Na zdraví! Welcome to the birthplace of Pilsner beer, the small western Bohemian city of Pilsen. To be honest, the city isn’t going to blow anyone away and I fully admit that we came for the beer but if you end up like us, with a full couple of days to wander around, there are some things of note. You can’t miss the tallest tower in the country (3rd tallest building) at St. Bartholomew’s Cathedral dating back to the end of the 13th century. Give your quads a workout and hike it up the hundred-or-so meters for some spectacular panoramic views.
The city is set to co-share the title of the European culture capital for 2015 with Mons, Belgium and construction, restoration and other improvements are in full swing. Among other big things, the city boasts the second largest synagogue in Europe. The great moorish/gothic building saw its congregation nearly eliminated by the holocaust and the few that did return didn’t number enough to keep it strong. The only reason it was not destroyed during the nazi occupation was because it was used as a storage facility, likely due to its size. It was finally closed in the 1970’s but reopened and restored in the late 90’s but the number of Jews who worship there still number less than 100 so the building is mainly used for other attractions, like concerts or art exhibitions.
The main attraction is the brewery where the delicious, clean and slightly earthy style of beer known as Pilsner (named after the town) was first produced in 1842. The bottom fermenting Pilsner style has been copied and tweaked throughout the years by many but true Pilsner gets its colour and taste from a combination of the soft local water from the ground and the local hops and for this reason, Pilsner Urquell doesn’t farm out their recipe to be produced in other countries that don’t have the same natural conditions, Pilsner Urquell is only created and bottled, canned, kegged etc, in Pilsen. The 90 minute tour of the facility is well done and very interesting even though they get a bit over-zealous with a 100kc (about $5) to take photos. They take you through the history, the factory and describe the process and at the end of it all you get a refreshing half-litre of unfiltered, unpasteurized Pilsner straight from an oak barrel – yum.
Direct trains from Prague’s main train station cost about $10 and take about 1.5 hours and if you’re there for the day, the town centre and the brewery are both walkable from the station and there are plenty of trains heading back, about every 1/2 hour.