In the Czech countryside, just an hour from Prague, lies a fairytale chateau with romantic surroundings, luxurious decor and impressive eco credentials
The Czech Republic may not spring to mind as a ‘green’ holiday destination, but if you’re after a luxurious eco retreat with the city buzz still within reach, then Chateau Mcely - an hour’s drive from Prague - could fit the bill perfectly. The neoclassical castle is the former rural manor of an aristocratic 19th-century family and boasts excellent eco credentials, having been named only the second five-star eco-hotel in the EU and voted the World’s Leading Green Hotel in the 2008 World Travel Awards.
It’s surrounded by nature, located in the legendary Saint George Forest (on a hill above the village of Mcely) and next to the lush, 600-hectare Jabkenice Game Park. The region features countless cycling and walking trails and lakes for fishing, and in the winter it’s a superb area for cross country skiing. But what makes it ‘green’ in the other sense of the word?
Well, methods employed at the chateau include a modern heating system based on combustion of waste wood chips, and windows that prevent any heat leaks. The hotel uses its own waste water treatment system, and the recovered water, along with captured rainwater, is used to water the surrounding park.
Electricity from renewable sources flows through the entire building and only energy-efficient light bulbs are used. Materials are widely recycled and waste is carefully sorted and disposed of, while food waste is used to support regional farm production. In addition, employees have been trained to keep ‘green principles’ in mind and respect the local environment, while guests are reminded of how they can do their bit in a gentle, unobtrusive way, such as discreet signs in bathrooms.
Moving on to my personal experience, as we were chauffeured up the long, tree-lined driveway in a sleek BMW, we caught our first glimpse of the fairy tale-like cream castle basking in the afternoon sunlight. We already knew a little about it, as a film on the castle’s history, reconstruction and transformation into a luxury hotel in 2006 was played to us on an in-car TV screen.
The enchanting hotel is set in immaculate grounds, with 24 individually designed rooms and suites decorated in a romantic style. Floors follow themes based around the calendar and continents, and our suite was spacious, light and airy, finished with floaty white and cream fabrics and touches of gold. A book about the chateau’s resident ghost rested on the bedside table.
The interiors throughout feel rather grand, with a sweeping central marble staircase and elegant tea room. The Piano Nobile restaurant resembles a ballroom ready to host a lavish banquet, with chandeliers, gold panelling and tables beautifully laid with fine china, sparkling glassware and flowers. But it doesn’t feel at all stuffy, probably because the staff create such a warm, friendly atmosphere.
One side of the building is bordered by a terrace (complete with hot tub) with glorious views over the countryside, providing an idyllic spot for a glass of wine or lunch. When we sat outside one evening and I started to get chilly, a thoughtful waiter dashed inside and came back with a cosy throw to wrap around my shoulders.
At the back of the chateau there’s a spacious lawn where you can lay down rugs, sunbathe and enjoy a picnic, or play croquet, as we did rather ineptly. Or you can roam the English Park, fragrant St George forest, rich in ancient myths and legends, and the neighbouring Jabkenice Game Park, where wild boar and deer roam. There’s also a small spa area available to guests, where treatments incorporate local medicinal herbs.
We spent one day sightseeing in Prague’s Old Town on foot with a local guide and were amazed by its spectacular architecture and fascinating history. For the rest of the trip we relaxed around the castle itself, one afternoon borrowing bicycles to explore the surrounding area. We sped along country lanes cloaked in lush forest and passed tiny traditional villages, the wind in our hair.
In the evenings, delicious dinners with a focus on local produce were followed by time spent gazing at the stars through the telescope in the rooftop astronomical observatory, and an interesting concoction in the Alchymist Club bar, downstairs in the atmospheric old cellar. Specialties include elixirs based on ancient recipes, such as the Elixir of Love, served ceremoniously bubbling and smoking.
There’s plenty to keep visitors to the chateau occupied, and in 2009 an interesting seasonal calendar of events offers speeches and demonstrations by local historians and game-keepers, and mushroom gathering in the forest in September.
Chateau Mcely isn’t 100 per cent ecologically friendly but it isn’t far off. It tries very hard to respect the precious location it inhabits, educates visitors about the rich local environment and goes to great lengths to minimise waste. It also proves that in creating an eco retreat, you don’t have to sacrifice luxury and sophistication, both of which it offers in abundance.
Daily return flights to Prague from London cost from around £55 with easyJet. Elite Rent-a-Car has a range of luxury cars for hire for solo or guided trips in the region.