In 2009 over 6 million tourists came to the Czech Republic and 2/3 of those stayed in Prague. Sure, the cosmopolitan Czech capital is dripping in a visually delicious hodgepodge of architectural styles and curvy cobblestoned streets. But the rest of the country--split into Bohemia in the west and Moravia in the east--is loaded with fascinating off-the-radar towns, villages and historical sites.
Did you know, for example, that outside of Prague, there are 11 historical UNESCO sites and 6 UNESCO-protected nature preserves? Or that Sigmund Freud was born in the southeast section of the country? That the Czech countryside is studded with nearly 250 castles and châteaus? That pilsner beer was invented in the western part of the country? That the original Budweiser has been consumed here for centuries? Speaking of which, the Czechs drink more beer per capita than any other nation on the planet. So between destinations, it's a good idea to park the car, and plant yourself on a barstool.
Prague to Cesky Krumlov
Stay: The historic Na Louzi is a rustic and cozy hotel in the center of town. The ground-floor pub of the same name is one of the most atmospheric in town.
Do: For such a small town, Cesky Krumlov offers plenty to do: explore the castle (the second the largest in the country) and the connected Baroque-era theater or rent a kayak or an inner tube and sail down the lazy Vltava River that snakes through this medieval town. If there's time, drive to the nearby town Cesky Budejovice, home to the original Budweiser, or as they call it here, Budvar.
Eat: Think medieval times without the dramatizations and the corniness, Krcma v Satlavske is a medieval tavern with long wooden benches in a spit-centered room where carnivorous diners can watch their meat cook.
Cesky Krumlov to Mikulov
Stay: Bed down at the comfortable and centrally located Hotel Templ, housed partly in an ancient synagogue.
Do: On the way to the castle-topped town of Mikulov, be sure to stop the car in historic villages of Trebon and Slavonice. In Mikulov, stroll through the castle as well as the old Jewish cemetery. Then make sure you park the car for a while indulging in the area's wine offerings. The rolling hills just outside of town are blanketed in vineyards, which produce some quality whites
Eat: Sample some more of the local vino, and pair it with local specialties like savory potato pancakes and chicken liver at the wine bar/restaurant U Hroznu, a couple blocks from the intimate town square.
Mikulov to Olomouc
Stay: Located on the edge of the old city walls, the Hotel Gemo offers spacious cozy rooms in a 13th-century house.
Do: On the way to Olomouc, make a quick detour to the town of Kromeriz, about 25 miles south of Olomouc, to visit the splendid art gallery in the city's castle (the piece de resistance is a fantastic Titian painting). The university town of Olomouc is a big city with a small-town vibe. A visitor could spend a couple days standing in the huge squares, wandering the narrow back streets, and soaking up its beer halls. Foodies will appreciate the city's famed stinky cheese and a visit to the Olomoucke Tvaruzky Museum, a museum dedicated to the cheese.
Eat: Tuck into more of that stinky cheese, a plate of hearty goulash, or roasted pork neck at the gastropub Potrefena Husa.
Olomouc to Prague
Stay: One of the coziest places to wake up in the morning in Prague is the Mandarin Oriental. Set in a former monastery in the charming and centrally located Mala Strana district, the hotel is a bastion of luxury and comfort.
Do: In addition to getting lost in Prague's labyrinthine streets, strolling across the 14th-century Charles Bridge, and exploring the monolithic Prague Castle, the Czech capital offers at least a week's worth of cultural diversions, including the very intriguing Museum of Czech Cubism. Also, don't miss an opera at the Estates Theater, the opera house where Mozart conducted the world premier of "Don Giovanni."
Eat: Prague has quickly become a decent restaurant city, evidenced by the venerable restaurant guide Michelin granting stars to 2 Prague restaurants (a first for post-communist Europe). Local foodies are excited about La Degustation Boheme Bourgeoise, which revives ancient Bohemian dishes like veal schnitzel with cucumber jelly and presents them in a haute, modern manner.
Travel Channel's Insider's Tip: Beer drinkers of the world may rejoice in the Czech Republic, but if it's a traveling day, either refrain or make sure there's a designated driver. The Czech Republic has a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to drinking and driving. That's right, even the slightest trace of booze on your breath is cause for arrest.