Feeling burned out and in need of serious pampering? A few days in The Spa at Mandarin Oriental, Prague will leave you revived, revitalised and blissfully stress-free. The only problem is tearing yourself away
Guests are offered warm herbal tea on arrival
It is little wonder that travellers flock to the Czech Republic’s capital city. On a crisp morning the views from the hilltop grounds of Prague Castle are saturated with an array of architecture that crosses almost every genre. Gothic churches vie for attention with palaces, while Romanesque turrets nudge against the 650-year-old Charles Bridge for pride of place on picture postcards. Charming cobbled streets and hidden arcades provide the channels that link it all together and buzz with visitors going about their sightseeing duties. And, having been seemingly immune from significant physical damage during many of its periods of hostile occupation, there is much to see. It is a daunting prospect for any visitor, so it’s no surprise that The Spa at the city’s Mandarin Oriental has become such a popular retreat.
Tucked away in a quiet corner of the ancient neighbourhood of Malá Strana, and a short stroll from Charles Bridge, lies the enchanting hotel and neighbouring spa. The buildings are a charming mêlée of old and new. In fact, Mandarin Oriental’s provenance is of such historical importance that the rebuilding process, completed in 2006, was overseen by archaeologists reporting directly to the Ministry of Culture. A staggering 350,000 historical artefacts were discovered during the reconstruction. Some are displayed in the secret underground passageway that leads from The Spa to the hotel, while the remainder are held in the vaults of the National Institute for Monuments. The complex had at various times been a Renaissance chapel and a Dominican monastery but it was not until work began that they discovered the remains of a Gothic church. The original altar is now encased below an illuminated glass floor in the entrance to The Spa and, bordered by 16th-century chapel walls, marks the beginning of the guest’s entry into a modern-day spiritual haven.
Housed in a former Gothic church, The Spa blends Oriental touches with western techniques
Once inside the building you are instantly struck by a gently calming atmosphere, but the therapy really begins as soon as you relinquish your footwear in place of slippers and take a sip of the specially-prepared herbal tea, presented on a platter scattered with orchid blooms. There are subtle signs of the Orient dotted throughout The Spa and the sensitive way in which these have been blended with western techniques makes for a truly unique experience. Once changed into a cosy, soft robe you are guided to the Tea Lounge where you can sit back and relax while listening to calming music. Tempted though you might be to not move again, this is not your final destination and after a time a therapist will lead you to one of the seven treatment suites.
Spread over two floors, the rooms are a sanctuary of relaxation. Some vaulted, others arched, they are decorated in dark woods, marble and cream fabrics, and made even more magical by the embellishment of candles. As with all Mandarin Oriental Spas, guests are invited to personalise their experience by booking ‘Time’ rather than individual treatments. The ‘Time Ritual’ philosophy enables therapists to devise a combination of treatments which best suit you on the day of your visit. The therapist will briefly discuss your lifestyle and personal preferences with you before the experience starts with a relaxing foot massage. Working with pressure points on the base of the foot to encourage the release of tension, this will set you in good stead for your bespoke experience.
The entrance where the original altar is encased in glass
Many of the treatment rooms offer private heat or water features such as aroma-infused steam showers or the traditional mud-based Moroccan Rasul, designed to induce deep relaxation. If, like me, your body is a knot of tense muscles, then a soak in the hot and bubbling Vitality Pool will do wonders in helping you to relax before allowing your therapist to demonstrate the extent of their skills.
Although all therapists are recruited as qualified masseurs, on joining The Spa they undergo a further three to four months of training when they are specifically taught to administer each of the treatments on the menu. This includes world-inspired wraps, massages and facials, manicures and pedicures, as well as signature treatments unique to Mandarin Oriental that make use of local resources.
Having recently subjected my skin to a week of intensive sunbathing and inflicted further damage by stepping off the plane into a cold European winter, it did not take long for my therapist to notice that my skin was in desperate need of rehydration. I was instantly prescribed a scrub, and so my first day of heavenly treatments began. With its long-recognised therapeutic properties it is no surprise the native linden tree, with its heart-shaped leaves and fragrant blossom, is used as an ingredient in one of The Spa’s exclusive treatments. The Linden Blossom scrub is administered all over the body and, by removing the dead upper layers, results in baby soft skin. Though I confess that it’s not the most relaxing of treatments, the heady scent emitted by the linden flower is potent enough to take you to a near meditative state.
Following the scrub you are invited to take a shower before returning to your massage bed. For many this signifies the start of the most pleasurable stage of the ritual – with the vigorous element complete you can look forward to soothing and, in many cases, soporific treatments. For me this meant the Rose Cocoon body wrap. For the next 50 minutes, rose-infused oils were gently massaged into my skin as my therapist moved slowly from one limb to another gradually working her magic, culminating with gentle fingertip touches to my face. I could literally feel the stress seeping out of my body, so much so that I found myself having to be woken at the end.
Of course if you would prefer to leave The Spa feeling energised, then that too is possible. Your therapist will suggest which of the many aromatherapy oils is most appropriate to achieve your desired result.
The next day, after a deep sleep which I can confidently attribute to the previous day’s pampering, I woke up feeling revitalised. With an afternoon of sightseeing scheduled Tomas, my day two therapist, recommended an intensive Destress treatment. And so the deep tissue massage, pummelling and stretching began. By the time my session was up I felt invigorated and ready for some serious tourist activity.
Relax at The Spa at Mandarin Oriental, Prague
Although The Spa has not been open long, thoughts are already turning to the future. ‘We are keen to develop the treatments we have on offer and in particular to introduce new ones that use local products,’ explains Spa Manager Renata Konradova. The Barley Ritual, for example, was devised by Mandarin Oriental spa specialist, Bonnie Baker, to reflect the importance of beer in Czech culture. ‘Beer drinking has been part of our custom for hundreds of years, going back to the days when monks first recognised its nutritional value and set up brewing facilities within monasteries. We now use the ground grain in a variety of techniques from gentle exfoliation to massage. It has proved to be extremely effective as a facial mask, and the treatment is very popular with all our guests, especially our local clients,’ says Konradova. This is an entirely unexpected outcome given that the Czech people have only recently started to consider visiting a spa for anything other than medicinal purposes.
There are plans to launch half- and full-day spa programmes next summer, where guests will be able to enjoy a dedicated outdoor relaxation area and order specially devised healthy dishes from the hotel’s signature restaurant, Essensia. There is good news too for yoga fans. Czech native Ivana Haluzová, previously the yoga instructor at The Landmark Mandarin Oriental, Hong Kong, has recently taken up residence. She leads regular classes in The Spa’s main lobby and there are plans to supplement them with meditation classes that will be held in one of the hotel’s exquisite vaulted rooms.
For those wanting a more active programme during the summer months, guests are invited to join morning jogging sessions to nearby Petrin Hill. Aimed at people of all fitness levels, from serious runners to fast walkers, they are led by one of The Spa therapists and include yoga moves and stretching exercises. ‘The view from the top of Petrin Hill is stunning and though it might take some effort to get there it is a fantastic way to see the city waking up,’ says Konradova.
Whether you opt for rigorous pampering, deep relaxation or de-stressing, this is a destination for all tastes. It is a tranquil hideout in a fairy-tale city from where you will leave with the feeling that you have morphed into a new body and fresh mind. What more reason do you need to go – or to return?