Country cottage mania

Ask a few Czechs where they are likely to be spending the end of the year and many will give you the same answer - at their country cottage. The tradition of country cottages stretches back over half a century and today it is hard to find a family which does not own one or have access to one through family and friends. Although sociologists predicted that the fall of communism would bring about a radical change, country cottages remain an important part in people's lives.

Czechs have more country cottages than any other nation in the world - with the exception of the Swedes. A country cottage is one's second home - a hideaway from the hectic pace of life in the big cities. People jump into their cars and head for their country cottage every Friday afternoon for a long relaxing weekend and although many families now enjoy holidays abroad they still spend the greater part of their five weeks paid leave at their country cottage.

Jiri Paroubek and his wife Zuzana, photo: CTKJiri Paroubek and his wife Zuzana, photo: CTK The forecast that this would change after the fall of communism has proved wrong. Czechs are still hanging on to their second homes and spending as much time there as they ever did. And this is not just due to the fact that a third of all Czechs live in pre-fabricated panel blocks of flats, without a garden or much greenery. Even well off Czechs who own a house in the suburbs like to have a get-away somewhere in the mountain regions - where they can swim in the summer, ski in the winter, ride a horse and host their friends in a friendly, informal environment.

Jiri Paroubek, photo: CTKJiri Paroubek, photo: CTK For many middle class families a country cottage is an affordable means of holidaying out in the country, since few can afford to send their children abroad for the entire eight weeks of their school summer holidays. For the rich it is a status symbol. Instead of the traditional country cottages which many people have renovated with a view to greater comfort, the rich build mountain chalets and villas with tennis courts, garages, swimming pools and the best that money can buy. Psychologists say that while in the past country cottages were an escape from the drab life of communist reality, when it was almost impossible to travel abroad, today they are an escape from the rat race - for a few days or weeks.

Either way an invitation to someone's country cottage means you are well liked. So go for it and do as the Romans do. Whether it is mushroom picking, fishing or tasting home made brandy ahead of the Sunday roast. By the way no prizes for guessing where the Czech Prime Minister is spending the Christmas holidays and New Year's Eve - tucked away in his country cottage with his wife Zuzana and his dog Andy.