Four Seasons to debut in Prague's city center

PRAGUE, Czech Republic -- After struggling for several years to obtain a site and building permits, Four Seasons will make its debut here in February.

The 162-room property will be the second Four Seasons in the former Eastern Bloc -- the Four Seasons Berlin opened in 1996 -- and a Four Seasons is due to open in Budapest, Hungary, in 2002.

According to Ignacio Gomez, general manager of the Four Seasons Prague, one reason the property took so long to develop is that it is located in the center of the city, one of the best preserved historical centers in Europe.

Obtaining the permits to turn a collection of landmark buildings into the only hotel to sit on the banks of the Vltava River was something of a challenge, he said.

The Four Seasons Prague, opening next month, is just to the right of the Charles Bridge on the river bank. Before buying the buildings in 1995, Four Seasons had to assure city officials and a skeptical public that the hotel would not mar the area's architectural harmony.

The hotel is located on Alsovo Nabrezi, a few steps from the Charles Bridge, which affords views of Prague Castle and the Mala Strana quarter, and two blocks from the city's famous Old Town.

Reflecting the history of Prague, the hotel's facade embodies five centuries of architectural styles, including baroque and renaissance features.

The hotel consists of four buildings -- one modern, two that date to the 19th century and one that has its roots in the 16th century.

The restoration of the three older buildings was a three-year project completed by Dum a Mesto, a Prague-based architectural firm.

The buildings' original facades were maintained. Inside, however, the hotel has the look of a modern international luxury hotel.

Facilities and amenities include a health club; spa services; a restaurant with indoor and outdoor seating; a bar and lounge, and in-room fax hook-ups and Internet connections.

Guest rooms will feature some art nouveau design flourishes, throwbacks to the last century.

Rooms at the new Four Seasons Prague overlook the Danube River.In contrast with most city-center Four Seasons properties, Gomez said he expects only 20% of the hotel's guests to be business travelers in its first two years of operation.

"As the Czech Republic gets closer to acceptance in the European Union, more foreign investors will be interested in coming here, so I anticipate that eventually the balance will tip toward 50% leisure and 50% business," he said.

Gomez predicted that Americans will initially comprise 30% to 40% of the hotel's clients.

Although Prague has no shortage of international properties, including two Marriotts, a Relais & Chateaux and an Inter-Continental, Gomez claimed that the Four Seasons will be the most luxurious spot in town.

"We are not only the newest hotel, we have the best location and will offer the best service. No other hotel has our position on the river [looking out on] the castle," he said.

The average room rate will be about $280, Gomez said, which he noted was about $80 to $100 more than the average rate at the city's larger hotels.

Gomez said that he hoped more deluxe properties would open in Prague, such as Kempinski, which was to have opened in the Old Town last year but has since been delayed, or Ritz-Carlton.

"This would raise the bar for everyone," he said.

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