionist Movement, a group of Austrian artists that wanted to move away from tradition. One of its main characteristics was the use of bright colours, so it is rather ironic that the movement’s flagship building is not especially colourful, its façade being simple white and gold.

Secession Building

Secession Building

The Secession Building was designed by Joseph Maria Olbrich in 1897, the exhibition hall opening in the following year. Some of the building’s features were works that were displayed at exhibitions, notably Klimt’s own Beethoven Frieze and the extraordinary Mark Antony statue, created by Arthur Strasser, that stands outside the building.

It is, however, the ornamentation that stands out and gives the building its Art Nouveau character. The whole structure is decorated with gilt laurel garlands and floral patterns, while the most striking feature is the dome, made up of 3,000 gilt laurel leaves. It is this that has led to the building’s (affectionate) nickname of The Golden Cabbage.

Riga

Riga is one of Europe’s most delightful capitals, with its many green spaces and beautifully preserved medieval centre. It also harbours a fine array of Art Nouveau buildings, with around one third of the buildings in the central area being built in this style.

Art Nouveau is everywhere, even in older buildings. The House of Blackheads was set up as a meeting and party venue and has its origins in the 14th century. Its reconstruction, after the Second World War, encompassed the Art Nouveau style and ensures that the building fits in perfectly with its neighbours.

House of the Blackheads

House of the Blackheads

Most of the Art Nouveau buildings are in the New Town, many in the main shopping area. There is, though, no shortage of such buildings and they pop up almost everywhere. There are shops, offices and private houses in Art Nouveau style and there was even an Art Nouveau fire station, built in 1912. The building still exists and today operates as the Museum of Firefighting. There is also a Museum of Art Nouveau for those that cannot get enough.

Firefighting Museum

Firefighting Museum

Ljubljana

Few European capitals can match Riga for charm, but Ljubljana is one of them. With three rivers to call its own, the city is full of bridges and waterfront buildings. There is no better place to see wonderful examples than Prešernov Trg, the city’s main square named after Slovenia’s most famous poet, France Prešeren. Art Nouveau buildings pop up all through the city, from offices, banks, private residences and municipal buildings.

Art Nouveau offices

Art Nouveau offices

Gothic

Gothic architecture, with its pointed arches and ribbed vaulting, can be found across Europe. It is probably fair to say that the further east you travel, the less Gothic you are likely to find. Gothic was a style developed in France and it is natural that there are more examples closer to its home base, but many fine examples can be found in central and Eastern Europe.

Like most things, Gothic has been in and out of fashion. The style had a renaissance in the 19th century and this is described as either Gothic Revival or Neo-Gothic. The following buildings have been selected as good examples of Gothic and while the choice is not exactly random, it is based on the tastes of the Duck Holiday explorers.

Prague

Prague is an excellent place for many things and architecture is one of them. Perhaps the outstanding example of Prague Gothic is St Vitus’s Cathedral. The present building, set within the grounds of Prague Castle, represents something of a trip through history, as there are elements from different periods. The original rotunda was built in the 10th century and the basilica during the following century. The main – and very Gothic – cathedral dates from the 14th century and there are 19th and 20th century additions at the western end, Neo-Gothic, but faithful to the original plan.

St Vitus's Cathedral

St Vitus’s Cathedral

The chancel is especially beautiful, with immensely high vaulting and intricate artwork. In the St Wenceslas Chapel, there are Gothic frescoes and biblical scenes. The chapel is almost an art gallery in its own right. The Royal Oratory provides a later example of medieval Gothic, with branches rather than ribbing.

There are always little quirks in buildings that span several centuries and one of cathedral’s oddities is to be found in the bell tower, or rather at the top of the tower. While the tower itself is a Gothic structure, the cap is decidedly Baroque.

More Cathedral

More Cathedral

Prague is a city of many architectural styles, but there is plenty of Gothic. Check out the splendid little castle that is the Powder Tower at the castle or wander across Charles Bridge to the magnificent Old Town Bridge Tower. The latter was designed by Peter Parler, the same architect responsible for St Vitus’s Cathedral.

Powder Tower

Powder Tower

Charles Bridge tower

Charles Bridge tower

Charles Bridge

Charles Bridge

Churches are rife throughout the city and many are of Gothic style. Two of the finest examples are the Church of Our Lady before Týn, which dominates the Old Town Square and the huge Church of Our Lady of the Snows, just off Wenceslas Square. Also worth noting is Prague’s oldest synagogue, the curiously-titled Old-New Synagogue, with its Gothic main portal depicting a vine with twelve bunches of grapes symbolising the tribes of Israel.

Church of Our Lady before Týn

Church of Our Lady before Týn

Our Lady of the Snows

Our Lady of the Snows

Budapest

If the building of the Hungarian Parliament looks suspiciously familiar to British visitors, this is no coincidence. It was designed by Imre Steindl, who based his plan on the Houses of Parliament in London. The result was the Neo-Gothic masterpiece that stands beside the Danube on the Pest side of the city.

