Czechoslovakia's "Velvet Revolution" in November 1989 was probably the most unequivocably positive of eastern Europe's anti-Communist upheavals, as the Czechs and Slovaks shrugged off 41 years of Communist rule without a shot being fired. But the euphoria and unity of those first few months evaporated more quickly than anyone could have imagined. Just three years on, the country split into two separate states: the Czech Republic and Slovakia. The Czechs - always the most urbane, agnostic and liberal of the Slav nations - have fared well, although they are now having to contend with growing unemployment and an increasing cost of living.
Almost untouched by the wars of the twentieth century, the capital,
, is justifiably one of the most popular destinations in Europe. An incredibly beautiful city with a wealth of architecture, from Gothic cathedrals and Baroque palaces to Art Nouveau cafés and Cubist villas, it's also a lively meeting place for young people from all over Europe. The rolling countryside of
is swathed in forests and studded with well-preserved medieval towns and castles, especially in the south around
. In the west, you'll find the old watering-holes of the European aristocracy, the spa towns of
. The country's eastern province,
, is every bit as beautiful, only less touristed.
is the most attractive town here, but
, the regional capital, has its own peculiar pleasures.