Prague’s wealth of well-preserved Gothic churches, colorful baroque buildings, and peaceful parks along the Vltava River makes it one of Europe’s prettiest places – and one of its most packed. In 2018, the Czech capital – aptly named the City of 100 Spires – welcomed a record-high 7.9 million visitors; most were drawn to iconic sights such as the Charles Bridge and Old Town Square, as I was during a recent visit. But after the inevitable rubbing of shoulders, finding sanctuary at the historic Augustine Hotel was what set my trip apart. Here are five things I loved about my stay.
Open Secrets: Bellhops always know best. Consider, for instance, the wisdom Jaroslav Beránek lent my wife and me during a discussion about the Augustine’s quiet and secluded setting: “This is Prague’s only hotel where you can sleep with the windows open.” In our room above a cloistered courtyard, we heeded his words and listened to daytime bells chiming from nearby churches, and at night, drifted off, easily forgetting the crowds that filled the city’s streets. Located in Malá Strana (Lesser Town) across the river from Old Town, the hotel is nonetheless only a short stroll from so much we wanted to experience, including Prague Castle, the Franz Kafka Museum, and Petřín park. One must: Wake up early for walks along the Vltava to see swans swimming through the early-morning mist.
Hallowed Halls: Past is profoundly present at the Augustine, born from a thirteenth-century Augustinian monastery. Throughout the hotel’s new and restored buildings, monastic relics ranging from original wooden doors to vaulted ceilings mesh with more modern finds such as Czech glassworks and cubist furnishings. Fellow bibliophiles, rejoice: Tours of the interconnected – and still-active – Saint Thomas Monastery and Church include a visit to the monks’ library, whose shelves hold one of Europe’s largest collections of ancient medical books.
You’ll Also Love: Atop Petřín Hill, the twelfth-century Strahov Monastery offers a peek into its immense collection of medieval manuscripts – plus views of Malá Strana and Saint Norbert beers at the on-site microbrewery.
Heavenly Brew: At the Augustine’s Refectory bar, order the Saint Thomas beer, originally brewed on-site in 1352 after monks received brewing rights from Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV. Nineteenth-century Czech writer Jan Neruda said, “After the third glass … you are ready to sell your soul to the devil.” I drank (much) more than Neruda’s suggested share of the beer (now produced exclusively for the hotel by the Matuška brewery). And although I didn’t go to the dark side, I can say that this velvety lager with deep coffee and caramel tones was, by far, the best beer I had in Prague.
You’ll Also Love: Have the hotel’s chief concierge Michal Pilat map out a pub crawl around Malá Strana and the Old Town Square, starting with U Kunštátu, serving some 100 Czech beers from independent breweries.
Local Flair: Look for books from Czech writers on your room’s bedside tables, along with pieces by Czech artists on the walls. You’ll also feel a strong sense of place at the Augustine Restaurant. Bohemian crepes and Bohemian Strammer Max with crusty farmer’s bread, Prague ham, and fried eggs star on the breakfast menu. Signature dinner dishes include goulash soup and the pork loin trilogy with Saint Thomas beer sauce.
Great Outdoors: You’ll find additional breathing space (and, in warmer months, alfresco dining) in the hotel’s garden, home to a meditative water fountain, sundial, and herb plots. Listen for the calls of peacocks from the Waldstein Garden next door.
You’ll Also Love: In the Czech Senate palace, Waldstein Garden is worth a visit. But be sure to slip off to the nearby – and lesser visited – Gardens below Prague Castle. For prime views, follow the terraced slopes to the top and you’re likely to have pretty Prague all to yourself.
ADVISOR TIPS: “For fewer crowds,” says Virtuoso travel advisor Victoria Page, “consider visiting Prague in April or October, or even in December to see its colorful Christmas markets. Bonus: The Augustine offers a specially decorated Christmas suite during the holiday season.” One of her musts: “For an off-the-beaten path experience, take the city tram to Manifesto Market, a new cultural and gastro pop-up that’s creating a huge buzz.”