Luxury Hotels

Prague – China – simplicity in travel

One of the fascinating lifesize sculptures on Prague’s iconic Charles Bridge is of St Augustine, showing a philosopher holding a hook and a burning heart, with an accompanying angel beside him. Sculpted by Jan Bedřich Kohl in 1708, it was apparently paid for by the Augustinian monastery of St. Thomas, about 700 metres away. Well, that monastery is now The Augustine, a Luxury Collection hotel. Amazingly, it is also  still a working monastery: four  monks have one of the complex’s seven buildings, and they still maintain the incredible church, that can be used for weddings (see the video, below).

This is a place, indeed, that leaves many memories, many of them thanks to the Austrian gm, Mario Egger, who was running food on many of the top global cruise ships for some years.  Food here, indeed, is a treat. Expect local, say, at dinner, a delicate beetroot carpaccio followed by a truly sensational ribeye with grilled artichoke and mushroom – OK, we could have had local beer, the hotel-exclusive St Tomas (sic), actually brewed onsite until 1951 but now produced by a nearby microbrewery, but I confess we opted for a strong Rioja, Marques de Riscal Riserva 2015. Breakfast is delightful, too. Though other hotels here have given up on buffets, The Augustine offers portions of delicious fare, to which you can at least help yourself, see above.

This is also a hotel with sense-of-place rooms. Suite 325, on the central divider between two inner courtyard gardens, is not overtly austere but its colours seem just right for ecclesiastical association. This is for arts and culture lovers. I adore the selection of hard-back books scattered liberally around. There are five big Everyman classics, and, also from them, small books that include a delightful Poems of Food & Drink. As respite, I have Jan Reich’s Bohemia, Peter Ashley’s More from Unmitigated England, and Quintessentially Reserve 2009. And, as with great hotels everywhere, anything that saves time is to be applauded.  The marvellous concierge, when asked if he could find an Apple Watch charger I could borrow, had been out to buy one, for the hotel.

It was Sir Rocco Forte who had had the idea to turn  this monastery into a hotel, but now it is managed by Marriott as part of the Luxury Collection (the complex is owned by Alexander Klyachin, the oligarch who also owns the Metropol in Moscow, and the Azimut chain). I suspect he bought this one for its uniqueness, and for its location: it is, after all, only ten minutes’ walk from Charles Bridge and about the same, though steeply uphill, from Prague Castle. And it has such great staff, led by the GM and the Concierge.

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What’s wrong with US luxury fashion brands? According to Jing Daily, 20th September, the only two ‘accepted’ in China, with the highest scores in Gartner L2’s Digital IQ Index: Luxury China are Coach and Tiffany, though Michael Kors and Ralph Lauren command high engagement. The current near-demise of Chinese coming to the USA to study this Fall does not bode well for fledgling US brands. In the past students who came to know Lilly Pulitzer while traveling around the Sunshine State, or Brooks Brothers and J.Crew while living in Boston, introduced those labels to relatives and friends back home, which meant brands won exposure without expensive marketing campaigns.

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Why, Girlahead wonders, it is possible to navigate fashion and general retail websites – say Farfetch and Amazon – so easily and quickly and yet any travel and tourism site is full of hurdles and frustration? Do intermediaries along the technical way actually GET in the way, taking a cut of any transaction in the process?  We long for simplicity that many luxury-lovers demand, today.

To finish, have a quick 360-degree tour, below, of the working church of The Augustine.