The Czech Republic is famous around the world for its spa culture. Dating back hundreds of years, there are numerous spa towns in the country, each one offering a unique experience. All of them are welcoming people looking to enjoy the wellness effects of the spas, but Czech people have the additional benefit of having spa treatments covered by insurance.
In 2021, no less than three cities (Karlovy Vary, Mariánské Lázně and Františkovy Lázně) were inscribed on the UNESCO “Great Spa Towns of Europe” series, which captures the most fashionable, dynamic and international spa towns among the many hundreds that contributed to the European spa phenomenon.
Moreover, the Karlovy Vary region is home to the first Radon spa in the world, in the city of Jáchymov. The city is also inscribed as UNESCO heritage, but for its mining landscape rather than the spas, which came a little later. Jáchymov is known for the mining of uranium and this is where Marie Curie and her husband first isolated Radium and Polonium from Uraninite.
During my recent trip to the Czech Republic I got to visit some of these famous cities. There was so much to see and do in the region that there was ultimately no time left to just sit in the spa. But the towns are, nonetheless, beautiful and culturally rich, so while enjoying at least one day of relaxation is certainly a must, there is much to learn outside the spas.
The city of Jáchymov is mostly known for its mining history, from which the mining of uranium takes the lead. However, at some point it was discovered that there was more to be harvested from the uranium mine. It was discovered that, when it disintegrates, the uraninite mineral releases radon and that this new element helped release joint pain.
Now, there are 4 springs of the noble gas enriched water that are ‘harvested’ from the former uranium, now radon, mine and sent directly to the different spa hotels in the city. The Radon bath treatments are especially used for treating illnesses related to the musculoskeletal system, in particular rheumatism and arthritis. “Radon baths have beneficial effects on the human body since low doses of radiation in the form of radon baths stimulate the cells and their self-healing processes. The result is a strong anti-inflammatory effect.”
2. Mariánské Lázně
The second largest Czech spa, Mariánské Lázně, or Marienbad, is the southernmost point of the West Bohemian Spa Triangle. Built during the Belle Époque, the beauty of the era is showcased in the city’s architecture, from the singing fountain to the numerous colonnades.
There are quite a few spa hotels in the city offering a variety of treatments, but one of the most beautiful and sought after experiences is the roman baths at the Nové Lázně Hotel, which combine the great history of the spa with soothing relaxation. The two pools, adorned with beautiful tiles and marble columns, date back to 1896 and have been enjoyed over time by prominent rulers from around the world.
3. Karlovy Vary
The northeast point of the West Bohemia Spa Triangle is represented by Karlovy Vary, also known as Carlsbad. What differentiates Karlovy Vary from the other two great spa towns in the region is the hot water springs that surface around the city.
There is a total of 15 springs, including a geyser that naturally throws water up to 12m in the air. With the first records of it dating back to 1571, it is the oldest hot spring in the city and currently the only one used for baths, with water from it being redirected to different spots.
The water from the mineral springs is believed to have healing properties and one of the treatments prescribed to patients is drinking it daily in diets lasting up to three weeks. There are 12 hot springs suitable for drinking around the city, with temperatures varying from just under 30˚C and up to 72˚C. You can see the steam coming out of them.
There is a special type of cup that is used for drinking the water, the handle of which also serves as a straw. They come in all shapes, sizes and patterns. Some are quite simple, white, with a few traditional motifs painted on. Others are shaped like cats, with the tail being the handle, or elephants, where you drink through the trunk. Imagination is the limit.
Naturally I asked about the reason behind this particular shape. Since the water is very rich in iron, which can be noticed by the reddish deposits on the base of the fountains, drinking it daily for several weeks can stain the teeth. Thus, a straw is used so the water has as little contact with the teeth as possible. A regular cup with a simple straw has evolved over time in the distinctive design used today.
12 springs heal, the 13th cures.
In the centre of the city lies the former Becherovka factory, now a museum dedicated to the famous herb liqueur. Although there is no hot water spring here, locals call the beverage the 13th spring of Carlsbad. The historical building was built by Jan Becher in 1867 and served as the original factory for more than 100 years. It is only in 2010 that production was moved to a new factory, built to be able to cope with the increased export demand.
Becherovka is a proud product of the Czech Republic and part of its national heritage. The recipe was developed by Dr. Christian Frobrig and perfected by Jan Becher who started selling it in 1807 as a stomach illness medicine. His prescription was that a small shot in the morning and a small shot in the evening would cure any upset stomach. This is still showcased in the 100 ml “travel size” bottle that comes with the specific sized cup.
The factory now produces a few variants of the liqueur: the Original, still following the 1807 secret recipe; the Unfiltered; the Cordial; the KV14, which to me tasted like the sour cherries liqueur my mother makes at home, but my suspicion of the ingredient was of course not confirmed; and my personal favourite, the Lemond, which, as the name suggests, is lemon flavoured. They are all best served cold, preferably in frozen glasses, and each showcases a different side of the original herbal mix.