Karlovy Vary has been a popular spa resort town for centuries due to its thermal hot springs and its lush green surroundings. After being cooped up at home for three months, it seemed like the perfect first trip post-coronavirus quarantine. The city did not disappoint; in fact, the biggest disappointment is that I’ve been living in the Czech Republic for four years and this was the first time I got around to seeing it. So what can you expect to do when you want a wellness weekend in Karlovy Vary? Here are some of the city’s main restorative attractions.
Get a spa treatment
You might be expecting open springs for bathing all over the city, but to enjoy a relaxing time at the spa, you either need to go to one of the city’s main baths and treatment centers or stay in a hotel with a wellness area where you can soak in mineral water pools or hot tubs. Karlovy Vary spa treatments can be quite medical. In fact, some people come here with a doctor’s prescription to treat all sorts of chronic and acute ailments and stay for 3-7 days at a spa resort receiving prescribed mineral cures. Without a prescription, you can take a bubble bath (also known as a pearl bath in some places), enjoy skin wraps, carbon baths, massages, or some other specialized baths that include beer, chocolate, peat, and milk and honey.
An alternative to lounging around your hotel resort spa is to visit one of the city’s large public baths like Elizabeth Spa, which is the largest in Karlovy Vary, or the stunning and relatively new Castle Spa, where you can pay to enjoy the facilities including the thermal mineral water pool for a pre-determined period of time. If you do want specialized treatments and you don’t already have a doctor’s prescription, these spas also have physicians that can see you and recommend treatment programs suitable for you.
Try the beer spa
If you’re interested in a slightly different and very Czech kind of spa experience, you can also visit a beer spa in Karlovy Vary. The baths can be rented for one or two people or in groups as large as four. Your hour-long soak in the extracts that beer is made of, including the local spring water, is supplemented by unlimited beer from the tap and beer bread to keep you from passing out.
Check out the spring colonnades
While you won’t find open baths to soak in, Karlovy Vary has an abundance of springs at varying temperatures that you can drink from. Though you’re technically also not supposed to do this without a doctor’s recommendation, there’s probably no way you can spend a weekend in Karlovy Vary without drinking the warm natural mineral water every time you get the chance. The springs are located in different colonnades around town, which are long and ornate and provide a peaceful setting for you to fill your ceramic drinking cup. Some of the colonnades not to miss are the Mill Colonade, the Park Colonnade, the Market Colonnade, and of course, the Hot Spring Colonnade, where you can find a hot spring fountain gushing all day and night.
The chemical composition is generally the same for all the springs but the temperature varies. Some of the lower temperature springs have a laxative effect which helps with constipation. Some of the warmer springs help with metabolism as well as regulate organ function. The water is meant to be enjoyed in small sips while you talk a leisurely walk. As my partner so eloquently put it, the colonnades are like a pub crawl without the alcohol.
After breathing with a facemask for the past several months, there’s no better way to get settle to regular life than by breathing fresh mountain air. Karlovy Vary’s lush green spa forests make for a great weekend of hiking around town. You can hike on either side of the river that divides the city, but if you’ll only do one hike, the best and most popular one is to the Diana Observation Tower. The Tower is accessible by funicular if you don’t want to spend an hour and a half walking uphill. But if you do, there are many lookout pavilions along the way including the Deer Jump Lookout, where you can see part of the way up the hill. The path is paved and marked, so unless you accidentally take the steep side of the hill up, it’s not a terribly daunting walk. The path curves around the peak so the elevation is gradual.
Once you’ve made it up there, you can walk another 150 steps up to the top of the Diana Tower, which is free to visit, or you can take the elevator. There’s also a small zoo and butterfly garden up there, along with restaurant if you want to celebrate your ascent with a beer.
On the other side of the Tepla River, you’ll also find good hiking trails leading to multiple lookout points that include Camera Obscura, the Three Crosses Lookout, where you can snag a picnic table to enjoy the view and a rest, and Otto’s Viewpoint. The nice thing about hiking the other side of the river is that your view is slightly different and a little more natural. The viewpoints don’t offer a perfect bird’s eye view, but the woods are vast and serene. During busy tourism months, they’re probably less crowded than the paths toward the Diana Observation Tower.
Do some local sightseeing
Karlovy Vary isn’t a huge city and it’s mostly made up of large and colorful spa hotels, but there are some interesting spots to check out around town aside from the beautiful parks and colonnades. Karlovy Vary has a large Russian population, so it’s no surprise that one of the most interesting sights to see is the Orthodox Church of Saint Peter and Paul, the gold domes of which can be seen glinting in the sun from across the river. Visiting is by donation and though the interior is small, it’s full of beautiful religious art.
Karlovy Vary is also home to one of the Czech Republic’s traditional drinks, Becherovka. The herbal liqueur is produced here and at the Becherovka Visitor’s Center, you can get a little bit of background on the history and process of creating Becherovka before you do a tasting of three different varieties. The adjacent restaurant also serves the unfiltered beer brewed here. A weekend in Karlovy Vary isn’t complete without at least trying Becherovka right from the source.
The city also has small parks where you can enjoy a bit of greenery without the hiking, including the garden at the Smetana Orchards where Elizabeth Spa is located. The garden is notable because it is also a flower calendar that changes every day. Past Tepla Bridge on the river, you can also walk along the river to get away from the busy colonnades. The walk will take you past the Grandhotel Pupp, which was Wes Anderson’s inspiration for the Grand Budapest Hotel and where the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival is held every year. Further along the route, you’ll see a statue of Beethoven and a very small Japanese Zen Garden. If you want to get out of the sun or rain, you can also check out the nearby art museum, Galerie Umeni, which celebrates Czech and Slovak art.
Between the great outdoors and the mineral springs, a wellness weekend in Karlovy Vary will make you feel rested and relaxed.