Meet in Prague 2012
Jenny Southan discovers a range of venues and activities ideal for events and incentives in the Czech capital over the summer
A fairy tale, icicle-clad wonderland in winter, Prague becomes something quite different in summer – its abundant trees and gardens turn green, the restaurants and cafés put out tables and chairs on the cobbled streets, and mulled wine is swapped for ice cream.
It’s a popular time for tourists, who flock to the city during this balmy season, but with more than 38,000 hotel rooms it is still able to accommodate businesses looking to host an al fresco reception or a corporate incentive experience.
Lenka Zlebkova, managing director of the Prague Convention Bureau, says: “We are packed with tourists during peak season but are focusing more on congress visitors because the economic benefits are much higher than with tourists.”
In addition to the five million foreign tourists Prague hosted in 2010-11, there were about 900,000 MICE (meeting, incentive, conference and exhibition) delegates – the average expenditure of each of them being about €380, according to the Prague Convention Bureau (pragueconvention.cz).
Key MICE markets for Prague have always been the UK, Germany, the US, France and Benelux, but China, Russia and India are growing. “India is a big incentive market for us – there have been a few Bollywood movies shot here so maybe that has had something to do with it,” Zlebkova says. She adds: “We have a good location in Europe – we have direct flights to 47 countries so accessibility is very good.”
There are a whopping 37 five-star hotels with virtually every major chain represented – a big lure for corporates. In addition, there are 168 four-star and 184 three-star properties. The city also boasts a varied portfolio of event venues, with the country’s biggest convention centre able to hold up to 9,300 people at one time. There are plenty of smaller venues, too, many of which have outdoor space – here are some of the best options, along with suggestions for incentive activities.
Open seasonally from April to October, these Italianate terraced gardens are situated on the southern slopes of Prague Castle and make a wonderful setting for
al fresco soirées. There are five interconnected gardens – the Ledeburg, the Small Palffy, the Great Palffy, the Kolowrat and the Small Furstenberg – occupying a total area of 7,710 sqm, and each are planted with acacia, apple and chestnut trees, rose bushes and fresh herbs, with neatly manicured lawns connected by winding pathways and decorative staircases.
It was in the early nineties that then president Vaclav Havel decided to renew the Baroque gardens after they had gone to seed and were closed in the seventies. The project took a number of years to complete, with the last garden opening to the public in 2000. At the bottom of the hill is the Sala Terrena, a partially covered open-air stage for 80 performers. The National Heritage Institute can help with organising catering, sound, lighting and marquees.
- Valdstejnske Nam 3; tel +42 0724 823 719; palacove-zahrady.cz/en
There are few waterside spots in the Czech capital that come close to rivalling the position this restaurant enjoys, stretching along the western side of the Vltava River and looking on to Charles Bridge.
The fine-dining eatery prides itself on having 150 wines on the menu, and artistic dishes include the likes of saddle of reindeer with pumpkin soufflé and olive oil-poached halibut with black truffles. However, its two-tiered terrace is what really makes it stand out.
Both buffets and set menus for groups can be arranged, something owner Kampa Group is adept at achieving, as it provides catering to numerous other venues across the city, including the Archbishop Palace and the Czech Museum of Music. It has also served companies such as Porsche, Gucci, Cartier and Audi in the past. The main restaurant accommodates 80 people, while the Bacardi Terrace and Whisky terraces seat 18 each, the Winter Garden 24, and the Riverside Terrace 80.
- Na Kampe 8b; tel +42 0296 826 112; kampagroup.com
ALCHYMIST GRAND HOTEL AND SPA
A stone’s throw from Prague Castle, the five-star Alchymist is an eccentrically kitsch offering that manages to combine a luxurious oriental-style spa complete with carp pools, with camp Renaissance statuary, Murano glass chandeliers, hand-painted wooden beams and gaudy golden furniture throughout the bedrooms and public spaces. Aquarius restaurant can seat 56 people both inside and out, on its fountain courtyard, and serves rich Czech, Mediterranean and French cuisine.
For intimate functions, the red-painted Mirror Gallery seats 50 delegates theatre-style, while the first-floor Crystal Ballroom has a capacity of 100 guests and access to a garden terrace for coffee breaks, drinks and open-air lunches. The décor is flamboyant, with crimson and gold striped curtains, yellow walls, and salmon and cream chequerboard marble floors. Those looking to stay overnight can choose from 47 rooms and suites, each individually styled.
- Trziste 19; tel +42 0257 286 011; alchymisthotel.com
To celebrate the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, the Lobkowicz Palace loaned London’s National Maritime Museum one of its most prized pieces of art – a Canaletto depicting an extravagant flotilla on the Thames, much like the one that took place in June to mark the historic occasion. The painting will be on show until September 9 and is just one example of the impressive showcase of cultural antiquities the family has in its possession.
The Lobkowiczes struggled in the 20th century to keep hold of their fortunes – their property, which included a dozen castles, was confiscated by the Nazis in 1939 and, although returned to them in 1945, was again taken away shortly after, this time by
the Communists. Lobkowicz Palace, which is the only privately owned building within the Prague Castle complex, was returned to them in 1992 and is now used mainly as a gallery.
The first floor can be hired for events, and there is a sweeping outdoor terrace with panoramic views of the city for 80 guests standing. Of the 13 rooms available, each decorated with austere portraits, Romanesque columns, gold candelabra and frescoed ceilings, the Imperial Hall is the largest, seating 180 delegates banquet-style. The spaces are available day or night, all catering is done in-house and there is wifi throughout. Companies including Deutsche Bank, IBM, Apple and Toyota have all held events here.
