Prague is called the Golden City and, arriving at sunrise, we immediately understood why. In the early light, a rich, magical glow transforms the buildings, a mixture of Baroque, Art Nouveau, Gothic, Renaissance and modernist architecture that lines winding alleyways and broad, lively squares.
The Four Seasons Hotel Prague has what is possibly the best view in the city, across the Vltava river and the 15th century Charles Bridge (Karlův most) to the imposing Prague Castle (Pražský hrad). The Castle brings to mind Kafka’s The Castle, written in this city, in which land surveyor K is summoned to a village for work, but finds he is unwanted and unaccepted, unable to return home and never to be admitted to the castle itself. Kafka’s own relationship with Prague was similarly ambivalent; he wrote that ‘Prague never lets you go – this dear little mother has sharp claws’.
Fortunately, once surrounded by the trademark luxury of the Four Seasons, not leaving seemed rather attractive and, unlike K, we felt very welcome indeed. René Beauchamp, the general manager, gave us a warm personal greeting and it later transpired that he is himself one of those who has been unable to escape the call of Prague; having managed the property previously, he returned in 2010 and now says, ‘It’s hard to imagine being anywhere else.’
The lobby has a centrepiece of tall vases and fresh flowers and features some striking modern sculptures that express the variety of cultural influences that abound in Prague, just as the architecture harmoniously combines the Neo-Classical, Neo-Renaissance, Baroque and modern styles. For those who want more exercise than the endless wandering through the streets can give, there is a fitness centre; for those who want to wind down from wandering, the Spa offers a variety of treatments with the Omorovicza skincare range and traditional local treatments, such as the La Boheme massage.
Our room overlooked the terrace that adjoins the new restaurant, CottoCrudo, and had the same stunning view of the river. The furnishings were modern and dramatic, with duck egg blue statement cushions on the monochrome bedding and a glittering Czech glass chandelier. We arrived on my birthday and the attentive and helpful staff made our stay very special; we received numerous good wishes and there was a cake and a gift for me – which was a wonderfully thoughtful touch.
It was, of course, tempting to linger in the hotel room, but the city and the blazing sunshine was calling us. There is no shortage of things to do and see in Prague, more than enough to satisfy the most demanding culture cricket; we spent our first evening at the National Theatre to see Prokofiev’s ballet Cinderella (review to come) and there are plenty of museums and galleries to visit.
Although the city is the fourteenth largest in Europe, everything in the historical centre, where the Four Seasons Prague is situated, is easily within walking distance of the hotel.
The Old Town Square is the centre of the action and crowds gather here every hour to watch the figures moving on the Astronomical Clock on the Old Town Hall tower. The Square also contains the Jan Hus monument and is surrounded by a number of other historical buildings, including Kafka’s boyhood home, Dům u Minuty, and the Church of Our Lady Before Týn, which has two Gothic towers that peek over the houses on the Square. This area is, understandably, a tourist magnet and it’s worth turning a few corners into the pretty side streets or using the convenient public transport system to explore greater Prague, where you’re bound to discover some interesting things for yourself. Mozart’s former home, Bertramka, where he composed Don Giovanni, was utterly deserted when we visited, even though it is just a ten minute ride on the metro from the centre. We also took the funicular up Petřín Hill, an enormous park on the west bank of the river, which is a perfect place to escape the milling crowds, take a romantic stroll along the meandering paths and enjoy some breath-taking views of the city as the sun sets behind you.
Providing you’re not a land surveyor, it’s also very simple to have a look around the Castle. It stands above the Lesser Town (Mala Strana) in Hradčany. Within the grounds, you can visit the former Royal Palace of the kings of Bohemia and the mesmerising St Vitus’s Cathedral, the building of which was started in 1344 but not completed until 1929. Other sights include the Royal Crypt and the Powder Tower, where alchemists were employed by sixteenth century ruler Rudolf II to discover the Philosopher’s Stone.
For me, a confirmed literature fanatic, the highlight was visiting the house in Golden Lane where Kafka’s sister lived and where he allegedly penned some of his stories. For others with similar interests, I highly recommend the Kafka museum, just north of the Charles Bridge in the Lesser Town, which is very informative and wonderfully surreal.After a long day on our feet in the heat, and plenty of sampling of Czech beer, it was lovely to come back to the Four Seasons Prague, to the cool air of our room, to a long bath and a comfortable bed. There was the promise of a delightful breakfast, with a variety of options including a selection of Czech breakfast meats, to fuel another day of exploring. It is impossible for me to write about all the things we saw and did in this amazing city which, like Kafka’s The Castle, is a unique experience every time you visit it. Maybe it is possible that Prague never lets you go, but would that really be so bad?
Four Seasons Hotel Prague