IT’S time to create my traditional puppet in Prague. My husband Ron and I are in the Czech Republic to discover and experience the magic of marionettes – a traditional puppet controlled from above using strings.

Traditional Czech puppetry began in the 18th century, when about 10 family companies travelled across the countryside, stopping for several days in villages or small towns to perform. They set up folding stages in pubs and markets and manipulated limewood marionettes. Puppeteers also transported information – news, politics and entertainment.

Pavel Truhlá?’s Prague studio, where his joyous, naive creations hang on the walls, smells of wood, paint and hot glue. His career began by copying, producing and selling puppets in the street to tourists, progressing to opening his shop under Charles Bridge.

I watch Pavel stringing wooden shapes to assemble my puppet. At last, it’s creativity time. For inspiration, I consider his stunning marionettes, including his "Mini Me". If you want a custom-made one, which takes him over a week, it’s 20,000 Czech crowns (or not much change from £700).

But I only have an hour to make my puppet. Delving into the button tin, I select a cream one for my girl’s nose, to compliment her button eyes. When Pavel offers fabric, I choose blue, pink and white for her dress and trousers. A tiny shawl complemented by a glued, sparkly button follows. Once I draw her mouth, she takes on a personality. Pavel deftly fixes on turquoise, ric rac braid for her hair. And there we have Aloisie – Louise in Czech.

Reluctantly, we leave the magic. But there’s more as we explore Prague with Guide Bonita Rhoads, who delivers an expert, educational commentary. As we celebrate our first visit, the Czech Republic gears up to celebrate its 100th year of the foundation of independent Czechoslovakia, on October 28, 2018.

Prague’s a feast of Art Nouveau, Baroque and Gothic architecture. We hear stories of Charles IV, sent away at five years old, to the King of France’s court, of adding egg yolks for strength when constructing Charles Bridge, and of the 1989 Velvet Revolution, when mass demonstrations took place in Wenceslas Square.

After passing the Estates Theatre, the oldest of more than 40 theatres here, Bonita enthuses: "Prague is an absolutely scrumptious city for inexpensive opera, dance and theatre."

In Josefov, the Jewish Quarter, formerly the Jewish Ghetto, we marvel at the 13th century, Old-New Synagogue, the oldest surviving, functioning one in Europe.

The evening brings respite and refreshment with a classy, colourful dinner at V Zátiší restaurant, enjoying asparagus and almond soup, a colourful vegetarian medley, and sorbet.

Afterwards, the Old Town Square is magical, with the illuminated Church of Our Lady before Týn, horse-drawn carriages, even a polar bear for selfie stick heaven, though its money collector bellows, "You’ve got to pay". Smells of coffee, cinnamon and cannabis accompany us as we head to Hotel Paris Prague, our stunning, Art Nouveau-style hotel, conveniently situated in the historical centre.

Another evening, late and lost, it’s difficult to rush on tricky cobblestones. Finally finding the National Marionette Theatre, in the Old Town, we relax to Mozart’s comic opera, Don Giovanni, which premiered in Prague in 1787.

After a while, spectators can forget that the 10 marionettes, in period costume, are pretend, such is the expertise of the six puppeteers, whose arm and hand movements are as compelling to watch as the characters. "Mozart" in a wild, white wig, conducts. Our highlight was Don Giovanni’s bath scene – we’re reminded that he’s a puppet when his wooden body is exposed.

In Pilsen,Western Bohemia, 50 minutes’ drive from Prague, more marionettes await us. New Pilsen was founded by Czech King Wenceslas II, in 1295. The city’s famous for brewing Pilsner beer – and Ron gave a positive review after testing the lager quality!

Ji?í Koptík, former director of Alfa Theatre, proudly shows us the auditorium, where plays are performed mostly for children. When Alfa’s puppeteers go on the road, they even learn and present in the local languages.

In the studio, puppet wire snakes the floor and characters loll. There’s a surprise appearance from Ivan Nesveda, writer and stage director, who gives us a private preview of a future play. Singing like Caruso, he laughingly bounds about, in front of a Venice-inspired stage, working a selection of marionettes, including a violin-playing princess. I try and fail to walk a wooden marionette, which is incredibly heavy – one can even weigh 12 kilos.

The Renaissance-facaded Puppet Museum houses traditional Czech puppets, including a red, white and blue-dressed Kašpárek (a jester like our Mr Punch), Spejbl, designed by Josef Scupa, and Hurvínek, Spejbl’s rascal son.

Surprisingly, we spot four bagpipe-playing puppets, each tuned to a different tone. We’re startled by life-size mannequins, but relish watching vintage puppets including a strongman and a clown, dancing to the Radetzky March. Pre-television, children were entranced by the movement of marionettes. Although they now face competition from galloping technology, puppets are still alive (!) and kicking here.

It’s time to leave the opulence of Hotel Paris, for the leather-seated comfort of the yellow, RegioJet bus, with its busily attentive stewardess. The two and three quarter hour journey to ?eský Krumlov in South Bohemia is no hardship.

Arriving here, you’ll gasp – it’s like a film set for a medieval fairytale. The star of the show is the allegedly-haunted castle, with its climbable tower (if you can face the 162 steps). Through the red gate, we reach the bear pit in the castle grounds where we spot Marie Terezie, a 24-year-old brown bear; there’s a history of bear-keeping here since the 16th century.

The castle boasts five courtyards. At the last one, you can tour the Baroque Theatre, to hear tales of the town’s golden age, when celebrations meant seven days of parties. Aristocrats would sit on the balcony, servants and others downstairs. Operas lasted about eight hours and there were masquerade balls and refreshments for diversion from the lengthy performances.

We’re awed by the golden-hued stage, where shows featured illusions. Underneath among wood and rope installations, performers, horses, rabbits and sheep were hoisted up on trap doors.

In ?eský Krumlov, we eschew trdelník, a chimney-shaped cinnamon, walnut and sugar pastry. We have two dinner dates for contrasting restaurants, next door to each other.

U dwau Maryí is a meat eaters’ paradise, Laibon a vegetarian’s nirvana. Both offer seating by the Vltava River, with commanding views of St Vitus Church’s tower.

Nearby, the bridge is a draw for street performers – a guitarist and a lady who dances to his tune, and a lounging girl who plays a haunting didgeridoo.

On the last day, it’s hard to leave the uniqueness and peace of the Presidential Suite in the Hotel Bellevue ?eský Krumlov, to hit the challenging cobblestones again.

We’re just about puppeted out when we visit the town’s Marionette Museum. However, Renata, our guide is so enthusiastic that our energy’s restored. Here we meet a multitude of marionettes including Vodník, a green-faced, half man and half fish – a baddie. Czech people like stories and legends, because of their Celtic origins.

Renata sums up: "When I was a child, it was normal to have a family stage at home", and emphasises her love of fantasy: "You can imagine. You can create every story you want. There are no limits."

To create our stories, we buy a Harry Potter marionette, to keep Aloisie company.

Bubble-wrapped, they are warm and safe next to us on our flight home. Magic.


Czech Tourism

Kirker Holidays

020 7593 1899


Bonita Rhoads

The historic centres of Prague and Cesky Krumlov are both UNESCO World Heritage Sites.