It was December, and Christmas cheer was emanating around Edinburgh which could only mean one thing – the annual Christmas Market trip was upon us. Every year, one weekend in December is dedicated to a trip to a European Christmas market and this year we had decided on Prague in the Czech Republic for our annual trip. By now I would safely say both Nicola and I were Christmas Market aficionados – having sampled a number of Europes Christmas markets and so we were excited to see what a new city and country would have to offer – especially given its famed reputation. As always, we wanted to fly Saturday to Monday and so opted for a non-direct Brussels Airlines flight with a short stop in Brussels since the cheaper Easyjet/Ryanair options don’t have an offering on weekends. Our initial flight was at the god-awful time of 6a.m meaning we arrived into Prague mid-morning and made our way to Corinthia Hotel Prague, a lovely 5 star hotel on the outskirts of the city offering excellent transport via train to the heart of the city and with lovely views from its rooftop pool (the main reason we had chosen this particular offering).
After checking in and leaving our stuff in the room we headed back into the city from the adjoining subway station and decided to satisfy our hunger pangs with a local Czech meal at Vkolkove. The restaurant/bar serves authentic local specialties and despite it being a chain we were pleasantly surprised by both the food and service. We had reserved ahead of time, a necessity at this busy time of year when the city is bustling with people looking for some Christmas cheer meaning we had no wait whatsoever. We settled on some Palava – a local semi-sweet wine which was absolutely delicious and our first taste of the excellence that is Czech wine. I ordered the Krkonose Potato Soup which was served in a bread bowl and was incredibly hearty and delicious. In all honesty the soup and bread would have been a very satisfying lunch in itself, but given we were on holiday I refrained from eating the entire bread bowl with great difficulty to save myself for my main of roasted smoked pork knuckle. I have never seen anything so intimidating in my life and immediately regretted my decision of soup as a starter. The pork was served as a giant piece of meat on a brown wooden board with a huge knife and lots of spicy mustard on the side. It fell apart at the very tap of the knife and was melt in the mouth delicious. However, it was entirely too much food. Eating either one of the courses would have made for a delicious hearty lunch. Czech food is anything but light. I almost rolled out of the restaurant feeling VERY full and in desperate need of some mulled wine to aid digestion.
The Christmas markets were what we were here for and so we headed over to the Old Town Square for the main event. Unlike some of the other markets we had visited over the years which are spread around the city the action in Prague centres around 2 main squares – Old Town and Wenceslas. They are a 5 minute walk from each other through the old town and as a result this particular area of the city is absolutely jam-packed with people, to an unmoveable sort of way. Trying to navigate the mass crowds of people is quite a task and makes enjoying the magical stalls a fraught task – particularly from late afternoon into the evening when the markets are at their busiest. We grabbed our first mulled wine of the trip, after waiting in a long queue and pushed through the throngs of people to take a look at some of the stalls that make up the main Old Town Square market. The tree was very pretty and the huge towering Church of our Lady before Tyn definitely added a grandeur to the market but the masses of people crammed into a relatively small space just made the experience busy and unenjoyable. We decided to head over to Wenceslas to check it out before realising the city had set up a one way walking path to guide the masses between the 2 squares. We learned this the hard way by trying to follow google maps and realising we were going against the crowd coming the opposite way. Halfway between the squares we stumbled upon a small bar with outside seating, heaters and blankets and decided to stop for a beer. Mike’s Cafeteria is on the route between and was a nice way to escape the crowds for a local Staropramen (Czech beer). After refuelling we headed on again to Wenceslas Square where thankfully much of the crowds had dissipated and we enjoyed some local honey wine – a lovely Czech specialty while exploring more of the stalls including a pen with live animals associated with being at the birth of Jesus. Donkeys are just the best.
Having satisfied our Christmas market craving for the day, and having survived the crowds it was almost time for dinner (despite the fact I was still pretty full from the mammoth meal at lunch). We had booked Cotto Crudo, the Italian attached to the Four Seasons and sporting a shiny Michelin star. On arrival they seated us in a lovely alcove to enjoy some pre-dinner cocktails whilst we marvelled at the beautiful hotel decorations. It is worth visiting just to check these out in December. Feeling refreshed from our busy day we headed over to our table. The menu here has a collection of starters, antipasti and then a choice between pasta and risotto and mains. This was really tough as they were also offering a seasonal truffle menu given that it was prime season for both the black and white variety and we wanted to ensure we didn’t end up with masses of food al’a lunch style. Nicola had the foie gras to start with walnut crumble and raspberry coulis. It was extremely tasty as foie gras always is, and a lot lighter than the dish usually is with the fruit able to cut through the fattiness of the meat. The waiter also kindly offered a half portion of pasta for me with chilli and crab it was again lovely and light and really well done. For main I went all out with the milk fed veal tenderloin, served with foie gras, and a black truffle mushroom puree, some small truffle ravioli, a gorgeously buttery potato cake and a rich red wine and truffle gravy. It was heaven on a plate. Nicola also had one of the best mushroom and truffle risottos I have ever tasted. The meal was absolutely fantastic with excellent service and some brilliant suggested wines. However, we were at this point desperately flagging after our early morning wake-up and so we finished up and took an Uber back to the hotel where we headed off to sleep as soon as our heads touched the ever so fluffy pillows.