Now, as you may know, I am rather fond of beer these days. While Prague is full of amazing places to drink and discover the stuff, sometimes it’s nice to go further afield in the quest for a nice pink (well, half litre). It was over a year ago when we first discovered Tábor’s annual beer festival, and this year we revisited it again. If you’re looking for a real Czech experience and a massive selection of beers, this is the place for you.
Tábor is a small town south of Prague, roughly 90 minutes away by bus. You can get there either by train (from Hlavni Nadraži) or bus (from Florenc or Roztyly) for around 90Kč. The town itself is a cute, nonassuming place, its main tourist attraction being the newly built Chocolate Museum. A walk down its streets shows the usual collection of shops, very reasonable restaurants and all-night Herna bars (with some provocative posters), leading up to the town square and its surrounding windy, picturesque streets. It feels as if the town centre is elevated; a walk along its perimeters give views of a lake (currently being dammed) and quaint, countryside houses several meters below. Everything was dusted in snow, of course, as the festival always happens at the beginning of February.
Just as we did last year, we started the day with a curry at the Indian Restaurant in the central square. Not very Czech, I know, but the food is amazing and any true British person knows that beer and curry are a great combination (hmmm). We found cheap accommodation via airbnb.com – the delightful Pension Jana. The owners didn’t speak much English, of course, but they were very friendly and we had no complaints. It turned out that we were in town a little early for the beer festival, so we spent a couple of hours playing cards in a random bar.
The festival goes on for four days, and we were there for the finale. Technically, you have to buy your tickets in Tábor, so it’s advisable to either get there a day before or to know somebody who can get them for you. I was fortunate, as I have a student who lives there and I was able to give her money to pick some tickets up for us. I’m sure that it’s possible to look on couchsurfing.com or somewhere similar and find a well-meaning, nice person to pick them up for you, if you want to make sure. Tickets apparently sell out every year.
The thing that some people might object to is that you have to pay entry AND for your beers, but we didn’t mind. Entry is 140Kč, but with beers at around 30Kč (£1) each you can still have a cheap and cheerful night. Your first drink will cost a little more, as you pay a deposit on your glass – which you can choose to keep, or return for your money back. I took my first glass around with me, as each bartender will clean it before giving you your next beer, of course.
The festival takes place at the Hotel Palac and fills up around five rooms. Three of those rooms contain tables and chairs in the centre, surrounded by mini stands where each brewery sells its wares. You can try over 180 different beers at this festival, making it the largest beer festival in the Czech Republic. Some are beers that you can get in a few places, while others are microbreweries, only available in one or two pubs in the entire country. We tried to write down the beers that we liked, but after a few we started to forget. Most of the beers on offer are Czech, but there were a couple of Belgian and German brands available, too.
The atmosphere is great, and as I said, somehow very Czech. One reason is that there were probably only four foreigners there (our group); another, the live folk music on the stage, all accordions and foot-stomping, had a very “Eastern Europe” (even if we’re in central) feel to it. Last year, we sat near a table who had brought dinner with them – a whole suckling pig, head and all, which they carved and munched upon for the entire night. Later, they gave us a generous portion of fresh ham, and I have to say that it was the best I’ve ever had. And these Czechs know how to have fun – the amount of people dancing to the music would put the British to shame. We’re not talking about waving arms manically and swaying around; we’re talking spinning and dipping and moves that look as if people actually had to learn them at some point.
When the accordion music got too much, we hung out in the “cocktail room” – a haven for those who wanted to drink something other than beer. There were cocktails, coffees and soft drinks on offer, all accompanied by classic rock and a swirling disco ball. As the night progressed, that room grew more and more attractive. Later than evening, we ended up at Kotnov, a relatively new nightclub in the town, which seemed to be built into underground caverns (similar to Nebe or U Sudu in Prague) and had a cage dancer, from what I recall.
So, if the tourist crowds of Prague start to grate on you and you crave something authentic (at authentic Czech prices), check out the Tábor beer festival next year. You can find out more at http://www.slavnostipivatabor.cz/. But, don’t all go, or it will become just another tourist-filled trap! 🙂