For our Diwali (The Indian Festival of Lights) holidays this year, Laveena and I travelled to the Czech Republic. Our first stop was Prague, the ever so stunning capital city, steeped in history, with its colourful baroque buildings, red rooftops, narrow pebbled streets, Gothic churches, old bridges and the glorious Vtlava river. Our first impression when our taxi drove into the left-bank neighbourhood of Mala Strana (Lesser Town), was that Prague (or Praha as the Czechs refer to their beloved city), was one of the most beautiful cities either of us had ever set eyes on.
Our taxi pulled up outside a rather modest entrance to our hotel, which was located on a nice and quiet street, not far from Prague Castle. When we walked through the heavy swing door at the Aria, and over to the reception, we were welcomed and checked in by a lovely lady named Clara at the front desk. We saw that the lobby was decorated with a grandfather clock, and paintings and sculptures which served as a subtle teaser to the magnificent art Prague has on offer. Behind the front desk was a colourful mural of famous singers.
While being led up to our room by the very tall and friendly bellman Michael, we apprecaited the hotels distinct musical theme. The flooring had mosaic tiles in the shape of musical notes, randomly scattered across it, while natural light poured in through the glass ceiling. Our room was elegant and comfortable but sadly did not overlook the Vrtbovska Garden.
Laveena said that she was pleased to see Molton Brown toiletries in the bath and although we do not usually watch TV when on holiday, it is not often that one finds an Apple TV in their room with a pre-loaded I-Pod exclusively for their use. Michael informed us that we should visit the music library at the Aria and enjoy the vast selection of music on offer. He even said that guests were welcome to use the private cinema where we could watch films on a large screen while seated on comfortable chairs.
Prague is known to be one of the world’s leading musical destinations, and what I loved about the Aria hotel was the fact that so much of it was inspired by music. The tasteful décor had much thought behind it, with each of the four floors representing a genre of music with Brahms and Bernstein for Classical, Elvis and Sinatra for Contemporary, Mozart and Maria Callas for Opera and finally, the floor we were on, Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong for Jazz. The carpets in the corridors had on them, musical notes, and as one walked through the hotel, one felt melodies of history carefully interwoven through the architecture of the property.
We were later told that the famous Italian architect Rocco Magnolia and interior designer Lorenzo Carmellini (known for their close association with Gianni Versace) were responsible for the final design and when I asked why an Italian theme in the Czech Republic, the hotel concierge very kindly explained that Mala Strana was known for its Italian Renaissance architecture and the Aria hotel’s design worked in perfect harmony with it. We were indeed impressed when told that the final product was a transformation from a row of modest grey stone and yellow stucco buildings which initially stood here.
When we stepped out for lunch, we appreciated the location of the hotel even more, as it is a short walk from Charles Bridge and the Old Town Square. There are 100s of restaurants and coffee shops one can choose from, but we took the advice of our friends from India, luxury brand and hospitality Ambassador Deepa Harris and one of the country’s leading interior designers, Mustafa Eisa and settled upon Aquarius at the Alchymist Grand Hotel and Spa, a few steps away from the Aria. From Executive Chef Tomas Sysel’s Autumn Tasting Menu, we ordered the Swordfish Tartare with basil, mint and avocado sauce and a sea food plate with octopus carpaccio, tuna sashimi and grilled prawns as starters and for the main course, while Laveena ordered the grilled tuna steak, I had the risotto capesante. We loved our meal and finished with The Alchymist Special, The Fruit Sabayon which was the ultimate treat to this fine and rather extravagant lunch at the 4 time Michelin Recommended Restaurant. The restaurant manager told us that Aquarius had also featured in the prestigious Zagat Restaurant Review. Laveena and I both agreed that the recognition was well deserved.
Later, we wandered across the 600 year old Charles Bridge, reflecting on the statutes which line this historical marvel. We walked around the charming old town, and on our return to The Aria , through a private entrance from the hotel, we walked over to the Vrtbovska Garden. Despite autumn having set in, the bright red flowers in full bloom, looked resplendent against the background of the elegant staircase, the decorated banisters, the statues, terraces and the green hedges. The receptionist at The Aria had informed us that the Baroque style garden kept its original look from the 18th century and that the Aria was the only hotel in Prague, which offered private entrance access to this glorious Unesco World Heritage garden.
We were back at the hotel in time for High Tea (between 1600-1730) at the ‘Winter Garden’. This is a lovely place to sit back and relax with natural light streaming through yet another glass ceiling. As we sat back on a chaise lounge and sipped on our coffee, we watched twilight turn to evening and talked about how much we had fallen in love with this city, in just a few hours of being here.
The next day we enjoyed a lavish and rather posh breakfast spread, with made to order eggs with caviar, a chilled glass of champagne and strawberries. In the evening, Laveena and I shared a truly enjoyable bottle of a local red wine at the roof-top terrace, an extension of the famed restaurant ‘Coda’ at the Aria. Coda ranks among the finest dining establishments in all of Prague, with a menu put together by the well known Chef David Sasek. Since we were booked elsewhere, we missed on sampling the talented Chef’s craft, although we did spend ample time nursing the bottle of Shiraz, one delicious sip after another. The views of the city of 100 spires from the roof-top at the Aria needs to be cherished, as these are the images of Prague, immortalised by the trained lenses of the world’s finest travel photographers.
After a wonderful two-night stay at the Aria, we were ready to check-out and move on to our next destination, Mcely, a little village, 70 kms outside of Prague. I asked Laveena to summarise her thoughts on the Aria and without hesitation, she said that the experience was so very harmonious and pure, that she was ready to applaud her musical return to this lovely hotel, with a happy encore.