I never thought I would end the year right where I started: in Prague, wrapped in multiple layers and mesmerized by the city of a hundred spires. Prague was tinged in romance when the Brit and I visited for the first time at the start of the year. Light flurries of snow fell, we walked everywhere, hand in hand (though stopping often in cafes to warm up), and elated to have the city to ourselves (Prague is remarkably empty during the off season). Twelve months later, almost to the day, I found myself in Prague again.
I was invited by the Augustine, part of the Luxury Collection, to experience their hotel and the city’s famed Christmas markets. Joined by friends and Londoners, Jess, Jacintha, Geraldine and Christina, I quickly reacquainted myself to the city currently cloaked in Christmas.
Christmastime in Prague
Even without the trimmings of Christmas Prague is famed for its resemblance of a fairytale land. But during December, in the backdrop of red tiled roofs and colorful buildings washed in pastels, the markets and glowing lights add a different stroke of storybook magic. Markets of varying sizes are sprinkled in different squares within the city. You won’t have to walk very far to stumble upon one if you’re in the main tourist drags. The Old Town Square is where we spent most of our time getting lost in a sea of people, many of them with their necks craned to admire the 25 foot tall beauty. It didn’t take me long to declare square’s centerpiece as the best Christmas tree I’ve ever seen (I am also especially fond of the gingerbread house looking base that’s as tall as a normal sized person). Evidently, Prague does not take its reputation of having one of Europe’s best Christmas markets lightly.Wooden stalls with red covers are clustered throughout the market with vendors selling crafts and treats. My favorite stalls inevitably are the ones churning out local snacks such as barbecued pork roasting over timid flames and the rows of coiled pastry, trdelnik, dusted in sugar. Stroll a while longer and small vats of cheap and cheerful mulled wine are usually within reach perfuming the air with the warming scent of cinnamon and cloves.
The Augustine, a Luxury Collection hotel
Across the Charles Bridge from the Old Town Square is where we retreated to the warmth and luxuries of our hotel. The Augustine, a former monastery with its own covered passage to St Thomas’ church, was our home base for two nights. Part of the thrill of staying at the Augustine is exploring the premises so seeped in history that it is worthy of further discussion on a separate blog post (spoiler alert it involves a library) – for now let’s just have a quick peek inside.One hundred and one rooms and 7 buildings make up the Augustine with elements of Czech Cubism dotted around the property intermixing with the traditional and the sleek. If you look closely enough, you will notice the blend of the old and the new throughout the hotel. My favorite example of this is perhaps the Refectory Bar 1887, the only bar that serves from the tap St Thomas beer, a dark lager brewed using a 700 year old recipe inherited from the Augustinian monks. The unique baroque ceiling is covered with restored 19th century pastel frescoes of 4 angels set in stark contrast to the sharp features of the wrought iron chandeliers. (Yes, that’s Blondie peeking out from behind the bar)
Then there’s the renovated 3 story tower suite that used to be the monastery’s astronomy tower with sweeping views of the city and Prague Castle. Not many hotel restaurants can boast of holding their own but surely Marek Fichtner, executive chef of the Augustine restaurant (and judge of MasterChef, Czech Republic) has that specific pleasure. We dined on well executed veal sweetbread, scallops with a truffle emulsion and (perhaps my favorite dish of the evening) braised pork cheeks in St Thomas beer and bacon dumpling. It’s a restaurant worth visiting for dinner even if you’re not staying at the hotel. But if you do stay be sure to ask for their homemade Christmas cookies. You can thank me later.
P.S. – Just want to take a moment to wish everyone a safe and wonderful Christmas. If the part of my brain that usually does reasonably well in stringing sentences together didn’t altogether just give up on me in anticipation of Christmas I’d drone on about how much I’ve appreciated your support over the past year. But just know that it’s heartfelt. Really.
Note: I was on a press trip as a guest of the Augustine hotel. All views are my own.