Our taxi stopped halfway up a steep, cobbled road. "The hotel?" I asked. The driver pointed upwards. "That way. The car can't go any further, it's too steep." As we made our way laboriously up the hill, we realised that tranquillity would be our compensation.
Hotel Neruda is in the upper reaches of the baroque quarter of Mala Strana, which slopes up from the river Vltava to Prague Castle. Most tourists base themselves down in the Old Town on the opposite bank, so the crowds thin out and the pace slows as the gradient increases.
Located in a 14th-century townhouse that was once home to the distinguished 19th-century Czech writer Jan Neruda, the hotel is on the former Royal Way, now known as Nerudova. The road was an important link between the castle and the Charles Bridge; the older houses that line it can be identified by emblems symbolising the one-time occupants' trade or background, such as a green lobster (opposite the hotel), a golden wheel and two suns.
The hotel's cool off-white façade conceals a bright, modern lobby, with dark timber flooring, sparkling white walls and a glass atrium. Exposed dry-stone walls and a neutral colour scheme set the tone, which is both stylish and unfussy. The terrace hidden among the terracotta-tiled roofs, with the castle looming above, is perfect for summer breakfasts, or an evening aperitif.
Hotel Neruda, Nerudova 44, Mala Strana, Prague 1, Czech Republic (00 420 257 535 557; www.hotelneruda.cz).
Distance from international airport: a 20-minute minibus transfer from Ruzyne airport; or a 10-minute walk from Malostranska underground station on Line A.
The 20 rooms are smart, if a little plain, so request one with a view of Nerudova. Ours was under the eaves, with quotations from Neruda's oeuvre splashed on to one of the peach-hued walls. The bathrooms have granite floors, burnt-ochre rugs and mosaic-tiled walls, offset with wood panels and an antique mirror. Rooms are in the process of being updated, and the acquisition of a baroque building next door will add 23 modern rooms and a small spa next year.
Freebies: Neruda-branded toiletries, and a printed sheet at breakfast with a weather forecast and a cultural recommendation of the day, which can be booked at reception.
Keeping in touch: rooms have high-speed internet connection, direct-dial phones with voicemail, satellite TV and climate control.
THE BOTTOM LINE:
Doubles from €180 (£129), with breakfast.
I'm not paying that: on the same street, U Krale Karla, at Nerudova 4 (00 420 257 531 211; www.romantichotels.cz), offers ornately decorated double rooms, in a beautifully restored baroque building, from €120 (£86), including breakfast.
Sophie LamReuse content