Going oriental in... Prague
Michael Pullman stayed at the new Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Prague
With Prague already offering a Radisson, a Marriott, a Four Seasons and a number of independent five-star hotels such as the Hotel Savoy and the Golden Well, you may think the city needs another exclusive hotel like it needs another spire. Yet the Mandarin Oriental group obviously thinks there is the market for more, investing heavily in building a new hotel in the heart of the city’s Old Town, which opened in November 2006.
The Mandarin Oriental is built on the site of an old monastery, and this becomes apparent in the labyrinth-style layout of the hotel. The opening of the hotel was delayed by two years due to ongoing excavation of this important 14th century site, and whilst this must have caused annoyance to the group’s accountants the hotel itself benefits from a nice display of artefacts discovered during the renovation.
The rooms themselves are what you would expect from a Mandarin Oriental: there’s a bed that could house a small town; a bathroom with more mirrors than Stringfellows; a coffee-table-sized flat screen television; and an entrance foyer, all finished with the same dark wood imported from the Far East.
Location-wise, the hotel couldn’t be much better, being on one of Prague’s quiet cobbled streets but very much in the thick of things, just a five-minute walk from the main tourist site, Charles Bridge, and a short but gruelling walk up the hill to Prague Castle.
This was my first visit to Prague, and if I’m honest I was half-expecting the city to be overrun with drunk stags, but fortunately this wasn’t the case. There were groups of lads to be seen, but no bad behaviour beyond a few half-hearted football chants echoing around the city’s small cobbled streets.
Apparently 7 million tourists visited Prague in 2006, and it is Europe’s 6th most visited city. But given that it really is as beautiful as everyone says, together with the low cost of living and the famed nightlife, that is not surprising. Yet being off-season when we visited, the sites were relatively quiet, including Prague Castle, which is a stunning complex and worth the uphill trek.
Aside from sightseeing, my favourite part of the weekend was visiting some of the atmospheric local bars and restaurants. Many of these places look unchanged for centuries, one restaurant we ate at was typically decorated with a rather odd collection of ornaments, old photos and medieval swords, creating a peculiar atmosphere, that felt like eating in an antiques shop. Eastern European cuisine is derided but on a cold day a plate of goulash and bacon dumplings washed down with a litre of beer was ideal.
For an afternoon drinking I can particularly recommend the Golden Tiger, a rather spartan, smoky beer hall, which may be too authentic for some people’s taste but which serves the best beer in Prague according to one drinker. Distinguished drinkers at the Golden Tiger include Bill Clinton. Whilst the shared tables mean you will probably end up plonked next to a group of locals enjoying an afternoon session, we discovered it’s best not to try and keep up with them.
As most people are aware, the Czechs take their beer seriously. Whilst Staropramen and Budvar are available almost everywhere in the UK now, Prague offers an excellent array of dark beers and light beers varying in strength up to 13%. The locals we spoke to considered Pilsner Urquell to be the best lager. Either way it all starts to taste the same after a while and is a great way to unwind after walking, which is something you can do plenty of in Prague. With most of the key sights being navigable on foot it has everything one could want from a short break destination.
With Cox & Kings offering 3 nights at the Mandarin Oriental for the price of 2 until the end of March, now is an excellent time to savour the latest addition to the city’s luxury hotel sector.