While I was wandering down Karmelistka street in the Mala strana district of Prague looking for fresh lemonade, a daily quest, I saw a sign that said “Gardens Open Today.” Intrigued, I walked through a long passage to a ticket office and paid my 80 Koruna for entry. On the other side of the door an urban oasis awaited me.
Vrtba Gardens is a Baroque terraced garden sloping up Petrin Hill. While Italian in its design, it has Czech influences as well. Originally created between 1715 and 1720 for the earl of Vrtba and designed by František Maxmilián Kaňka, the gardens are considered some of the finest Baroque gardens north of the Alps. During the 1990s, the garden was completely restored and is a quiet break from busy Prague sightseeing.
The gardens consist of three main levels and a look out. As I opened the large wooden door from the ticket room, something that always makes me nervous as I am afraid I will break the handles, the sight that greeted me was breathtaking. Water gurgled over the statue of Putto in the central fountain and a variety of colorful birds eagerly darted about the aviary on the opposite wall as the doves cooed mournfully. I later learned that the Prague Zoo chose the birds . The sculptures and statues throughout are the works of Matyáš Bernard Braun and on the ground level of the gardens you can also see frescoes by the painter Václav Vavřinec Reiner .
From there, stairs curved up to the next of the three main terraces. I walked up the left staircase trying to avoid becoming part of two different wedding photography sessions. However, aside from the photographers giving directions, the garden was quiet and finding a secluded bench to sit on under the overhanging trellises on the second level was easy. I admired the ornate statues looming above me on the support wall and the tranquil pool of water in the middle of this terrace.
Debating whether I wanted to leave the tranquility I had found on the second terrace and if my thighs needed the added burn of the third sloping terrace and lookout point beyond, I soldiered on for the full garden experience. The view that awaited me was well worth the perspiration. St. Nicholas church and Prague Castle as well as the gardens themselves, were laid out in front of me with a dazzling blue sky as the backdrop.
Getting there: Take the 12, 15, 20, 22 or 23 tram to the Malastranki namesti stop. Head south on Karmelitska and look for the entrance for the gardens right after Trziste.
Open: 10AM-7PM daily from April to October
Cost: 80 Kc for Adults, 75 Kc for Students and Seniors, 230 Kc for a family
by Sarah Tronic