Michelle Chenery reports, breathless, on a visit to Pilsen and PragueIt was my first visit to the Czech Republic. We saw so much of interest that it will take me long into the New Year to digest it all. In fact, it is hard to believe that it was all accomplished in just three days from leaving London and returning to Heathrow.
Our hosts and sponsors were determined that we would return home with a good idea of the wide range of facilities and attractions that the Czech Republic can offer for events – and in providing this we also got a good idea of how hospitable and well organised the Czechs can be.
We were primarily hosted by the Convention Bureaux of the city of Plzen (possibly better known in English as Pilsen) and of the capital city, Prague (or Praha). We were flown from Heathrow by courtesy of British Airways and, transferred internally between Prague and Pilsen via minibus.
We obviously had to co-operate with a very packed itinerary, but it was balanced with site inspections, walking tours, a river boat trip and excellent food and drink. A workshop enabled us to meet a number of suppliers in quick succession and a Treasure Hunt introduced some fun whilst, at the same time, getting close to some of Prague’s most notable attractions. And, believe it or not, we were even allocated some free time to potter about or do some shopping.
We left Heathrow at 7.30am and were able to check into a hotel in Plzen at 11.30am.
Pilsen Plzen – or Pilsen as it is known in English - is internationally famous for the name it has given to beer, but even without the beer it deserves a worldwide reputation. It is a major centre in the west of the Czech Republic for the region’s academic establishments, business and culture.
Our base in Pilsen was the Courtyard by Marriot Plzen Hotel, located in the most historic part of the city. We checked in quickly and then we were able to walk from the Marriott to the Central Hotel, where we became familiar with all the city and the region have to offer from a presentation by the Pilsen Convention Bureau, the PiCB. There was also a networking session over coffee that gave us the opportunity to meet and talk with many of the local hotels and attractions.
The remainder of the day was well filled with sightseeing and site inspections. These included a visit to the Plzensky Prazdroj Brewery – or the Pilsner Urquell. ‘Plazdroj’ in Czech and ‘Urquell’ in German signify that this brewery is the ‘origin’ of Pilsen beer. Pilsen has been brewed for over 170 years and claims today to be the world’s best-selling type of beer. We were introduced to the art of selecting the hops and the barley and even of serving the beer, unfiltered and straight from the barrel, to ensure we enjoyed its taste in the best condition.
Our day in Pilsen enabled us to have show-rounds of the Hotel Central where we had lunch and the Parkhotel Plzen where we were entertained to dinner. Just for good measure, we were also taken on a tour of the Parkhotel Congress Centre.
The Courtyard by Marriott Plzen would be a good choice for any group wishing to be in easy reach of the Plzensky Prazdroj Brewery, the zoo, the theatre and locations of religious interest, including the Church of St George, the St Bartholomew Cathedral, the Franciscan Monastery and the Great Synagogue.
A 6-storey building, the Courtyard has 178 rooms, 17 suites and 5 meeting rooms, the largest able to seat up to 200 delegates.
The Hotel Central lives up to its name, being situated in the Republic Square, the focal point of the city. It has 50 double rooms, 22 single rooms and 5 suites. Two function rooms cater for meetings of from 18 to 100 people.
The Parkhotel and Congress Center Pilsen is a new 4-star property standing in the relaxed environment of the Borsky Park. It is amongst the largest complexes of its kind in the Czech Republic.
The conference facilities comprise 11 meeting rooms with flexible configurations and able to accommodate up to 2,000 delegates. The surrounding park area can be used for outdoor meetings and activities.
The Parkhotel has 150 rooms, inclusive of 4 Business Suites, 4 Junior Suites and a Presidential Apartment.
Every room has satellite tv with up to 40 channels and there is free Wi-Fi in the public areas.
It was still the same day that we had left the UK, but we were already familiar with so many aspects of the this historic city of Pilsen in the west of the Czech Republic.
