In November 2014 we spent five days in a self catered apartment in Prague. We did all the things tourists are supposed to do; watched the astronomical clock mark the hour, sampled the wares of the Christmas market in Old Town Square, strolled along the Charles Bridge, climbed through steep winding streets to the Castle, admired the stained glass in St Virus cathedral, paid our respects at John Lennon’s wall and generally marvelled at the beauty of the city. Then we fancied something different.
The town of Pilsen, 56 miles to the south west of Prague, is home to Pilsner Urquell brewery, founded in 1842 and the first to produce Pilsner style beer. Originally brewed underground for climate control, one batch is still made in the old style to ensure consistency of flavour. The brewery offers tours and it sounded worth a visit.
Pilsen can be reached by train or bus. The bus, though longer, was cheaper, relatively frequent and would allow us a glimpse in to the suburbs of Prague that the train would not, so we found our way to the bus station, negotiated the confusing ticket buying process (tip buy from the driver on the bus not the desks inside which add a processing fee) and we were off.
Pilsen is relatively compact and it didn’t take us long to find our way across town from the bus station to the brewery. We booked tickets for the next English language tour and with an hour to kill headed back to the central square to soak up some architecture and eat a very garlicky lunch from a stall in the market.
The tour started in the modern factory where beer is still made today. The production line was impressively elaborate and we watched, fascinated, as bottles, caps and labels flew by us like a Willy Wonka creation for adults. We then moved back in time, and underground, to visit the cave-like vaults in which beer used to be brewed and is still stored.
We’d been on brewery tours before but this was something unique as was the chance to sample the beer, unpasteurised, straight from the barrel. It was much more of an atmospheric and authentic experience than I had expected and, over an hour’s journey from Prague, free from the inevitable stag dos that would have been present had this been in the capital. It is, in my experience, always worth venturing a little further afield, on your city breaks for that something a little different.