Sue Ryan finds wonderful vistas and VIP service at Prague's Four Seasons hotel.
Hotel Insider: Four Seasons Prague
This is what it must feel like to be a star. I am met for the first time in my life at the door of the plane. I do not go through passport control and I don't have to fight my way through to grab my case from the conveyor belt. Instead, I am taken to one of five VIP lounges and sip tomato juice and nibble on nuts and olives on a soft designer sofa while someone takes my passport and collects my luggage. It is something Four Seasons often arranges for its guests. Not that it comes free of charge, but at 3,900 Czech Republic korunas (Dh824) for one way and 5,500 korunas (Dh1,162) round-trip, it's not outrageous and completely transforms the airport experience. Half an hour later, I am at the hotel and although it's still only 10am, my room is ready.
Set in the cultural and economic heart of the city at the edge of the Vltava River, within a few metres of Charles Bridge, this is the most sought-after location in the town. The landmark 520m-long sandstone bridge was commissioned by Charles IV in 1357 and tops every tourist's list of must-see sights. Prague's old town starts at the other side and the writer Franz Kafka's haunts are all around.
The hotel consists of three separate buildings dating back to different periods - baroque, neoclassical and neo-Renaissance - joined together 10 years ago via a modern extension. The decor of the bedrooms reflect the period of the building in which they are housed. My room is in the newly finished modern wing (part of a four-year refurbishment using the designer Pierre Yves Rochon), and the dark grey, striped wallpaper, grey carpet and wooden furniture is stylish, as is the marble bathroom with its deep tub and separate glass shower. All the gizmos work, including a quick and easy wireless connection and an iPod station. But its real glory lies in the floor-to-ceiling windows framing the old town across the river, and the detailed view of Charles Bridge with its many artists, musicians and souvenir vendors.
It's a Four Seasons' trick that staff memorise and address you by your name. Sometimes I find it unnerving but here the moderate use is enough to be personal, and not so much that it grates. There is also a thoughtfulness that you don't often get even in five-star hotels: my book carelessly left open on the chair in my room is neatly put by the bed with a bookmark in it, and every time I return to the room there is a little gift of food and drink.
With so many restaurants close by, the hotel has restricted itself to one eaterie, Allegro, which has a reputation good enough to draw local residents as well as hotel guests. Indeed, it is the only Michelin-starred restaurant in the country. Executive chef Andrea Accordi constantly changes the menu but is famous for his risotto tasta sal and homemade gnocchi with tomato sauce (420 korunas; Dh88). Other dishes include chocolate fritters with pistachio ice cream (320 korunas; Dh67), Sicillian cannoli with Clementine compote; Greek yoghurt and almond sorbet (320 korunas; Dh67). Breakfast is also in Allegro and offers eggs Benedict, pancakes and the usual mix of fruits, bread and cereals, all brought to your table rather than buffet-style.
When the hotel was built 10 years ago, it was the only luxury hotel in the city and, although there are now others, it retains its number one status. The Four Seasons offers the most glamorous place to stay and is popular with Americans who visit Prague as part of the European tour and the British who come for weekends. The restoration of the three historic buildings - once used as offices - creates a lot of local interest and it's also the smart place to go within the local community.
Prague, with its wealth of history and culture. The enormous castle complex, a town-within-a-town, is within walking distance from the hotel. The home of emperors, kings and presidents, it has dominated the panorama of the city for the past millennium and tells the story of the country's shifting fortunes. It is also possible to enjoy the culture without speaking the language: I saw Swan Lake at the State Opera and visited the Amedeo Modigliani exhibition at Municipal House. Best of all, the Four Seasons has developed a strong relationship with the "holders of the keys" of some of the city's most extraordinary buildings and can arrange private viewings. The treasures inside the recently restored Lobkowicz Palace and the remote Karlstejn Castle were all the more special because we were on a private tour.
Not having time to go on the 90-minute Franz Kafka walk (400 korunas; Dh82) and having to make do with buying a T-shirt. I also had an embarrassing moment when the TV was on and I did not hear the knock at the door, so the room service waiter walked in to find me in nothing but a towel.
I would return tomorrow. The Four Seasons knows how to make its guests feel like VIPs and, although there is little real competition, the hotel is in the best possible location with the most wonderful views.
The bottom line
Until March 31, the hotel has a two-night city break priced at €607 (Dh3,010), including taxes, for two people in a standard room including breakfast, with €100 (Dh512) off on a meal or spa treatment. Four Seasons Prague, Veleslavínova 2a/1098, Praha 1 (www.fourseasons.com; 8000 65 0561).