Autumn 2021. In theory we could travel to other continents, but destinations we had in mind such as Japan or the United Kingdom were impossible to plan ahead. Instead we organised a rail trip to Eastern Europe, travelling to Berlin, Gdańsk, Wrocław, Karlovy Vary, Pilsen, Bratislava, Poprad, Vienna, Linz and Salzburg. By travelling to Germany, Poland, Czechia, Slovakia and Austria, we explore an area which was in the (not too distant) past bonded together by the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation and by Austria-Hungary.
As for our week in Czechia my boyfriend Sam would join us by car, we chose to pick a central location from where we would base ourselves to discover the region. We selected the famous spa resort town of Karlovy Vary (Carlsbad) and as our prime choice of hotel, James Bond’s famous Grandhotel Pupp, was fully booked we selected to stay in the other grand 5-star hotel the majestic Hotel Imperial.
It has an impressive location on top of a hill overlooking the city, and can be seen from the city centre down in the valley overtowering it. As we arrived by train we walked from the UFO like ‘new’ main station on the mainline, across the old and quaint city centre to our hotel.
The last part from the valley to the top of the hill where our hotel was located was a very steep climb up a street, combined with the weight of our backpacks it proved to be challenging. If you do this, do not be as dumb as we were. Just walk to the other side of the church in the valley and instead of climbing up the steep streets take the Imperial Cable Car from the valley to the top of the hill at the entrance of the hotel. It takes an effortless few minutes to get up there that way.
The Hotel has a big property surrounding the imposing main building, with some gardens and a children’s play area as well as a guarded parking lot costing €15 per day and has to be reserved in advance. For your car they also offer a deep inside and outside cleaning for €40 on-site.
The general feel of the hotel is truly like an old sanatorium, with long corridors in which you would expect a grey haired “Herr Doktor” to show up. Even though they advertise as a classic grand international hotel a lot of the staff only speaks Czech, others get by with a little German (especially the older employees), only some of the younger staff speaks English. The hotel also feels like a crossover between a boarding school and an old people’s home by the rigidity of some schedules.
The rooms however where good and spacious. My boyfriend and I enjoyed a very nice room with a big corner balcony, including some chairs to sit outside.
The bed was huge and comfortable, featuring two small separate duvets (which my boyfriend made clear to hate every day), the closet was also enormous with three separate parts, two hanging closets at each side with some lay down shelves in the middle one where you also found the in-room safe. In the corner next to the entrance there was a desk with a small-ish flat screen TV (the room was big enough to warrant a bigger TV as it was hard to watch the screen from the bed, first world problems).
In the desk area there was also a fully stocked minibar and a complimentary coffee/tea maker. What I liked was the fact that the machine was an upscale coffee maker using capsules but also featuring a separate exhaust for hot water so you hot water for tea didn’t have a faint coffee taste. In the bedroom there were also a coffee table with two bottles of complimentary water and two chairs in front of the window.
Across from the entrance vestibule with a big coat hanger there was the bathroom.
The bathroom is what you would call in French a “salle de bain” as it was almost as large as the bedroom. Unfortunately all the space wasn’t used optimally, with a relatively small bath tub tucked away in the corner. Theoretically you could use the tub to shower in as well, but it didn’t look very handy for it, they should add in a separate proper walk-in shower instead.
There was also a toilet and a bidet and a sink with a lot of storage space alongside. The toiletries used where Carl’s, Karlovy’s own brand of toiletries, they were ok but not spectacular.
The bathroom had everything you needed and was very clean and in good condition for its age but they definitely could use all that space in a better way if they give the bathroom an overdue renovation.
As we booked a half board rate our breakfast and dinner where included in the buffet restaurant, restaurant Prague. Breakfast was from 6:30 to 10:30, dinner from 17:30 to 20:30. If you wished you could have lunch there as well (upon paying a supplement).
Breakfast in the morning was a pretty standard hotel buffet breakfast. They had some rotational items like different kinds of charcuterie or eggs but most of the spread was the same every day. There where bread, charcuterie, some hot dishes, fruits and freshly baked waffles. To drink you had juices, tea and coffee. The breakfast was good and what you would expect.
Just like in Poland, people in Czechia eat early in the evening so make sure to eat early too. Dessert for example is set up upon start of the buffet and is not replenished after.
