Czech mates: growing chain brings benefits to guests
CPI Hotels is one of the largest hotel groups in the Czech Republic, with a portfolio of 27 hotels. It would have been a name largely unknown in Hungary until last year, when it expanded its portfolio with the takeover of Budapest’s Mamaison Hotel and Mamaison Residence, both alongside prestigious Andrássy út.
Where this higher profile can be of benefit to expatriates and Hungarians is that since 1997 CPI has been the exclusive representative in the Czech Republic and Slovakia of the international hotel chain Choice Hotels, and the latter’s Choice Privileges is a loyalty program that allows members to gain points in more than 6300 hotels of the Clarion chain franchised in 35 countries and territories in Europe, the Middle East, North and Central America, the Caribbean and Australasia.
In return for points accumulated during hotel stays, members can gain a free room anywhere in the world and use airline bonuses and other rewards. The scheme claims more than 23 million members worldwide and says it is one of the fastest growing loyalty programs in the travel industry.
CPI’s takeover of Mamaison involved more than the 61-room, seven-suite Mamaison Hotel Andrassy Budapest and the 38-suite Mamaison Residence Izabella Budapest, both four-star establishments. Other Mamaisons completing the deal were the Hotel Riverside and Residence Belgicka, both in Prague and both four-stars, and Hotel Imperial (four-star) in Ostrava, these three all being in the Czech Republic, the Hotel Pokrovka (five-star) in the Russian capital Moscow, Hotel Le Regina (five-star) and Residence Diana (four-star) both in the Polish capital Warsaw, and Residence Sulekova (four-star) in the Slovakian capital Bratislava.
CPI, then, apart from strengthening its activities in the Czech Republic, is also aiming to become a leader on a European scale. It started operating in 1993.
The 27 hotels have more than 8500 beds and 11,000 conference seats. Its chain of nine four-star, full-service Clarion Hotels offers a choice of three in the Czech capital and six in regional centres Olomouc, Ostrava, Liberec, Ceske Budejovice, Usti nad Labem and Krkonose National Park at Spindleruv Mlyn. (The Budapest Times takes no responsibility for unpronounceability due to an occasional severe shortage of vowels.)
Hotel Cernigov (three-star) operated by CPI Hotels in Hradec Kralove, Eastern Bohemia, is slated to become the tenth in the Clarion family. Apart from the three hotels in Prague – which are the Clarion Hotel Prague City, Clarion Hotel Prague Old Town and Clarion Congress Hotel Prague – CPI is the operator of the five-star Buddha-Bar Hotel Prague, a concept now familiar in Budapest where a similar establishment exists. The Prague version has operated since 2009 and was the first hotel of the international chain Buddha-Bar Hotels and Resorts.
Other CPI choices are three middle-category hotels under their own brand Fortuna Hotels (all in Prague and all three-star) and two spa hotels under the brand Spa & Kur hotels (one four-star, one three-star) in Frantiskovy Lazne.
Interesting and unusual events can happen at all these hotels. In September Clarion Congress Hotel Olomouc was the venue for the third annual GCF Cage Fight Olomouc, with its congress hall transformed into a fighting arena with an octagon-shaped cage, allowing contestants with limited brain power to further reduce their mental capacity with a mixture of martial arts, boxing and kickboxing.
Guests at the Spa & Kur Hotel Harvey in Frantiskovy Lazne would have had an interesting week in July when the finalists in the Czech and Slovak Tipsport Miss Aerobic Competition brought their lithe, swim-suited attractions for photography and filming.
And in June about 130 runners conquered the 365 steps of the 16-storey Clarion Congress in Ceske Budejovice, in aid of the town’s Nursery for Blind and Weak-Sighted Children. The youngest runner was two-and-a-half years old and the oldest was 61.
This hotel was the one selected from CPI’s 27 hotels when The Budapest Times went a’roaming in October. To get there you take the motorways from Budapest to Linz in Austria, passing north of Vienna. From Linz, turn north on the road to Prague, and after 65 kilometres, Ceske Budejovice, the political and commercial capital of South Bohemia, is reached.
The population is a manageable 93,000 or so, and the central hotel is quickly located. It is not far outside the old city centre and is the second-tallest structure after the 16th-century Black Tower, next to the Cathedral of St. Nicholas, on one corner of the huge Ottokar II Square.
At the opposite corner is the old Town Hall with murals and bronze gargoyles, and the surrounding architecture represents Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque and 19th-century periods.
The hotel staff has thoughtfully placed us in a suite on the top 16th floor with a nice view to the Black Tower, a kilometre or less away. Thanks to the three lifts we do not have to climb the 365 stairs. We dine satisfactorily for three nights at the hotel’s stylish Benada Restaurant and the barman in the lobby bar kindly finds us the Rugby World Cup to watch on TV, when it is not available on the two sets in our room.
After-meal beers are consumed in the IN LOCO pub on the premises. Good or bad, depending on your preference, the Czechs have not yet banned indoor smoking, though there is word it may happen next year. The hotel also has a spacious and modern conference centre that can hold 650 delegates.
We chose Ceske Budejovice after our study of the Czech map – where the heck is Usti nad Labem, or Spindleruv Mlyn? – revealed that of all the 27 hotels it is only 25 kilometres from Ceske Krumlov. This is a town we read about once, or saw very attractive pictures of it, and have wanted to visit ever since. The whole place is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and sits on a double loop of the Vitava River, downstream from Prague.
Ceske Krumlov Castle is unusually large for such a small town, population now about 14,000, and offers charming panoramas down over the horseshoe bends of the water, the bridges connecting to the old Latrán neighbourhood and overall an appearance that is little changed since the 18th century.
In October there are still quite a few tourists around, including us. We had a splendid weekend, capped by a pleasant Sunday drive home through the quiet roads and autumn leaves of the Czech and Austrian countryside, until receiving a hefty fine from the Austrians for “not displaying our vignette properly”, which soured things considerably. Congratulations, sir. Spend it well.
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