Our Prague visit
We spent the one night at the Courtyard Marriott Pilsen and then by 11am the following day we were checked into our hotel in Prague.
There are at least 57 hotels in Prague from which organisers can choose and of these 20 are members of the Prague Convention Bureau. We were the guests of the InterContinental Prague. If an organiser is looking for a central location looking out over the best that Prague has to offer visitors, then this hotel has to be on the short list. It has 372 guestrooms, 32 suites and 15 meeting rooms and is located in the centre of town alongside the Vltava River.
The Ballroom can seat up to 580 delegates and there are seven conveniently located break-our spaces. During our stay we constantly remarked on the unrivalled views from almost every window. There are two restaurants. The Zlata Praha is referred to as a panoramic restaurant, as it is located on the hotel’s roof and has a summer terrace where guests can feast on the city sights as well as the cuisine.
We were welcomed to lunch in Prague by the Alchymist Grand Hotel & Spa.
This is a 5-star boutique property close to Prague Castle and the renowned Charles Bridge. It is the ideal location from which to explore the cluster of narrow streets in the fairy-tale Prague Lesser Town on the hill.
It has been created from a 16thC Baroque building dating from the time when alchemists sought to turn base metal into gold. The moment you approach the hotel, you know that you are unmistakeably in Prague of legend.
It would not be difficult for an organiser to take over the whole property exclusively, as it has only 27 rooms and 20 suites. There are three indoor meeting spaces, including the fabulous Crystal Ballroom and Mirror Gallery that can seat 80 delegates theatre style. For receptions, the Summer Terrace can cater for 278 people and the Fountain Courtyard for 113.
All the delegates would surely wish to enjoy a rejuvenating and pampering experience in the hotel’s Ecsotica Spa & Health Club, where treatments are based upon Indonesian traditions.
Centrally located near Republic Square, the King’s Court has two dedicated function rooms. The Ballroom seats 170 delegates and has natural daylight through large windows, with an adjoining terrace.
A popular additional venue for functions is the Vodka Lobby Bar, especially as it stocks a unique collection of the world’s vodkas. Also available for gatherings is the Brasserie mEating Point.
The hotel has the Kings Court Spa with a Jacuzzi, steam room and sauna.
Boat and tram trips
Prague has had a long history and bears the marks of so many events, both good and bad, ancient and comparatively recent, such as its liberation from Hitler’s Reich and then from the icy Soviet grip and, in 2002, the worst floods for 200 years.
It also has some of Europe’s most outstanding architecture. The great thing about Prague is that it is a remarkably compact capital city and so many of the main things to see are within walking distance of each other. These include the remarkably ornate Charles Bridge, with so many stories to tell, and Prague Castle, the 14thC Gothic-style St Vitus Cathedral and Strahov Monastery, all virtually alongside each other on the city’s high point.
I would also highly recommend seeing all these sights, as we did, from the comfort of a boat trip on the Vltava. I must add, however, that we enjoyed a very active guided tour around these historic buildings and that we reached the area by tram.
On the opposite side of the river, the less hilly area, there were many fascinating places to visit on foot. Not to be missed is the Astronomical Clock in the Old Town Square. This dates from the early 14thC and is the world’s oldest clock still in working order, having celebrated its 600th anniversary in October 2010. It continuously represents the comparative movements of the sun, the earth and the planets.
The more you explore Prague, the more you come across historic buildings that have been given a new life in the modern world of meetings. One such venue that we inspected was the Neo-Renaissance National House of Vinohrady. Dating from 1894, it stands in Namesti Miru Square, near the main Wenceslav Square alongside the Vinohrady Theatre and St Ludmila church. It comprises three sizeable halls and five additional meeting rooms, fully equipped with Wi-Fi and modern a-v facilities.
The largest hall is the Majakovsky. Air conditioned, it can seat over 750 delegates in total splendour. The Rais and the Social halls seat 320 and 225 theatre style.
It was only Day Three of our visit to the Czech Republlic, but by 8pm we were already back in London.