UK / Europe

From Bratislava to Vienna – In Four Days

Prague, Czech Republic

“People only go to Slovakia so they can stop confusing it with Slovenia,” a friend joked as I spoke of my trip. Having been to the other nation that begins with “Slov” and ends with “ia;” this was not my purpose. Instead, I was there to cover the small, but emerging startup scene. There are one-day cities, and then there are one-hour cities. I was warned Bratislava was the latter. With this in mind, and with a weekend ahead of my meetings, I arranged to meet friends in the metropolis that is Prague, quite fitting actually, as the two countries were once one. Now, they’re separated by an easy four-hour train journey. In fact, many Slovaks live in Prague – some even commute. Since I’d visited the city a few times already, I booked my return flight from Vienna, a one-hour bus or train journey from Bratislava. My goal: take in as much art, and Sacher torte as I could in one day. Sandwiched in between, was 36 hours in Slovakia’s enchanting capital city.

Music is the theme in Prague. There are many cultural offerings here, but the city’s attachments to classical composers like Mozart, Dvorak, Janacek and Smetana, to its jazz clubs, to modern musical theatre productions and concerts by world-famous musicians and rock stars is the main one. Two hotels in two nights, with no connection to one another proved the point.

Infused with art and music

Hotel Klarov is a small property set in an 18th century building ten minute’s walk from the Charles Bridge. The benefit of being on this side of the river is the peaceful quiet. Old Town is where to sightsee and party; Lower town, a UNESCO-listed part of Prague, is where to sleep. The Klarov welcomes guests with beverages and biscuits and rooms are contemporary in style, with each one dedicated to a famous musician. Mine was Beyonce. Light wood desks are lined with a subtle piano keyboard panel to cleverly enforce the musical motif.

Hotel Klarov, Prague
The Hotel Klarov, Prague.

Also in Lower Town, and just around the corner from the Charles Bridge; the Aria Hotel is tucked halfway up a side street. It’s location next to one of the least visited, but most treasured gardens in Prague is worth staying for, alone. Vrtbovska is Prague’s oldest baroque garden and a UNESCO world heritage site open to visitors from 6pm – 9pm during summers only, but from certain vantage points, including, of all places, the hotel’s gym, one can glimpse this secret, tranquil spot. That sense of tranquility extends throughout the hotel, infused with art and music.

Vrtbovská Gardens Prague
Vrtbovská Gardens Prague: Photo credit – Juan de Vojníkov.

Seriously cool

With a Czech film producer as it’s owner, any hotel stands a good chance of being something special, but touches such as Apple TV, loaded up with current and classic films, along with great playlists (I tested the Hip hop one), make rooms here so inviting, it’s difficult to summon the motivation to leave. Once one does, there is a private screening room off the lobby, available for guests and oh, up to 40 of your dearest friends – available for guests to use anytime. It’s a seriously cool amenity. Next door, an intimate lounge, or entertainment chamber, as they call it, contains a large screen TV, Blue Ray player and XBox console for up to six people.

But, back to the music … a music director (with a degree in musicology) oversees the music library, with curated cd’s of classical, jazz, rock, and other genres. An atrium houses a concert-quality Bosendorfer piano, with regular live music.

The owner’s passion for music is harmonized throughout the hotel, and begins in the entranceway, with mosaics laid in the form of a music score. A series of cartoons of musicians and composers by Czech caricaturist Joseph Blecha runs like a thread through common areas and rooms.

Breakfast is a highly civilized affair, with a relaxed approach to the spaces around the atrium. One can take their tea and crumpets in a cozy snug, lined with books and artwork, or in the light-filled room. The buffet is plentiful, without overwhelming.

Interesting antiques and vintage furniture make the entire hotel feel like a wonderful passion project for its culture vulture owner. The Aria doesn’t deserve to be categorized in the normal way, with stars and luxury ratings. Rather, it’s an experiential hotel that leaves a strong, lingering impression and very much embodies the spirit of the city, living up to a promise many make, but so often disappoint. It is unique, authentic, and oh-so-local.

Wander through the centuries

Though I didn’t take full advantage of my Prague card (free transport and free or discounted entry to many museums and attractions), I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the 700th anniversary of Charles IV’s birth this year. The Czech ruler and Holy Roman emperor is credited with constructing the dominating features at the heart of Prague: New Town, the Charles Bridge, Vitus Cathedral, Charles University and many other places named after him.

A great supporter of education, Charles IV spoke five languages and never tired of academia. Features of his everyday life can be found on display at the House at the Golden Ring. Prague Castle will host seven different celebratory exhibitions through October. Many more events will be held throughout the year and can be found at: czechtourism.com

As for Bratislava, there are castles and museums, of course. I chose to simply wander the theatrically-lit Old Town, which surprised with its combination of traditional restaurants and modern coffee houses and cafes, in equal measure. Perhaps it was the unusually mild weather, or simply the ease of use factor – never needing to ask directions, simply using the edgy street food restaurant, serving burritos and triple-cooked chips, as my landmark. It may not be a weekend hotspot, but it’s well more than a one-hour city.

Amy Hughes

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