Every year Prague City Tourism highlights selected attractions aimed at drawing more visitors to the Czech capital. This year the accent is on “slow tourism” promoting the city’s cafes, restaurants and the best of Czech design. To find out more I spoke to Kateřina Pavlítová, Marketing Director at Prague City Tourism about their plans for 2017.
“In recent years we have been focussing on various themes that have to do with gastronomy, a few years ago we did a beer campaign and last year we had the Charles IV anniversary and in connection with that we started promoting wine culture in Prague because Charles IV was the founder of viticulture in Prague. We are continuing with the gastronomical theme this year with the theme of Prague cafes which have traditionally been much more than just establishments where you can get a cup of coffee; they were centres of intellectual life and debates and so on. What people may not know – and what is not widely known at least in Europe – is that the Prague coffee culture has undergone a major renaissance in recent years and we are on the brink of being able to compete with such café powerhouses as London and Berlin. There is a huge quantity of new cafes that are very ambitious in terms of the quality of coffee they offer and, in addition to these new-style coffee houses (some people talks about third-wave cafes inspired by Berlin-style cafes which means emphasizing the origin and technology of coffee processing) we have a lot of places that have illustrious history, beautiful design and fantastic interiors and are connected with very famous names of intellectuals such as Franz Kafka or Albert Einstein and so on. So the history is still here, the architecture is still here, but what is new is this wonderful gastronomic culture. And of course we think that this slow tourism, this way of absorbing the city life over a great cup of coffee is the best way to enjoy the city.”
I assume beer remains a major attraction though?
“Well, beer and coffee are not really competing with each other. There are a lot of people who love beer and some of the same people would love to stop in a café and enjoy a great cup of coffee. But it is not really so much about the coffee per se, but more about the experience of being part of the society and absorbing it –not necessarily in one of the most centrally-located cafes that are in every guidebook such as the Municipal House Café or Slavia Café, but also discovering wonderful cafes in districts such as Letna or Vinohrady. That goes hand in hand with another goal that we have as a marketing organization which is to motivate people to visit places beyond the historical centre. And there are a lot of districts nowadays that are getting a lot of press for being the new up-and- coming interesting neighbourhood in Prague. Karlín has been getting a lot of press and Karlín is actually one of those places that have a lot of really wonderful cafes, Vinohrady has probably the most cafes per square mile of any Prague district, and Letná is the cool, hip district which has a lot of wonderful –alternative-style cafes which have a lot of local charm – so visiting a café is a very authentic way to see and experience what Prague is all about.”
I understand you are also preparing a guide for shopaholics, or people who simply want to do some shopping in Prague and buy some Czech products?
“That’s right. We are not actually billing it as a shopping guide per se, but certainly there are different people coming to Prague and most of them want to buy something to take home. We have felt the need to highlight interesting products that are made by Czech companies and that have an aesthetic quality as opposed to the souvenirs that you still find in many areas of Prague such as the totally inauthentic Russian army hats and matryoshkas –those Russian nesting dolls. But our guide will not be labelled as a shopping guide –it is more a guide to design in Prague and it will feature not just shops but also museums and wonderful interiors that people can visit. That guide is still in the works but we are planning that and dedicating a section of our website that will give people some orientation in what there is in terms of contemporary and historical design in Prague – where to go, what to buy and how to learn more about it. Also it is worth noting that the Museum of Decorative Art which is currently under renovation is slated to reopen towards the end of this year so that will of course be a major event worth highlighting in our design guide.”
I believe you also have a broad offer for people who want to see Prague in a different way – from just getting on a bike and biking around Prague, scooters…there is something that you call an adrenalin tour of Prague, you take people underground …is that right?
“That’s correct. We have a wide range of tours. Some are themed, ready-made tours but our guides, who are the highest trained guides in the city, can also tailor tours to clients’ individual interests. Then there are guides who are not necessarily working for Prague City Tourism and it is a sign of the times that today Prague has the widest assortment of tour experiences it has ever had in history. So there are people providing tours that focus on street art –graffiti - there are people who provide all kinds of sporty tours of Prague that you mentioned, such as a bike tour – and then again it can be a standard city bike or it can be a vintage communist-era bike, and instead of a tour of the city centre you can have a fairly demanding hard-core mountain bike trip to the outskirts of Prague. And what is incredibly popular is food tours, so there are quite a few companies that offer tours dedicated to Prague gastronomy ranging from street food to the finest restaurants.
Can you explain what this entails – is it going from one restaurant to another and basically eating from dawn till dusk?
“I think most of these tours only take a few hours –around four or five hours – it depends on whether you want an introduction to Czech food – in which case the tour guide might take you to some delis and possibly even shops and you will have some snacks on the go and you will be told about the Czech food tradition, the typical flavours and try some typical products. That can be done for a small group and can be relatively inexpensive, but if you are a serious dedicated foodie then you might go on a tour of the finest restaurants in Prague. One company that comes to mind is called Taste of Prague, another is called Eating Prague Tours, they will take you behind the scenes to meet the chef, you might have a tasting menu especially prepared for you, so it can be a very sophisticated experience for those people who are really serious about exploring the finest Prague has to offer in terms of gastronomy.”
You mentioned some very unusual things – what is the craziest thing on offer?
“Well, people might have heard about the tours offered by a company called Pragulic. These are tours led by actual homeless people in Prague and they show you the under-belly of Prague, typically in the evening or at night and they tell you about the seedy history of some of the places in the centre, they tell you what it is like living as a homeless person and even though that may sound a bit exploitative at first the bulk of the admission of the tour goes to the person providing the service and the company is actually working with the homeless trying to improve their conditions and making it easier for them to make a living in a dignified way. That has been hugely popular with Czechs – I am not sure to what extent it is available in English, you might need to have an interpreter to come along, but those tours have taken the Czech market by storm. I haven’t been on one yet, but I’m planning to.”
There’s certainly a lot to pick from. And you also have suggestions about how to spend Valentine’s Day in Prague – now Valentine’s Day is coming up – so what would you suggest?
Well, there are very many obvious things you can do such as book a fantastic restaurant and have a romantic meal somewhere or something as simple as taking a walk to a beautiful location but my personal choice would be to take a cruise on the river. We as Praguers tend to underestimate the appeal of river cruises because they always seem a little too touristy to us, but the fact of the matter is that there is a great variety of these cruises now available, the food which used to be very basic is now actually very good, and just the experience of gliding under those bridges in the dusk, while soft music is playing and you have a fantastic meal in front of you – I think that is something that would be at the top of my list.”