City breaks across Europe have been a top seller for many tour operators so far this year, so Simon Willmore takes a relaxing trip to Prague
Once more, the fascinating machinery whirrs into life. The cage of scolding red hot coals is picked up, levered vertically upwards and over, and plunged back down into the bath of water, releasing perfumed vapour into the space around me. Now on its tenth cycle of this unusual process, I’m starting to get into the swing of things, but the first time I saw this extraordinary contraption I was genuinely taken aback, which is not the traditional consequence of a spa treatment; however, this is no ordinary spa.
The steam floods over towards me and gets to work, warming up my body and releasing all the tension in my weary muscles. I reach down to massage my legs, sore from exploring the land of make-believe that is Prague, and study the ornately decorated mosaic bench beneath my feet. My seat seems normal enough for such a routine, but my surroundings are as unorthodox as they come.
That’s because the Hoffmeister’s steam room is actually a steam cave, cut into the very rock of Prague’s hillside. Upon entering the spa, visitors start their ‘Steam Ceremony ’by being led down steps into a space that is thought to be 15th century underground torture room – a curious choice for a haven for relaxation. The usual amenities are present: sun loungers (despite the lack of exposure to sunlight), jug of chilled water, luxurious fluffy white dressing gown; but they are all found in an area not even three metres high, with the bare rock face still visible – showcased, even.
The isolated nature of the place, despite being so central it is practically in the shadow of Prague Castle, actually helps the wind-down process after a long day of sightseeing, shopping, and generally soaking up the childlike magic of the Czech capital. The city is like something straight out of a fairy-tale, with winding cobbled streets, imposing gothic churches and opulently decorated statues around every corner.
After the steam and the calmness of the setting have worked a different kind of magic, I leave the Lily Wellness and Spa area – also on hand here, for all your care-soothing needs, are a Roman bath with hot tub, beauty salon, and treatments spa offering body wraps, peels and massages. I float back to my bedroom, along the winding maze of lifts and corridors. The hotel, because it has been built into the hillside, is based over four staggered storeys, which, although confusing at first, adds to the boutique style and individual nature of the place.
Of the 43 room and suites on offer, encompassing a wide range of styles and sumptuousness, 11 are Junior Suites and three are Honeymoon Suites, by name Tower, Jing & Jang and Polak, measuring up to 75 m2in size. Even some of the standard rooms have kitchenettes and / or direct access, and all rooms come with flat-screen TV, Wi-Fi and access to underground parking as standard.
My bedroom, up on the third floor and so also one of the furthest (horizontally) from reception, was large and well-appointed. All the fittings expected from a five star were included, including fully-stocked mini bar, air conditioning and huge king bed, but possibly the best feature was the bathroom.
A generous shower cubicle, plus double sinks with toiletries aplenty, would have been adequate, but the bath tub – complete with bubble jets to make your very own private hot tub, was the showpiece. After a soothing massage bath, plus all that walking through the city’s enchanting maze of palaces and castles and an optional steam ‘ceremony’, a good night’s sleep is practically a hotel guarantee.
Upon waking, breakfast, which is free to all patrons, is served in the Ada restaurant and is a thorough if non- virtuoso affair. All the English requisites are present, including sausage, egg and beans, but Czech favourites like pickled herring are also available and are definitely worth a try if fish doesn’t seem too rich for a morning meal. After choosing your food from the buffet, take a seat in the conservatory which looks out over a beautifully kept patio and garden area, great for sunlounging in summer.
Moving on from breakfast, those in town on business will be able to make use of four conference halls. With capacities ranging from 10 people to 50 people, the facilities offer varying facilities including private entry points, smoking areas and sound insulation. A special customisable catering menu is also available for the corporate clientele, including coffee breaks and lunch or dinner.
Talking of dinner, the Hoffmeister lays upon your table tradition Czech cuisine like schnitzel and perch as well as international specialities, including octopus in a Peruvian style. These are served in both of the hotel’s restaurants, Ada and Ria. However, those wanting a slightly more interactive way of dining should visit the Chef Parade cooking school, in the up-and-coming Žižkov district, for great afternoon out and for the chance to justify, to yourself at least, that you have earned the right to gorge on delicious schnitzel.
The necessary double ‘battering’ – both in the physical ‘with a hammer’ sense as well as the ‘deep fried with flour and egg’ implication – is something that doesn’t feature often enough in English food. Our group also baked gingerbread, proving that cutting stars out of pastry is just as fun at 40 as it is at four. Customers can take home their self-crafted goodies, choosing to ice them with white chocolate for an extra hit of decadence, provided they have enough energy to carry anything else – it’s enough of a challenge just to lug around that belly full of irresistible schnitzel, especially if you’ve already had a Steam Ceremony…