With many of its medieval buildings untouched, Prague is famous for its rich architectural history and cultural diversity. The Mandarin Oriental – itself housed in a landmark building in the city – is making the most of its own heritage, not least in its unique spa.
On Prague’s historic Charles Bridge, which connects the city’s Old Town and Mala Strana (or Little Quarter), the crowds are heavy. It’s nigh on impossible to get near the imposing Baroque statues of saints that the picturesque bridge is known for. It’s the same in the Old Town Square – where groups of lads on stag-dos and tourists with selfie sticks mingle in front of the famous 600-year-old Astronomical Clock, waiting for it to chime the hour and display its moving figures.
As one of the only European cities that remained largely undamaged during the Second World War, Prague is widely regarded as one of Europe’s most scenic capitals. As a consequence, its atmospheric, cobbled streets are always full of hordes snapping away at its medieval spires, verdigris cupolas and Modernist masterpieces, not to mention taking advantage of its modern-day café culture.
As enriching as all the sightseeing is, a quiet refuge is a welcome thing when on a city break. Away from the main drag, but still in the heart of Mala Strana, the Mandarin Oriental Prague offers a welcome respite. Unlike many of the larger properties owned by the hotel group, the Czech version is compact and bijoux and as beautifully serene as the 14th century monastery it is carved out of. Tucked away off a hidden courtyard, you are ushered into a gleaming white lobby, which immediately sets the tone of restrained sophistication. This elegant feel is echoed in the hotel’s 99 rooms and suites spread across what were once five Renaissance houses.
Interior designer Khuan Chew, from London-based KCA Interiors, has taken inspiration from the building’s religious heritage so the décor is simple and pared-back. The unfussiness is perfect to showcase the vaulted ceilings, original parquet floors and stone arches. Splashes of colour uplift the largely white palette so you’ll find a burnt-orange leather desk chair, silk curtains with pops of claret and navy bed throws. Fresh orchids, velvety-soft down pillows and huge marble bathrooms ramp up the luxe factor and it combines to make for the ultimate calming backdrop to the architectural pizazz that surrounds you in this city.
Talking of which, the hotel adds personality to its minimalist feel with plenty of nods to the destination. You’ll find, for example, a collection of colourful modern art canvases dotted around, sourced from up and coming Central European artists, and one of its suites features décor by Moser, the Czech luxury crystal brand. Best of all, though, is the hotel’s spa, which takes this sense of locality one step further.
Found in a former Renaissance chapel, and joined to the main hotel by an underground tunnel, it’s a hushed oasis. The candle-lit entrance – once the nave – boasts a glass floor, under which guests can view the remnants of a Gothic church dating back to 1326. While the spa offers a wide range of Asian-based treatments – such as the group’s signature Oriental Essence Massage – it has broken ranks with tradition with its latest selection of Czech-inspired treatments, all of which incorporate locally-sourced Mcely Boutique products, to tap nicely into the region’s heritage.
The organic oils and balms are created at the Chateau Mcely, a forest retreat in Bohemia, 23km from Prague and are 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.
A must-try is the Linden Embrace, inspired by the Czech Republic’s national tree, the Linden. It kicks off with a Bohemian tea ceremony – with linden blossom tea served in vintage, local porcelain cups. A body exfoliation with sea salt and yarrow oil is 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.
To further immerse yourself in local culture, it’s best to discover the city on foot. The Jewish quarter is not far. Throughout the centuries, Prague’s Jewish community was a major part of the city’s identity, and many outstanding monuments bear witness to its importance. The Old-New Synagogue is the oldest European temple still in use and legend has it that the body of the legendary Golem lies concealed somewhere in its attic. The Prague Jewish Museum is one of the world’s finest and includes a moving Holocaust memorial dedicated to the 80,000 Czech Jews who perished during the Nazi occupation.
To contemplate everything, you’ll need a pit-stop, so for a real taste of local flavours head to the Café Savoy on Vítězná. Dating back to 1893, it evokes the atmosphere of the cafés of the First Czechoslovakian Republic and offers traditional dishes – such as apple soup, potato dumplings and strudel.
Back at the hotel, you can taste 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. For something extra special, private tastings are offered in an intimate cellar, carved out of the foundations of the original 16th century houses.
Early morning yoga is the most serene way to start the day here with small classes taking place on the glass floor in the spa – the downward dog being a unique way to view the chapel foundations below. There’s nothing quite like it to contemplate the heritage all around you.
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.
A version of this article was in The Jewish Chronicle in December and online here