England’s King Edward VII was so fond of the spas in today’s Czech Republic that he made nine visits around the turn of the last century.
He stayed at the Nove Lazne (New Spa) hotel in Marianske Lazne (aka Marienbad). Maybe his preference got a nudge because the resort installed the Royal Cabin as his exclusive treatment site. The property also created the similarly splendid Imperial Cabin for the Hapsburg emperor Franz Joseph I.
Today, guests at Nove Lazne or its affiliate properties can book a mineral-water soak in the English king’s space, but clients don’t have to be guests to arrange a tour of the royal facilities.
I saw both “cabins” during sightseeing offered to visiting travel advisors and press in advance of CzechTourism’s Travel Trade Day, an annual gathering aimed at boosting international arrivals that returned this year after Covid cancellations in 2020 and 2021.
Photo Credit: Nadine Godwin
Travel writer Nadine Godwin was thrilled to return to the Grandhotel Pupp and to Karlovy Vary, more than 30 years since her initial stay at the riverside property.
In May, agents from 22 countries attended the event in Karlovy Vary, which is the capital of a Rhode Island-size Czech region of the same name.
The city of Karlovy Vary (aka Carlsbad) along with the other two localities in the Czech “spa triangle” (the towns of Marianske Lazne and Frantiskovy Lazne) made the Unesco World Heritage list last year in recognition of their place in European spa culture.
While the towns’ mineral springs have been sought after for centuries, their visual appeal reflects a heyday — late 19th/early 20th century — when many colonnades, pavilions, churches, spa houses and hotels were built.
Although some facilities are staffed for medical spa treatments these days, including post-Covid solutions, clients can opt for pampering with massages and mineral baths.
As for the colonnades and pavilions in each town, they shelter taps offering mineral waters of varying compositions and temperatures. For a uniquely Czech experience, one must take the waters using a local invention, the porcelain sipping cup with a handle that doubles as a straw.
The main colonnade and a fountain in the spa town of Marianske Lazne. Photo Credit: Nadine Godwin
Selling the region
Tourists traveling to and within the Czech Republic totaled about 22 million in 2019. The numbers were roughly half that in 2020 and 2021.
Jan Herget, CzechTourism managing director, said at a press conference in Karlovy Vary that domestic travel is now recovering, but international business remains severely curtailed because of Covid shutdowns in Asia and the loss of the Russian market due to the war in Ukraine. At the trade event, he said, “We are hoping to find other possibilities.”
Herget and his colleagues emphasized that the Karlovy Vary region’s attractions aren’t limited to spas, highlighting “mountains and amazing nature” as well as Czech cultural heritage.
As to “amazing nature,” the Ore Mountains, which straddle the Czech-German border, offer Alpine and Nordic skiing, while trails for hiking and biking extend farther afield. There also are 10 golf courses in the area.
Loket castle and town. Photo Credit: Nadine Godwin
But heritage was on the menu for our preconference tours, as follows:
• The hilltop, 14th-century Becov castle-and-chateau complex in the picturesque town of Becov, is home to an incalculably valuable 13th-century relic, which was hidden from the communist government for 40 years. This is the St. Maurus Reliquary, a wooden, gold-plated, house-shaped repository for the bones of four saints. The other attraction is the Becov complex itself.
• Another hilltop castle in an eponymous town, the 12th-century Loket, wrapped on three sides by the Ohre River, is even more picturesque, and filmmakers love it. The castle’s features range from the tower, good for countryside views, to the dungeons hidden below ground. Travel Trade Day guests experienced a medieval-themed banquet here. The town hosts its own events a few weekends each year.
• Several locations in the aptly named Ore Mountains appear on the Unesco list recognizing an 800-year history of almost-constant mining and its effects on the cultural landscape. One site is Jachymov, now a spa town but formerly a center of silver and, later, uranium mining.
Photo Credit: Nadine Godwin
A look at two new hotels sharing a square in the Czech capital — one that gives a nod to the past, the other with an eye on the future.
The town museum, in the former Royal Mint, looks at mining history plus the production of silver coins called “thalers” (this gave us the word “dollar”). As silver mines gushed wealth in the 16th century, the town assembled an astonishing collection of books that were hidden for safety in 1625, during the Thirty Years’ War. Rediscovered in 1871, they are now displayed in the Latin Library at the town hall.
• The Karlovy Vary region has about 12 breweries, including a small one on the town square in Loket. But the Pilsner Urquell Brewery, located just outside the region, is larger and very well known abroad.
“Urquell” signifies this is where pilsner lagers originated. Tours end with a tasting. Naturally.
• Finally, for two sites in Karlovy Vary itself: At the Becherovka Visitors Center, located where the Becherovka herbal liqueur was first made, tours are also generally topped off with a tasting. The Moser glassworks’ guided tours, to watch glassblowers in action, conclude with a visit to the small Moser museum — and much larger showroom, for shopping. Naturally.
Becov castle complex with Ukrainian flags on display. Photo Credit: Nadine Godwin
The war’s impact
The war in Ukraine initially produced a significant dip in U.S. bookings to the Czech Republic, but the effect has tapered off.
Herget said the country is quickly assimilating refugees (among roughly 350,000, including many children; 55,000 of the refugees have jobs already). Ukrainian flags fly on quite a few buildings, most notably in Prague. Herget said there is “no physical danger” to visit, adding that the Czech Republic remains “a good-quality destination at good prices.”