It’s been just about a dozen years since I first earned my traveler’s stripes out on that well-trodden European backpacking, budget-crunching circuit, and while that rite-of-passage trip was right on in just about every way, I’ve been lamenting missing out on a pit stop in storied Prague pretty much ever since. Fast forward to 2012, and I’ve found myself out here once again, Eurail pass in hand, backpack on back, and budget top of mind, but this time, with a firm eye on the Prague prize.
The one caveat? While I’ve managed to tuck away a few more fun-funding dollars on this go-around, I’ve found myself with an only slightly higher-than-hostel budget, coupled with disproportionately high-end tastes. I set out on a mission: Relive the glory days of my budget-crunching college hosteling days, without sacrificing style or privacy.
Prague met me at the challenge with its new budget boutique Fusion Hotel, a hotel-hostel hybrid that swung open its doors this spring to a hodgepodge of budget-minded travelers, ranging from fresh-from-their-schoolbooks college kids to toddler-toting families, and just about everyone in between (including my 30-something self and my just-turned-40 beau). The common denominator? Fusion’s guests come cut from the same value-minded cloth, but are still looking for style and a sense of place.
The hotel’s enthusiastic, youthful staff help infuse the playful and funky design hotel with some added oomph. In fact, a large percentage of the staff, hailing mostly from the Czech Republic along with other European locales, was hired specifically because they had no formal training or background in hospitality. The idea was that it would void the place of workers jaded with long years in the service industry, and it seems to have worked, with the staff gusto making up for the few-and-far-between service gaffes to be expected of such a work force in a new hotel.
A trio of Czech designers and graphic artists conspired on the hip hotel decor, with its dark chalkboard-esque walls, dimly fluorescent-lit corridors, and exposed pipes and ventilation ducts lending to an industrial-chic aesthetic.
A tech-minded GM, meanwhile, has ensured generous technological trimmings: comped Wi-Fi throughout, free use of guest PCs, a designated Skype booth (set up for free Skype calls), and iTunes DJ-equipped public areas; a Fusion Hotel-specific social network is currently in the works. Music is streamed through public spaces around the clock, with individual floor foyers anchored on large LG plasma screens broadcasting music videos.
Multi-occupancy hostel rooms charge per person, by the bed, and accommodate anywhere from 4 to 16 guests, with shared en-suite bathrooms and personal lockers in each unit (from $20/night). Or, upgrade to standard double/twin room configurations for two guests, complete with a sitting area with a sofa or rocking chair, and private en-suite bathrooms (from $100/night); slightly larger rooms with two double beds, for up to four guests, can be had from $131/night.
The quirkiest rooms in the house make good fun for families, snuggle-minded friends, or bed hogs realizing their most indulgent dreams: “Xtensive” units come equipped with what are billed as the biggest beds in Central Europe, with mammoth mattresses (measuring 11.5 by 8 feet) that can accommodate two to six guests (from $100/night). Fusion’s most spacious rooms are the corner “Atelier Rooms,” with queen-size beds (some have sofa beds to accommodate an additional one to two guests), from $131/night.
All 88 rooms (31 of which are multi-occupancy) come equipped with Apple TV units (we discovered we could stream spotty-quality, but straight-from-the-theater movies on them), and free Wi-Fi; rates for all standard rooms (excluding multi-occupancy units) also include daily breakfast buffet. Vending machines on all floors offer hostel-appropriate basics, like condoms, chocolate, vodka, and beer. (Those looking for the more traditional hostel experience, however, should take note that, while there’s coin-operated laundry on site, Fusion is lacking self-service kitchen facilities.)
With a philosophy focused on being more than just a place to sleep, Fusion’s value-minded cool factor extends to a trio of popular public venues, including Czech gastro pub Epopey, casual light-bites eatery Soup in the City, and the sleek 360° Bar.
Epopey’s menu centers on traditional Czech dishes, sourced on seasonal ingredients, and is complemented by a rotating weekly menu highlighting international dishes (Italian turned over to Arabic during the course of our stay), and, of course, a good selection of Czech beers. My beau tried the memorable confit of duck leg in thyme, with cranberry red cabbage, fried potato gnocchi, and duck sauce – and, since I didn’t eat meat, the accommodating cook whipped up a whitefish-based variation of the same dish, which, while not officially on the menu, was the best meal I had during the entirety of my stay.
Next door, low-key breakfast and lunch venue Soup in the City focuses on healthy soups, salads, and sandwiches, along with a solid selection of tea and coffee brews (served to stay or to go). Temps were a bit too toasty outside on my visit to sample a a signature soup blend, I walked away with a blue cheese, walnut, and apple salad; tuna and egg sandwich; and two bottles of juice – all ringing in for under $10.
The trendy 360° Bar earns its novelty appeal as the site of the first rotating bar in Europe, but keeps the stylish atmosphere authentic with its setting in the building’s original art-deco room, under a rotunda skylight (formerly a bank, the structure was designed by famed Czech architect Josef Gočár). We slurped down a splurge-worthy piña coladas and the bar’s signature Fusion Passion (vodka, Cointreau, lemon, sugar cane, and passion fruit), for just about $6 a pop, followed up by Czech-staple beers, Pilsner Urquell and Staropramen, ringing in at a refreshingly reasonable $2 each, despite the decadent digs. Guest DJs are regularly scheduled on weekends, while a corner of the bar and adjacent terrace is open for shisha smoking.
With a prime Prague location in the city center, we didn’t need to spring for public transportation once during our entire five-night stay, with nearly all of the major sights set within a 20-minute stroll from the property. Had we need it, though, tram, metro, and bus stops were within a two-minute walk.
Future Fusion Hotel openings are currently in the planning stages, with debuts anticipated in European cities like Barcelona, Budapest, and Berlin. Book now, and get in on the buzz before the masses do: www.fusionhotels.com.
Incurable travel addict, longtime travel scribe, and mindful money-saver Elissa Richard is currently indulging her insatiable wanderlust on an epic 14-month journey around the globe – intent on making it every step of the way without busting her modest budget. Follow her along the way as she reports back with budget-savvy travel tips from the mountains of Transylvania to the wilds of Tasmania, and from the little-trodden temples of Burma to the bustling bars and clubs of Buenos Aires. A vagabond in search of value, just for ShermansTravel!