- Jirska 3; tel +42 023 3312 925; lobkowicz.cz/en
Well-located in the centre of Prague, this art nouveau gem was restored about 15 years ago and provides event planners with a wealth of beautiful spaces of differing sizes to host anything from gala dinners to congresses. Municipal House originally opened in 1912, and its ornate exterior sports a large half-dome mosaic above the entrance, while the interiors feature luminous murals by Alfons Mucha.
As well as a magnificent ground-floor tea room, there is the Francouzska fine-dining French restaurant – a high-ceilinged space rich with silverware, linen tablecloths and elaborate candelabra – and, downstairs, the American bar, open since 1930. For traditional dining, the Plzenska beer hall seats 300 revellers, while upstairs is the great Smetana Hall, which can accommodate 1,200 people for concerts.
Private events can also be held in any of the other 19 halls and parlours, each uniquely decorated. The circular, mural-covered Mayor’s Hall, for instance, can host 35 for a reception and has an outdoor balcony. The grand Confectionery seats 60 guests for a banquet, while Gregr Hall, with its oversized equestrian paintings, can host 90 for a conference.
The adjacent Powder Tower accommodates 50 people.
- Nam Republiky 5; tel +42 022 2002 101; obecnidum.cz
Located on the western side of the Vltava River, on the hill near Prague Castle, this historic monastery’s awe-inspiring interiors have featured in movies such as The Omen and Casino Royale. The 17th-century Theological Hall is crammed with 18,000 books on shelves that reach up to a ceiling encrusted with swirling stucco work, while the Philosophical Hall has an enormous mural depicting man’s quest for knowledge.
Visitors can also wonder at the Cabinet of Curiosities, which displays dusty artifacts of dubious authenticity, such as a mummified dodo and a unicorn horn. Although parties cannot be held in the museum spaces, the fresco-decorated Summer Refectory seats 90 people for a banquet or 150 for a reception, and the Winter Refectory seats 60 delegates.
- Strahovske Nadvori 1/132; tel +42 023 3107 711; strahovskyklaster.cz
Daily dinner and music cruises aboard the Jazz Boat depart at 8.30pm and travel along the Vltava River, taking in local landmarks such as the National Theatre, Charles Bridge and a colony of glowing yellow penguins by the Cracking Art Group. In warm weather you can sit on the upper deck, while below, you can enjoy a live band with different artists every night – try bossanova and scat or 1930s swing. There is a choice of four set three-course menus (pork, chicken, salmon and vegetarian) and a bar serving alcohol. The trip takes two and a half hours and the vessel can be hired by groups of up to 100 people.
- Gate 5, under Cechuv Bridge; tel +42 073 1183 180; jazzboat.cz/en
VINTAGE CAR TOURS
For an alternative way of seeing the city, book a driving tour in an open-topped vintage car dating back to 1928-1935. You can choose your own itinerary or allow your driver to take you around the main Old Town sites, much to the amusement of the people you drive past, who look on with a mix of envy and curiosity. Tours range from 40 to 120 minutes, and can include a glass of sparkling wine en route or dinner in a traditional Czech pub at the end.
- Karlova 165/13; tel +42 077 6829 897; historytrip.cz
FRANZ KAFKA TOUR
Best for enthusiastic Kafka fans or those with a genuine interest in spending a few hours looking at buildings, this walking tour takes in many of the places the great writer spent time – the office where he worked as an insurance broker, his parent’s house, where he lived for most of his life, and the coffee shops in which he used to meet friends and write. Visitors can also pop into the Kafka Museum, which has two sections – the Existential Space and Imaginary Topography – promising a “Kafkaesque” experience. Born in 1883, Kafka died at the age of 40 and most of his work was published posthumously.
MOVIE LOCATION TOUR
A surprising number of films have been shot in Prague, and visitors can now go on tours of the locations armed with an iPad to watch the scenes featuring them. The Czech Film Commission publishes a map with all the film locations marked. Take in Estates Theatre, where scenes from Mozart’s Don Giovanni appear in Amadeus, Adria Palace, used in Hannibal Rising, Hotel Europa, featured in Mission Impossible, Café Imperial, from The Illusionist, and Kampa Island, from the Bourne Identity.
Unquestionably the most entertaining way to see Prague, Segways allow tourists to whizz around effortlessly in a standing position. Originally designed by NASA, the two-wheeled electric vehicles take a few minutes to get used to but once you have got the hang of it, you won’t want to get off (even if you do look a bit silly). Group tours with a guide take about three hours, and there is a good mix of fast-paced history and cultural trivia thrown in. Spots you will see include the Lennon Wall of graffiti, St Nicolas Church and the Astronomical Clock in the Old Town Square.
- Tel +42 072 4280 838; prague-segway-tours.com
The second-largest beer producer in the Czech Republic, the Staropramen Brewery went into operation in 1869, and by 1889 was producing more than 10 million litres of beer a year. Today, Staropramen is sold in more than 30 countries and taking a tour of the brewery museum – 50-minute tours on Tuesdays to Saturdays, 10am-6pm – will reveal the process involved in making it. The museum experience was revamped last year at a cost of €1.2 million and visitors are now presented with high-tech holograms, video clips and interactive maps as they walk around. They also get some free samples. Na zdravi!
- Pivovarska 9; tel +42 027 3132 589; pivovary-staropramen.cz/en
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