This February, the Opera Ball is the hottest social ticket in Prague, so dust down your ballgown and slip on your jewels for one of the city’s greatest – and most beautiful – traditions

A ballet performance at the Prague Opera Ball

A ballet performance at the Prague Opera Ball

It's usually Vienna that comes to mind at the mention of central Europe's traditional ball season, which runs each year from January to February. Brought to fame in the Austrian capital in 1848 by Emperor Franz Josef I, the tradition took root in Prague 100 years later, in 1948, establishing the State Opera Ball as one of the region's premier social events, and which continues to this day.

This year's Opera Ball (Ples v Opeře) takes place on 6 February and marks the 13th incarnation at the Czech capital's neo-Rococo State Opera house, one of the city's most beautiful architectural wonders, built in 1888 by Austrian architects Fellner & Helmer. Formerly the New German Theatre, the State Opera has hosted a variety of the region's most famous musicians, including Strauss and Mahler.

The State Opera building

The State Opera building

Following the smash social hit of the 1948 Opera Ball, the next events weren't held until after the Velvet Revolution, from 1992 to 1995, and then starting annually in 2009. Each ball features a theme that weaves together the music, performances, catering and atmosphere of the evening. In previous years, themes have ranged from Strauss to La Traviata, and Rudolf II to regal France. This year's grand ball centres on the British monarchy.

Event specialist Zuzana Vinzens of C&B, organisers of the ball since 2011, describes this year as a potential 'Cinderella moment' for guests. 'When you say "the British monarchy", most people think of the Queen. At the Opera Ball 2016, each woman has the chance to be queen, whether in the eyes of a man in love, or thanks to the magic of the ball and the formal dress code.'

Conducting the orchestra at the ball

Conducting the orchestra at the ball

Held from 8pm till 2am, the black- or white-tie event adheres to a strict traditional code of etiquette harking back to the Viennese balls of yore. For example, in addition to wearing a full-length gown, a lady is expected to keep her gloves on during introductions, whereas a gentleman should always remove his. Furthermore, the Opera Ball's website (www.plesvopere.cz) outlines guidelines on how to request a dance and how to address people by title. To make sure everyone can keep as coiffed and well-heeled as the moment they alight from their carriages, there will also be a dressmaker, hairdresser and shoemaker on hand throughout.

The evening features a ballet performance and hours of open dancing for guests, as well as a charity auction. Tickets range from 3,500 CZK per person for the second balcony, up to 120,000 CZK for a table for six on the executive balconies.

Inside the State Opera

Inside the State Opera

To soothe those sore feet after dancing through the night, The Spa at Mandarin Oriental Prague offers a series of innovative and restorative treatments that aim to boost the wellbeing of body and mind, with an elegant nod to central European spa culture. As with the State Opera, Mandarin Oriental is in one of the city's best-preserved architectural locations, and The Spa is housed in a former Dominican monastery dating to the 14th century, and featuring more than six centuries of architectural styles, such as Renaissance, Baroque and modern.

And like this year's ball, Mandarin Oriental, Prague has borrowed from British style and innovation with a new interior look for the restaurant, bar and lobby, courtesy of London-based design studio Blacksheep.

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Fiona Gaze

Fiona Gaze is a British-American travel writer and editor based in Prague, where she works for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and contributes stories on Prague and Czech-related food, travel and real estate to publications including The New York Times and The Independent. Follow her on Twitter: @FionaGaze

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