Essential Czech Republic

  • Three weeks

Begin in Prague and take your time enjoying one of Europe's most beautiful cities. Three nights is the minimum, but allow five so you can make a couple of day trips – one to the photogenic cluster of turrets at Karlštejn Castle, and one to evocative and heart-rending Terezín, a former concentration camp for European Jews during the Holocaust.

Now, head west to the gorgeous spa town of Karlovy Vary to sample the sulphurous spring waters and stroll among its elegant colonnades. Plan on a day trip from here to picture-postcard Loket with its riverside castle. Allow a morning to explore the smaller but arguably prettier spa town of Mariánské Lázně before continuing southeast to Plzeň. The capital of West Bohemia deserves an overnight stop followed by a tour of the famous brewery where Pilsner Urquell is made.

Continue the beer theme at České Budějovice, home of the Budvar brewery and also one of Central Europe's largest and most attractive town squares. From here, it's an easy 50-minute drive to the Unesco-recognised beauty of Český Krumlov; spend one day wandering around its picturesque streets and castle, and a second taking a boat trip along the Vltava River.

Now you enter Moravia and arrive in the gorgeous Renaissance town of Telč, where you can stroll over narrow bridges spanning ancient fish ponds and tour the ornate chateau before settling into a sidewalk cafe for the evening. Move on to Brno, the buzzing capital of Moravia and the country's second city, and spend a day exploring its museums and cafe culture before continuing to Mikulov, in the heart of South Moravian wine country. Allow a day here to visit a local winery, and rent a bicycle to explore the surrounding hills.

Afterwards, move on to Olomouc, one of the Czech Republic's most underrated destinations. It has a lovely old town square, some good museums, several microbreweries and lots of good places to eat. From here it's a straight cut east back towards Prague, but allow one more full day to visit the medieval town of Kutná Hora. The magnificent cathedral of St Barbara here is almost a match for Prague's St Vitus, and the weird 'bone church' at Sedlec ossuary is one of the Czech Republic's oddest sights.