Retreat wins first place in Best of Realty contest
“I could clearly feel the strong and pure energy of the place.” That’s how Inéz Šipulová Cusumano describes in her soon-to-be-published book the chateau she bought in ruins and renovated into a luxury five-star hotel and retreat.
Last month, Chateau Mcely took first place in the 2006 Best of Realty awards in the hotel projects category. This was the icing on the cake in a year that saw Cusumano’s long-time dream of renovating and running a hotel and retreat come alive. Chateau Mcely, located 55 kilometers (34 miles) northeast of Prague, welcomed its first guests in May. The secluded 24-room estate is a basin of luxury on a grand scale but puts the utmost importance on the smallest details, which helped win it a spot in the Small Luxury Hotels of the World chain.
The Slovak-born Cusumano spent years as a real estate developer in Europe, the United States and Japan. She left her position as managing director of Prague’s Asset Management Company in 2000 to help a friend look for a chateau to renovate in the Czech Republic. On Cusumano’s list was Chateau Mcely. At first, she had discarded the property because, “In the photographs, it looked hopeless.” But then she decided to take a tour of the 17th-century chateau, and felt an immediate connection with the tattered, dilapidated building.
“I felt I had returned home,” she writes in her book. “I was moving freely in spaces where I had never been before — it seemed to me I knew them intimately.”
Initially, she tried to convince her friend that this was “the place.” But the friend seemed unimpressed. Still, Cusumano was unable to get the chateau out of her mind. And, after much thought and many sleepless nights, she decided to purchase the place for herself. It was a decision that would guide — and, in many ways, consume — Cusumano’s life for the next five years.
“I was ready to work hard on the transformation of the chateau and nothing could dampen my determination,” Cusumano writes. “Yet the two-year process of renovation drained me of my last drop of energy and made full use of all my professional experiences.”
The chateau, which was originally built in 1650, was so far gone that, besides the basic structure of the building, the only item that could be salvaged was the main staircase. Everything else had to be rebuilt or restructured. Cusumano spent a year with the architects, agonizing over every detail, because, as she puts it, “”The smallest proposed detail ultimately has long-term aesthetic, functional or financial effects on the everyday operation of the business or building.””
But it wasn’t only the outside that needed lots of upgrading; the interiors were crying out for help as well. Cusumano traveled all over the world looking for inspiration. Her travels and research eventually brought her right back to Prague, to the doorstep of prominent interior designer Oto Bláha.
“I don’t know why I hesitated so long in calling him,” Cusumano says. “We immediately knew it is going to work. I was amazed that he felt exactly like me, but more artistically.”
Bláha’s thumbprint can be found everywhere, from the design of the property’s entry gate to the main interior staircase’s elegant banister to the delicate golden-floral design painted inside the hotel’s elevator. Cusumano and Bláha together conceptualized the theme of the interiors. The duo didn’t want to use just one style, but instead decided to combine color with natural materials in a simple yet elegant manner. They didn’t want to make a museum out of the chateau by furnishing it all in period pieces, but also felt a modern look wouldn’t do justice to the natural surroundings and essence of the building. So they settled for a unique concept all their own.
The entire back half of the ground floor is given over to a string of public rooms, including the Plate Hall, the Tea Hall and the Theater Hall. The chateau’s unique hydrangea motif nicely links these spaces together. The Plate Hall, the hotel’s dining area, is dominated by a huge dresser lined with large ceramic plates designed by Bláha. The Tea Hall, where guests can unwind in the afternoons, beckons with large comfy chairs and sofas upholstered in gray and white and highlighted in gold. Large gray patterned curtains, lined in royal purple and secured with gold sashes, frame the large French windows that draw your eye to the garden beyond. When the doors are open in nice weather, it’s like an extension of the outdoors. The space is opulent, but, like the rest of the hotel, a comfortableness throughout gives the sense of being in a friend’s country home.
Up the antler-lined staircase is the Floor of the World. A journey to the Africa suite surrounds you in safari-like details of dark colors and animal furs, while staying in the Oriental suite envelopes you in the red-and-gold mysticism of the Far East. The floor is anchored by the Gold Room, reserved for wedding ceremonies, presentations and other conference meetings. Here is also the Legend suite, easily the most luxurious of all the rooms. Crystal chandeliers and a crisp whiteness frame the lovely views out of the suite’s many windows.
Wing of Time
On the next floor, you will find the Wing of Time. Twelve mirrored doors line the long hallway, each etched with the name of a month, which is the room’s name. Each month represents a flower, which is painted on a wall in the room, and the color tone of the room is dictated by that month’s flower. With low, sloped ceilings, the rooms in this wing are some of the coziest in the hotel. Also on this floor, is a room dedicated to author Mark Twain, who spent time at the chateau in 1899, and another to German poet Rainer Maria Rilke.
The Angel Room is situated on the fourth floor, at the top of the hotel’s tower. With the room painted in blues and whites and with a crystal beaded chandelier, you truly feel a little bit closer to the stars. Up a winding metal staircase is a vast library filled with everything from science books to current newspapers. And, if you dare to venture to the true top of Mcely, feel free to climb the steep ladder to the chateau’s observatory, where you can check out the night sky with the hotel’s telescope.
At the opposite end of the rooftop terrace is The Alchymist Club, a cellar pub with a spirit of its own. Naturally off-white stone stairs and walls lead you into a small space uniquely lighted by beaded ornament lights and a massive beaded peacock lamp, which was a gift to Cusumano from Bláha.
While the creativity that went into the chateau is remarkable, it’s Cusumano’s vision of the retreat that truly sets it apart.
“Chateaux Mcely is not just a physical space,” Cusumano writes in her book. “It is a space in the widest sense of the word — an idyllic, spiritual point where energies intersect to change the existing world for the better.”
While the chateau welcomes individual travelers, many of the guests have been corporate managers and others on retreats. The chateau caters to the mind, body and spirit in the hopes of keeping all three elements in balance.
“I hope the chateau and its story will help people to discover their ‘personal legend,’ “” she says. “”As we say in our mission statement: We make a difference in the world by making a difference in you.”