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Czechs appeal.

Byline: By Lia Hervey

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Lia Hervey was a guest of the five-star Savoy Hotel, where double rooms start around pounds 200 per night for standard double room, including buffet breakfast (served in the room if required), complimentary mini-bar, free use of leisure centre with sauna, steam-bath and whirlpool bath, and complimentary newspapers. Savoy reservations: 00 420 224 302 430 and info@hotel-savoy.cz

Lia flew Jet 2 (0870 737 8282) from Leeds-Bradford on return flights costing pounds 53.60 per person, including tax.

Kirker (0870 112 333) offers three nights for the price of two deals at The Savoy Hotel until August 31, and during November/December. Package costs pounds 555 per person, including flights from regional airports ranging from Edinburgh to Cardiff, with supplement (pounds 25) payable only on Czech Airlines flights ex-Edinburgh.

To put together your own package to Prague, see the new Travelscene website www.citybedz.com or British Airways' website, ba.com/breaks

Lonely Planet guide to Prague, pounds 10.99.

A SENSE of exhilaration is never far away in Prague, and this explains its appeal to so many British visitors, as LIA HERVEY discovered...

LOOKING back at my photos of Prague, it all seems like a faraway dream in a city which offers an astonishing blend of the Middle Ages and 21st Century Europe.

Somehow, photographs just don't capture the overwhelming beauty and magic of the Czech capital. If I could bottle up and sell that heady sense of exhilaration which visitors feel on Charles Bridge, I would become a millionaire,

Yes, there are hordes of tourists, scores of pickpockets, thieves and beggars but there is a reason why thousands of people from across the world gather at this vantage point of the city every year. It is breathtaking.

When you crunch thick snow beneath your feet at the top of Petrin Hill and look out across panoramic views of the amazing baroque buildings and fairytale gothic spires, you realise the city offers a breathtaking visual feast.

Kidnapped by communism for 40 years, it was freed in the Velvet Revolution of 1989 and has thrived as a tourist magnet ever since.

Although the Wenceslas Square area is a thriving amalgamation of all the high street shops, coffee bars and a few token McDonald's - the Old Town square (Stare Mesto) is relatively untouched and like something from another world.

In a city with such a vivid history, it is important to visit one of the many museums.

The Museum of Communism, ironically placed between a casino and a McDonald's restaurant on Na Prikope, has a selection of illuminating artefacts from the Communist era and a video showing student protests during the Velvet Revolution.

At just 180czk (about pounds 4) to enter, it is well worth a visit.

Although cities in Prague's league usually come with a hefty price tag, fortunately for visitors this city is relatively new to tourism and many restaurants are still cheap and good value.

In recent years the city has seen a new wave of gourmet restaurants, cocktail bars and trendy cafes, whose owners eyes glow with pound signs when tourists wander through the door.

Cheaper restaurants still exist, and you can always wash down goulash and dumplings with Prague's famous beer.

However, cheaper restaurants need not necessarily mean a compromise on quality. One of the best meals I have ever eaten was at the Metamorphis restaurant in the Old Town.

It came recommended by my trusty Lonely Planet guide and the Prague restaurant guide - and didn't disappoint. The service was reminiscent of a top class restaurant; the food was of gourmet standard and the red and white decor created a lovely romantic atmosphere.

And for the bargain price of 1365czk (pounds 28) we were served smoked salmon, Mexican soup, duck in orange and almond sauce and beef packed with Parma ham and spinach.

Another good place to eat is U Dvou Slunc on Uvoz Uvoz street in the beautiful Hradcany area, particularly when it comes to the bill. Onion soup for starter, steak and chips with garlic butter and a pancake for dessert cost a measly 170Kc (under pounds 4) per person.

Sadly, tourism is catching on and it is not uncommon to see large groups of stag parties descending on the city for the cheap beer.

But after the airport baggage reclaim, we were lucky enough to catch only a few glimpses of lager louts quaffing cheap beer around the city.

Prague is just packed with culture throughout the year - opera, theatre and numerous classical music concerts.

With wonderful opera houses in competition for audiences, tickets sell at absurdly low prices for performances of great skill and style.

We visited a classical concert at the Lobkovic Palace at the end of the beautiful castle.

In the upstairs room of a house-like building, three musicians on piano, viola and a flute performed Vivaldi, Mozart, Dvorak and Bach - a good choice for those unable to afford the more expensive National Symphony Orchestra.

With food so cheap, it is worth splashing out on a good hotel.

The Savoy is a deluxe five-star establishment, offering a truly luxurious lifestyle behind a magnificent 19th Century facade .

A member of the Leading Small Hotels of the World chain, The Savoy has a visitors' book signed by Phil Collins, Tina Turner, David Bowie, Helmut Kohl and Jacques Chirac.

There's an attractive lounge with open fireplace where complimentary tea is served each afternoon, while the fitness centre has a sauna, steambath and Jacuzzi.

A 10-minute tram ride links the hotel to the glories of the Old Town - and as Eastern Europe isn't really that warm when snows cover the ground, the quadruple glazed windows, the two double quilts on the bed and six fluffy pillows made The Savoy a superbly comfortable place to stay right through the year.

It is also refreshing to have a few drinks from the complimentary mini-bar in your room at the end of a hard day's sightseeing.

There's nothing to beat five-star creature comforts as the sun goes down in one of the most entrancing cities in Europe.
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Publication:Wales On Sunday (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Jul 11, 2004
Words:1017
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