With its multi-layered architectural gems, a visit to Prague is like overdosing on history. It’s all laid out before you to gorge on. From one of Europe’s finest Romanesque buildings – St George’s Basilica at Prague Castle – to the Baroque St Nicholas Cathedral, many of the city’s stunning buildings date from different eras and remain intact due to the fact that Prague was not heavily bombed during World War II. As well as an abundance of soaring Gothic towers and spires (the Old Town Hall and Astronomical Clock are probably the most famous), there are also Renaissance buildings, fine examples of Cubism – such as the façade of The House of the Black Madonna – and love-it or hate-it stark, functionalist buildings, such as the Bat’a skyscraper known as ‘21’.
When you first check into Mandarin Oriental Prague – tucked away in the heart of the Mala Strana district, in the heart of the city – it appears to offer a quiet respite from the architectural razzmatazz outside. The lobby is serene and contemporary with its white and grey palette, crisp lines and illuminated cherry blossom tree. This elegant yet pared-back theme is echoed in the guest bedrooms (99 rooms and 20 suites) and it is a welcome sanctuary from the buzz of tourists on the cobblestones outside.
A creamy palette is the backdrop throughout much of the hotel with sophisticated touches of colour added in – such as a burnt-orange leather desk chair, silk curtains with pops of claret and sleek and navy bed throws. While it may seem like a modern, chic hotel on the surface, once you unpack, get accustomed to your new surroundings, and take stock – you begin to notice the little details.
It turns out that the building is just as complex historically as the city in which it was built. Once a 14th century monastery, it has Renaissance and Baroque features deriving from the five houses that came after the monastery. In the spa, under a glass floor, guests can even see the ruins of a Gothic chapel.
Interior designer Khuan Chew, from London-based KCA Interiors, has taken inspiration from the building’s religious heritage so the décor whispers rather than shouts. There are polished limestone bathrooms, parquet flooring, stone arches and a peaceful aura, which, well, money just can’t buy. Nods to this are seen in the lounge area, where, for example, a row of five white monks’ habits hang on the wall – like an art installation – to give a nod to the Dominican monks who once resided here and who wore white robes.
That’s not to say this hotel is dull – there are plenty of characterful touches to complement the hushed vibe. There is, for instance, a collection of bright, modern art canvases dotted around, sourced from up and coming Central European artists, and one of the hotel’s suites features a crystal-themed décor, designed by Moser, the Czech luxury crystal brand. The main restaurant Spices also dials up the tone with its eclectic menu of sophisticated Asian food based around three styles of cooking – Malaysian, Thai and Indian. It’s a real departure from the blander cuisine of the Czech Republic – think schnitzel, dumplings, strudel – and one of its kind in the city. As a consequence it has become something of a hotspot for a cosmopolitan crowd.
Carrying on the ‘quiet luxe’ theme, however, and offering something extra special, is the private dining and wine tasting offered in a cave-like cellar, carved out of the foundations of the original 16th century houses, and comes complete with medieval well. A focus is on regional Czech wines – such as a light Cuvée from the Reisten Winery and a Pinot Noir from the Sedlák Winery, both based in Moravia, the country’s wine-producing region. The hotel even has its own bespoke wine made for it by one of the wineries – the Spices Cuvee – which turns out to be the perfect match for spicy food.
The refined, secluded feel comes to the fore in the spa – a former chapel and the highlight of the hotel. It reeks of the building’s history with its bare-brick walls, porticoes and candle-lit rooms. Every morning, you can practice yoga on the glass floor of what was once the nave, the illuminated foundations of the 14th century church laid out below you – it’s a thought-provoking view during the downward dog.
Treatments start in the Tea Lounge – a reference to Mandarin Oriental’s eastern heritage as a brand. There’s a wide range of signature treatments to choose from – such as massage-based Oriental Essence – many of which have been developed in conjunction with specialists in traditional Chinese Medicine and master aromatherapists. But for something unique and which gives a local flavor, plump for the Linden Embrace. This uses organic oils and balms created at the Chateau Mcely, a forest retreat in Bohemia, 23km from Prague and made from herbs and flowers grown on the estate. With five hectares of grounds teaming with plants unique to the area, the chateau’s owners decided to tap into the region’s age-old apothecary traditions by revisiting ancient recipes once used for remedies. The result is a comprehensive natural beauty collection for modern-day use and now exclusively used by the hotel.
The treatment itself is inspired by country’s national tree – the Linden – and starts off with a body exfoliation with sea salt and yarrow oil, followed by a body massage with daisy oil and warm herbal poultices (perfect for moulding into tight muscles). The scalp massage with essence of rose will completely de-stress even the most uptight urban traveller, while a face cleanse, with a pampering rosemary butter, completes the indulgent 90 minutes.
The hotel’s history is so rich that Mandarin Oriental offers guests a tour of its highlights – ask at the lobby for times. Make sure you take a peek at the banquet rooms with its Baroque vaulted ceilings and oversized chandeliers made from Czech crystal. If your budget stretches to it, however, the Presidential Suite (it costs from €2,600 per night) is one of the most impressive hotel rooms you’ll ever see. Built across two floors, the sumptuous décor and spacious rooms that the likes of Madonna, Kylie and J Lo have enjoyed are impressive. But, best to ignore these at first, and instead head straight out onto the roof terrace. Here, Prague is laid out before you – best seen at night. Take in the jaw-dropping views across the city from all sides – the red slate roofs of the Old Town, green cupolas of Mala Strana, St Vitus Cathedral in the distance and Gothic spires in between. It’s truly special.
Mandarin Oriental, Prague offers three nights for the price of two from £749 per person booked through Kirker Holidays (020 7593 2283, www.kirkerholidays.com). Offer is valid for stays until 31 March 2017 and includes return flights from the UK, private car transfers, b&b accommodation based on two adults sharing a room, a private walking tour with an expert local guide, Kirker Guide Notes to restaurants and sightseeing and the services of the Kirker Concierge.
For more information on the Mandarin Oriental, including details of what to see and do in the city, visit www.mandarinoriental.com.