KARLOVY VARY | GEOTHERMAL TYPE
Updated: Nov 13, 2020
On an absolutely frigid day in January we drove an hour to Karlovy Vary (formerly known as Karlsbad). It is 'formerly known' as Karlsbad because it was a German-speaking town for hundreds of years until the end of WWII, when its German inhabitants were largely expelled. The word 'bad' in German means 'bath' -- so whenever you see a town with the word 'bad' (ex. Bad Windsheim, Bad Alexandersbad, etc.), it's most likely a spa town.
Karlovy Vary is situated around 13 main hot springs (and 300 smaller ones), all with geothermal healing properties. For several centuries, the spas were used for only for baths. This sounds innocent enough, until I read that "a medieval bath would last up to 10 hours. The intent was to crack the skin in order to “wash out the pollutants” from the body". Of course medieval Europe found a way to make baths torturous.
While not everyone wants to pay for a full-day spa extravaganza *cough Will cough* the best part about Karlovy Vary is that anyone can partake in a 'drinking cure' regimen for free. When people began to drink the water in the 16th century, some guidelines were introduced. For example, drink while slowly walking, drink with a calm and peaceful mind, and drink it using the traditional porcelain cup (available at any gift shop). Throughout the town, there are seven main Colonnades where anyone can access the springs.
Each colonnade is a unique, elaborate open structure where one can find water pumps. The water in each colonnade is said to be a little different, with varying amounts of mineral salts, ions, and gases. We bought a porcelain cup, specifically designed for drinking hot liquids, and went about our day. The goal: Maximum Hydration.
Did this water taste good? Absolutely not. But it was so cold that the warm sulfuric liquid wasn't that bad. The main street winds along a river, and it was quite pleasant to stroll along, listening to violinists and window shopping while sipping on some healing water. Every quarter mile or so, we'd come upon another colonnade and fill up. People used to drink up to 5 liters of this a day, today it's recommended you don't drink more than one liter. Considering the 'European Bathroom Situation', we leaned towards a less is more approach.
Being there in winter was neat, because you could see how hot the water was. Huge walls of steam rise from springs in the river, and you can smell the sulfur through the crisp, cold air.
As this used to be a popular destination with European aristocrats, the architecture is *the technical term* fancy-schmancy. The popular Grandhotel Pupp was a filming location for Casino Royale and the Palace Bristol Hotel was one of the models for The Grand Budapest Hotel. The art deco and art nouveau style buildings beautifully line the streets and persuaded my mind to reflect upon another time. A time when ladies wore bonnets (I'm assuming) and men with showy walking sticks strolled the streets, admiring the decorative architecture (but expecting nothing less) and reciting poetry (probably). The ambiance remains refined, and I noted in my travel journal that the locals here seemed 'more friendly' than those in Prague. There's probably a lot of reasons for this, and I'm not saying that people in Prague are unfriendly, but in Karlovy Vary there is a long history of catering to health and wellness tourists. It's a whole different vibe.
I enjoyed an afternoon in Karlovy Vary and will probably return with guests in the future! Their tourism website is very well done, and highlights a variety of walks as well as nearby attractions. Next time, maybe we'll be fancy enough to spend an evening at the Grandhotel Pupp or actually enter a spa instead of just going for the free stuff. Until then, I'll continue to drink Hot Toddies and warm apple cider out of my special ceramic built-in-straw mug. Cheers!