The façade is a riot of gables, arches, pinnacles and sculptures. If the exterior is impressive – and it is – the interior is stunning. The extravagant central staircase is overlooked by typically Gothic arches, along with ceiling frescoes and sculptures. The dome, 96 metres tall, is laced with intricate gilding and its huge pillars are topped with figures of Hungarian rulers. Stained-glass windows throughout the building give it the look and feel of an enormous cathedral.

Parliament

Parliament

In the castle district, the original Gothic Royal Palace no longer exists, though a few tantalising hints can be found in the Parish Church of Our Lady Mary, otherwise known as the Mátyás Church, originally built around the time of the building of the palace. It was converted into a Mosque by the Turks in 1541 and then almost completely destroyed in the liberation of Buda. It was then rebuilt in Baroque style, but this too was seriously damaged and another major restoration work, undertaken in the late 19th century, brought back many of its Gothic features. The beautiful rose window above the main portal is a faithful reproduction of the original medieval design.

Mátyás Church

Mátyás Church

The sometimes turbulent history of Hungary has meant that a number of buildings have, like the Mátyás Church, been rebuilt, repaired and restored, often several times over. The result is that styles have become intermingled, so you can never be quite sure where you might find a little outburst of Gothic amid the Baroque, and vice versa.

Tallinn

For Gothic aficionados, there is not an awful lot to get get excited about in Estonia. However, a trip to Tallinn’s Town Hall Square produces a notable gem. The Town Hall building itself is not only the sole surviving late Gothic building in Estonia, but is the only remaining Gothic town hall in Northern Europe.

If the square bears a distinct resemblance to many in the north of Germany, this is no coincidence. The square was the centre of trade for Baltic-Germans and a goodly proportion of the population of Tallinn was made up of Germans in medieval times.

Town Hall Square

Town Hall Square

The town hall, completed in 1404, is an impressive building both externally and internally. The whole building has a distinctly Germanic feel, which is unsurprising given that it is largely the work of German architects, artists and craftsmen. Indeed, for a long time, all documents were written in German, even during periods of Swedish and Russian rule. The sole exception to the German theme are the tapestries, which are of Flemish origin.

Town Hall

Town Hall

Town Hall Square has some other claims to fame. The pharmacy, dating from 1422, is still used for that purpose, although the medicines are a little different to what one may have found in its early days. In 1441, a large Christmas tree was displayed in the square and this is believed to have been the first of its kind.

Vilnius

Baroque predominates in Lithuania’s capital, but there are Gothic treasures to be found, notably among some of the city’s churches. One of the best-known, and best-loved, of these is the Church of St Anne, on the eastern edge of the Old Town.

The church is part of the Bernardine Friary, though there is much uncertainty about the exact date of its construction and, indeed, who constructed it. It was believed to have been the work of 15th-century German craftsmen, but more recent evidence suggests that it was built during the following century by locals.

St Anne Church

St Anne Church

Whatever its origins, what is not in doubt is that it is a magnificent display of Gothic brashness, all sweeping arches, studded steeples, narrow windows and octagonal towers. This is as Gothic as Gothic gets and images of the church adorn souvenirs from Lithuania, from postcards and calendars to chocolate boxes and biscuit tins. Tradition has it that Napoleon was so charmed by the church that he wanted to carry it back to Paris in the palm of his hand.

The only disappointment is to be found on wandering inside the church. The interior is surprisingly spartan, but this is a minor quibble. The church deserves its place on any list of great Gothic buildings.

Dubrovnik

Further south, in the Balkans, Gothic can be hard to find, but there are outposts and oases to be discovered. Frequently, there are Gothic elements to buildings or Gothic buildings within a larger complex.

An example is to be found at the Franciscan Monastery. The cloisters were designed by an architect from Florence, Maso di Bartolomeo, with some additions made by local stonemasons. This result is a classic late-Gothic masterpiece, its pleasing aspect enhanced by the orange and lemon groves in the courtyard.

Franciscan Monastery courtyard

Franciscan Monastery courtyard

The Rector’s Palace, about 200 metres south of the monastery, is one of those buildings that rather defy classification. This is largely due to the fact that it has been rebuilt so many times, suffering the inevitable results of gunpowder accidents in the 15th century. The first rebuilding produced a Venetian-Gothic style, but after this one suffered damage, the restoration work left an eclectic style all of its own. The original rebuilding, incidentally, was undertaken by Onofrio della Cava, whose magnificent fountain stands behind the city gate as you enter the Old Town.

Rector's Palace

Rector’s Palace

The mix of style can be seen immediately by the visitor. The entrance is a loggia with marble pillars. The outer pairs are the original Gothic, while the three in the middle are in the Renaissance style.

Rector's Palace (with random people)

Rector’s Palace (with random people)

Located half way between the palace and the monastery is the Sponza Palace, which also has a mix of Venetian-Gothic and Renaissance. The entrance is via a Renaissance portico, but the first storey is in the Venetian-Gothic style, though this, too, has Renaissance elements in the form of the windows. The main purpose of the palace was as the customs house (it is next to the port) and today, it houses two museums.