While other food items get sometimes replaced by different things as they run out. Overall the quality of the dishes was acceptable, but not at a 5-star standard. While they did have some different dishes every day, the overall offer was very similar every day.
Getting an alcoholic drink was also not an easy task as you really had to grab a staff member to order something, they were not very proactive in it. Water, juices, coffee and tea where included in the buffet but for some reason the coffee machines where turned off each night.
When 20:30 arrived you were quite directly informed by the staff of the time and that the restaurant was closed, insisting you leave immediately. This is of course very counterintuitive for us Belgians as we liked to sit a bit longer at the table. Going for a digestive drink at the bar really wasn’t an option either as it closed at 21:00 on weekdays to. It really felt like being at boarding school and you were forced to go to sleep early.
On Friday and Saturday evening they opened the a la carte restaurant Paris, even open until a late 22:00! Of course we went to have dinner there on Friday. Even though we had half board, eating here was not included and we had to pay for the full meal (resulting in an almost empty restaurant).
Quality, service and presentation where however miles ahead of the buffet restaurant, I wished we could have eaten there every night (if they changed their menu). I enjoyed a lovely smoked fish appetizer, chicken for the main and an enormous cheeseboard for dessert.
The bar was opened after breakfast until 21:00 on weekdays and 22:00 on weekends. It serves some homemade cakes and sandwiches and of course offers a bigger amount of drinks. On Friday we had an aperitif there before heading to the Paris Restaurant, sitting inside overviewing the various awards the hotel (surprisingly) won. On Saturday we enjoyed a drink on the sunny terrace.
In the basement of the hotel there was the wellness centre offering a big variety of treatments, the reason we went there was because of the pool. It offers a big inside pool with a waterfall and a corner with some bubbles. There were also a bubble bath and a whirlpool. Strangely enough there were no buttons to activate them, instead they seemed to run on a random schedule. Overall the swimming pool was a nice experience and opened quite late until 22:00, perfect for a post-dinner swim.
Timothy had some more issues with the gym however. The location in a separate building opposite the main building wasn’t really an issue. The facilities were also nice with some rooms with good fitness equipment and even an indoor climbing wall. The problems where the opening hours, only opening at 8:00 on weekdays or even 10:00 on weekends didn’t make it inviting for morning workout session if you did not want to block the rest of the day.
All in all our stay in the hotel Imperial was nice. The staff was mostly friendly and professional. Housekeeping was top-notch as they immediately made up the room in the morning when you were out for breakfast. They even found Timothy’s hat he forgot in the room when checking-out before we were even checked-out, a big thumbs up for that as they did a big effort of getting it back to him asap.
What was less good was of course the rigidity in the time schedules. A late opening of the pool and gym, an early closure for dinner and bar. It really felt like you were in a boarding school where you were told what and when you were supposed to do something. This also meant that it cut your days short for trips as an early start or later finish did not really fit the hotel’s planning. Also the food offering and quality could be better.
In my opinion the hotel is more like a good 4-star hotel, but not a 5-star one.
2021 Rail Tour of Imperial Europe
- POTSDAM 2021 | Schloss Sanssouci.
- 1945 Potsdam Conference’s Cecilienhof Palace.
- Potsdam 2021.
- REVIEW | InterContinental Berlin.
- BERLIN 2021 | Pergamon, ‘Das Panorama’.
- BERLIN 2021 | Humboldt Forum in the Berlin Palace.
- BERLIN 2021 | The Bundestag in the Reichstag.
- Berlin 2021.
- By train from Berlin to Gdansk via Szczecin.
- Stopover in Szczecin.
- REVIEW | Restauracja Ritz in Gdańsk.
- REVIEW | Holiday Inn Gdansk.
- GDAŃSK | Museum of the Second World War.
- GDAŃSK | European Solidarity Centre or Europejskie Centrum Solidarności.
- A walk through Gdańsk.
- Gdańsk 2021.
- POLAND | PKP Intercity Gdansk to Wroclaw via Warsaw.
- Wrocław Museum of Architecture.
- The Dwarfs of Wrocław.
- Poland 2021.
- By train from Wroclaw to Karlovy Vary.
- Karlovy Vary.