There's something magical about this Czech chateau
Just outside Prague stands this nation's first country-house hotel. That's not its only unique selling point, says Adrian Mourby
Sunday 23 November 2008
'The Elixir of Power is designed to relax the part of the brain that is adult-inhibited," says Jim Cusumano. "It allows the creative responses to flow freely."
The elixir in question comes in a martini glass with dry ice swirling over the edge. We are sitting in the Alchymical Bar deep underneath Jim's chateau in the heart of the Bohemian forests. Chateau Mcely is the first country-house hotel in the Czech Republic and the only hotel in the world run by an alchemist and his wife.
It's because of the wife that we're here. Inez Cusumano was brought up in Slovenia in the days when Czechoslovakian chateaux were falling down or being turned into cement factories. She dreamed that one day she would own and restore one. At Mcely, Inez achieved her dream thanks to a lot of hard work and the input of a multimillionaire husband.
"When I found the chateau it was a ruin," says Inez, who was working as a commercial property developer at the time. "But it called out to me. I couldn't sleep! So I bought it. Then I went to America wondering what I was going to do with this chateau and I met Jim.
"We never intended to open a hotel. This was going to be our home. But people wanted to come and stay, and we thought that if people came here perhaps they could use the time to change their lives."
The Cusumanos see change as vital. Outside Chateau Mcely is a sign "Making a difference in the world by making a difference in you". And down here in the Alchymical Bar, with its arcane symbolism incised into the ceiling, Jim is demonstrating another kind of metamorphosis.
"Alchemy isn't mystical," says Jim. "People misunderstand. It's a science. Robert Boyle and Isaac Newton were alchemists. What it's about is taking things apart and reassembling them better."
Fortunately, the Cusumanos don't literally take their guests apart but they do like to send them away from Mcely in a better condition than when they arrived. There is truly wonderful food, massages from silent Thai ladies, restorative walks deep into the forest and gorgeous furnishings to recline on, many of them handmade by Czech craftsmen. No money has been spared getting the chateau just as Inez wanted it.
My wife and I succumbed as soon as we arrived. I'd missed a connection in Vienna; her plane developed a fault at Gatwick. We were five hours late meeting up at Prague airport, from where a driver called Kristof took us deep into the night. We arrived at Mcely, exhausted, at 1am, to find wine, salad and fruit laid out in our beautiful white room. We slept in the next day, waking to breakfast in bed. I opened a window to enjoy a silence broken only by peacocks calling across the lawn. It all seemed unreal. Exploring our pastel suite we found that it was named after Mark Twain who had stayed at Chateau Mcely after he lost all his dollars and had to start publishing in translation to rebuild the family fortune. A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court in Czech lay on the chest in our room. Mcely helped turn Twain's life round; perhaps it would do the same for two frazzled tourists.
Stepping cautiously out of Mr Twain, we found we were on a floor called "Wing of Time". Other rooms were named Legend, Europa and Wings of Fame. Upstairs there was a library full of books on alchemy, mountain-climbing, astronomy and the Roswell incident. There was even a rooftop observatory that Jim Cusumano had built for star-gazing. Cautiously we went downstairs to join the Cusumanos for their own nine-herbed tea.
They were far less intimidating in person than in the video I'd seen. Inez was like many multi-tasking young mothers, while Jim was like any millionaire former rock star/mountaineer/ chemist/award-winning film producer who's made his fortune developing antidepressants and anti-retroviral drugs.
Tea led to lunch which led us down here to the Alchymical Cellar. While I try Jim's Elixir of Power my wife has been offered Love Potion No 9. Jim leans across and proffers the CD to go with it: "Love Potion No 9" and various other cover songs that he's recently recorded under the title Oldies for Youngies.
Mcely isn't just unique in the Czech Republic. There's nowhere quite like it anywhere.
How to get there
Chateau Mcely (00 420 325 600 000; chateaumcely.com ) offers double rooms from CZK5,600 (£183) per night, including breakfast and a special alchemical welcome drink.
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