Sponza Palace

Sponza Palace

Dubrovnik has suffered variously from the careless use of gunpowder, earthquakes and wars. All of these, of course, mean damage to buildings, so it is not surprising that many of its older buildings have such an intriguing mix of styles. Amongst it all, there is Gothic. Sometimes, you just need to look a little harder.

Prague – Gothic Charm

I feel a special affinity for Prague. For the final part of my English degree, I had to compare two texts, one ‘everyday’ and the other ‘literary’. I chose a Prague travel guide and a Milan Kundera novel, Ignorance, for my two extracts. By the time I’d finished, I felt that I knew the city even better than when I’d first visited. Thankfully, my examiner was also convinced that I had some idea of what I was talking about.

Flying Duck Cam View

Flying Duck Cam View

It’s not only those with an interest in literature who will want to see the house of Franz Kafka and the other houses in Golden Lane. This, aptly, is near the castle and Kafka apparently was influenced by the location when he conceived his wonderful and disturbing novel, The Castle. These days, Golden Lane looks more like the inspiration for a book of tourist postcards, but is no less charming for all that.

On Golden Lane

On Golden Lane

The castle is Prague’s most-visited attraction and for good reason. The magnificently Gothic St Vitus Cathedral, more redolent of Ann Radcliffe and Horace Walpole than Kafka, is the centrepiece, with its chapel dedicated to the legendary king and saint Wenceslas. Prague Castle’s art gallery is well worth a visit and, thankfully, is a great deal easier to gain access to than Kafka’s fictional one.

Another gloriously Gothic building is the Old Town bridge tower at the end of another famous Prague sight, Charles Bridge. There is a break from the Gothic as you cross the bridge, with 30 Baroque statues of various saints. Like the castle, the bridge is a tourist magnet, but you cannot visit Prague and not be impressed.

Old Town Bridge Tower

Old Town Bridge Tower

To get away from the tourist rush, a hike up the hill to Letná Park can offer both a bit of peace and a splendid view over the river. It will also bring you face to face with the giant metronome that overlooks the city. It’s not entirely clear what value the metronome adds to proceedings, but it’s no more pointless than the statue of Stalin that it replaced and at least it’s functional. On warmer days, you can have a few jars of Gambrinus and enjoy the views.

You can never have enough Gothic, certainly in Prague, and the Powder Gate or Tower is another gem of the genre. Even better is the building attached to it, the Municipal House, which functions as a concert venue and is a truly spectacular piece of Art Nouveau. It was built in the early 20th century and it’s worth wandering into the café just to enjoy the décor and surroundings. Fans of Art Nouveau should also have a look at the main railway station, particularly the old booking hall and its ornate domed roof. There are also a few commercial buildings in this style and you can find yourself in the unusual position of staring at the offices of an insurance company.

Municipal House

Municipal House

One of the Baroque buildings is the Antonín Dvořák Museum in the New Town. The composer didn’t actually live there, but the building houses a whole range of Dvořák memorabilia, including photos, manuscripts and instruments. It is also a venue for regularly-held classical concerts.

Antonín Dvořák and museum

Antonín Dvořák and museum

The Vltava River has several islands, one of which is Slovanský Island, otherwise know as Žofín. It’s the only one of the islands with a park and a nice place to sit around and watch activity on the river. The trees harbour a goodly population of birds and Treecreepers and Great Spotted Woodpeckers were scampering about on the trunks. The island is a genuine mini wilderness in the centre of one of Europe’s great capital cities.

The Czech Republic has a long history of brewing. There is a mistaken belief among many, particularly in Britain, that just about all beers in mainland Europe are pale lagers. Some re-education is clearly needed on this important subject and beer-loving visitors to Prague should try Kozel Černý and Krušovice Černé, two dark beers of different character but similar strength. Both can be drunk as session beers, as they are a thoroughly sensible 3.8% ABV. For a beer to finish on late in the evening (or if you are a complete headbanger), there’s Master Dark, a 7% ABV beer that is served in smaller glasses, a sensible precaution. It’s a bitter-sweet beer that is not too dissimilar to a vigorous porter.

A lot of Czech breweries are now owned, sadly, by big international conglomerates. There is salvation, though, as there are a few places where beer is brewed by local, independent brewers. Try, for example, Klášterní Pivovar Strahov, not far from the castle and where you can try four or five different beers.

Charm Overload (with swans(

Charm Overload (with swans)

Public transport is cheap and efficient. One thing worth noting is that getting from the centre of Prague to the airport will involve a metro journey followed by a bus ride, but the cost is a tiny fraction of a taxi fare. For the airport, take the green metro line to its most northerly station, Dejvická, and then catch a 119 bus outside.

A visit late in the year is not a bad idea, as there are fewer tourists and travel and accommodation can be cheaper. Avoiding weekends also avoids the excesses of the stag party brigade and there is always the prospect of a warming bowl of garlic soup to keep out the chill. That said, there is never a bad time to visit one of the loveliest cities in Europe.