Karlovy Vary, Czech Republic
Karlovy Vary parks index:
Karlovy Vary has health and decadence within easy arm’s reach. Through one door you’ll enjoy a spa day, where the efficient (if sometimes militaristic) matrons beckon you for another “treatment” from your perch on a teak chaise while you sip tea made from mineral water. Through another door you can drink iced vodka and eat caviar while awaiting a seat at a poker table. Whether you’re 22 or 82, what more can an aging body ask for? Kick back and indulge.
Tucked into the Teplá Valley in the heart of Bohemia’s mountains, this ancient spa town has always been a crossroads of the rich, famous, and not so famous, but always health seekers from across Europe. Karlovy Vary has twelve mineral springs that pump out hot, hotter, and scalding water. Vrídlo is its most powerful spring, which spurts out more than 2500 gallons every hour. You’ll hear a lot of Russian and German spoken on the streets and in the steam baths, but the Czech krona is king of the money heap here. And perhaps this will come as a surprise, but while the food, wine, and beer can be expensive (even at the “cheap” places) by central European town standards, the health spas offer a reasonable day-long rate to help whatever ails your body.
After a bar evening at Grand Hotel Pupp, built in 1701 as the “Greatest Hotel in the World”, I stepped behind the tranquil veil of a mineral spa. If you’ve never been, then visit a spa town; if you’re in the Czech Republic, make an overnight trip to Karlovy Vary for some pampering. Each spa has a menu of treatments from which you can choose, including massage therapies, misting respiration caves, high pressure showers (you feel like you’ve gone through a car wash), and walking across smooth rocks (a circulation thing). I have to say: if you don’t groan during a massage, then you aren’t enjoying yourself.
My muscles freshly invigorated, it was back to the main atrium, circled by chairs, tables, loungers, and lots of plants. Soft music played in the background, and samovars steamed in the corner, where a selection of teas help to sooth therapants (and which put me in a dreamy state). I almost forgot that I needed to find Dvorak Park for a stroll and photos. For a while I bobbed among octogenarians in a 20,000 gallon mineral water pool. Soon I was called out for my next treatment—an alternating ice & hot water foot bath. For 20 minutes I walked around in circles from one wading station to the next. When my four treatments were complete, I wanted the day to continue, but time was precious this trip and “work” prevailed.
There are dozens of spas to choose from in Karlovy Vary; nearly every hotel has its own. Other grander, modern spas have opened in the center of town, and you can feel grandly lazy for hours at a time. From sipping mineral water that tastes so thick you feel like chewing it, to floating in the baths like some happy seal, you’ll feel well tempered after just one day here.
Later, over beer and goulash at an outdoor café overlooking the Ohre River, I realized that I never felt rushed by the spa therapists. I was allowed to hang out as long as I wanted. I imagined for a moment the life of a spa dweller, and quickly put that aside when I saw myself napping afternoons away instead of doing what I do best: move on down the road.
Karlovy Vary Museums and Sites
The Carlsbad Museum collects all sorts of life history pieces of the city and Bohemia’s history. You’ll see a lot of crafts and applied art objects, including glass, china, furniture and tin, textiles, tools, and gunsmithing objects. Photographs of the town and documents on its bath history are also part of the collection.
(read more about Karlovy Vary’s highlights here)