Life | A Historic Setting

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A Historic Setting
Text by Shirin Mehta
Published: Volume 19, Issue 3, March, 2011

The Mandarin Oriental, Prague, pleases with its restored edifice and modern amenities, discovers Shirin Mehta

The Mandarin Oriental, Prague, is situated just that little bit away from the teeming crowds that are attracted to a summer in this East European city. To my surprise, a short five-minute walk from its peaceful location, takes me to the crowded 650-year-old Charles Bridge, one of the city’s most popular landmarks. Located in the ancient and picturesque Mala Strana district, this charming and modern hotel is housed in a former monastery with roots dating back to the 14th century. Adjacent to the building is the Czech Museum of Music, a building as beautiful as the surrounding area.

The 99-room hotel occupies a complex that is part Renaissance, part Baroque and part modern, representing over six centuries of architecture. Formerly a Dominican monastery, the structure retains carefully preserved architectural features such as vaulted ceilings, archways and original staircases, rebuilt under the close supervision of the Conservation Authority. Historical highlights include the remains of a 1330 Gothic church visible under the spa floor, as well as a wine cellar with a medieval well where guests can book a table for wine tastings. The Monastery Lounge has been created in the former cloister, the Dominicus Hall in the former chapter room and the Grand Ballroom is the former refectory. No wonder then that the hotel was awarded the ‘Building of the Year’ award, presented annually by the Czech government, in 2007 when restorations were completed.

A very short flight of steps takes me down to my room that is airy and bright, minimally decorated, with an orchid nodding on a side table. Modern fitments, some beautifully hand-worked, reveal the latest technology for comfortable living. A tour of the hotel reveals other rooms as individualistic in their placements and contours, with historic arches and curved ceilings – a far cry indeed from impersonal, box-like hotel rooms. Of the many suites, the Presidential Penthouse Suite (Madonna was here) thrills with its terrace that overlooks tiled roofs, spires and cupolas. Alfresco dining on the terrace is indeed a very special, visual treat.

Dotting the hotel premises, its walls and lobby ceiling is a discreet collection of original art created by 14 Czech, German and Israeli artists who have offered their own personal vision of the city. ‘When planning art for the Mandarin Oriental, Prague, a particular effort was made to observe the close relationship between the art and the historical surroundings of the 14th century monastery and the modern city of Prague’ maintains Clemens Hoerth, general manager. For a bit of ‘art’ to carry home, I discover the hotel’s distinctive fan which links the property to the hotel group’s fan logo. The design of this accessory was entrusted to Jarmila Mucha Plockova, granddaughter of the late celebrated artist Alfons Mucha. After a search through museums, she created a design of peacocks inspired by the frescoes on the walls of the Mayor’s lounge in Prague’s superb Art Nouveau Municipal House.

Across the small courtyard, one enters the hotel’s spa, an oasis of calm and tranquility, created in a former Renaissance chapel. An underground passageway, decorated with showcases containing some of the archaeological finds on this site, also connects the main hotel building. I am in for a real treat here. A discreet body massage that melts away the stress of months. Seven treatment rooms afford privacy, including two couples’ suites. An exclusive selection of pampering rituals is designed to relax and revitalise, using Mandarin Oriental’s signature collection of spa products. A vitality pool, steam showers and personalised massages makes this indeed a haven of relaxation.

The hotel’s signature restaurant, Essensia, serves a hearty breakfast and delightful meals. Again, arches and curved ceilings make for privacy. It serves contemporary Czech and Asian gastronomy and the steward informs me that the executive chef, Jiri Stift, is in fact a big fan of India, travelling in the sub-continent, tasting the regional cuisines. This results in a selection of Asian cuisine on the menu as well. The service is particularly attentive, the meal succulent and the evening well spent, before I go off to my comfortable bed under the vaulted ceiling.

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