Karlsbad (Karlovy Vary in Czech language), the largest SPA city in the country, remains one of the most picturesque and most visited in Central Europe. Located less than 100 kilometers away from Prague, easily reachable by cheap train and bus networks, this Bohemian resort welcomes each year about 85,000 visitors from 70 countries. We were amazed by the invasion of Russian patients, actually transforming the place into a colony. Do they follow the paths of Karl Marx, who used to be a faithful summer resident in Karlsbad where he still gets its statue… just opposite the superb St Peter & Paul Orthodox Church ? The spa gardens start from the ugly and shabby Thermal Hotel: an impressive concentration of bad taste into a late 70’s bunker. Here takes place once a year, on July, the quite famous Karlsbad Cinema Festival. Don't miss to have a look inside: that's an absolute experience. You'll feel like 30 years backward ! The hotel has a reputed open air thermal swimming pool: entrance fee is definitely inexpensive.
Karla IV street drives to Ridelni street, then to Nova Louka street, allowing the walkers to see the nicest buildings in town. You will not miss the Zawojski House: this three floors house, facing the River Tepla, was built in 1900 by Viennese architect Karl Hayback. Opposite stands the remarkable Mill Colonnade : built in 1888, what should have been a provisional building for a determined period of ten years has been standing here successfully for more than a century. There are two mineral springs in the Colonnade: bring your glass or –far better- buy one of these unique china cups with incorporated straw you will only find here in Karlsbad: it makes an unconventional and tasty souvenir to bring back home.
A modern building hosts the famous Sprudel mineral spring. According to an old legend, Charles IV was the one who actually discovered the spring: by chance, hunting a deer across the forest. Ugly building, but great atmosphere: with 72C water spouting out of a depth of about 2000 meters. Across the street is a stands the magnificent St Maria Magdalena church: founded in the early XVIIIth century by architect Gillean Ignatius Dienzenhofer, from Prague, it is one of the best example of the baroque style in Bohemia.
There are six public thermal baths (lazne). Plus private sanatoriums: most of them are also elegant old fashioned hotels. Concerning the spas, the most impressive remains the SPA Number 1 (Lazne I): this is also the most luxurious, with the private Emperor Franz Joseph's Plush Bathroom anybody can use now a democratic way for a moderate fee. Advance booking is kindly advised, of course. Quite close stands the reputed Richmond Sanatorium, looking like a palace hotel, strategically located on the top of a green hill overlooking the city. A few hundred meters away, the Imperial Sanatorium is also quite impressive, offering comfortable accommodation and attentive cares. The real palace hotel in Karlsbad -though not offering spa facilities- remains the legendary Grand Hotel Pupp , on the elegant and central Mirove square. This turn of the century monument was completely refurbished when the Czechs dropped communism. The hotel aimed wealthy German and Austrian guests. These rich neighbours actually came and stay on impressive DM room rates; but, as an irony, most of the visitors nowadays tend to be Russian gamblers attracted by the hotel ritzy casino ! The Grand Hotel Pupp gets its own CSA office, where you may reconfirm your flight.We actually prefer the neighbouring Hotel Dvorak, with a great central location and an excellent SPA. Another warmly recommended hotel, maybe the most beautiful in town since recently refurbished, is the top luxurious Imperial Hotel. We enjoyed our last stay in Karlsbad in this great location, also equipped with a SPA and even... a clinique allowing surgery. Note that the restaurant at the Imperial can be considered the very best in town... though still registered as II category by the Czech authorities: which means fares are very good value for money, indeed.DO not leave Karlsbad without using the Cable Railway (it lower station station starts from the Pupp), which will take you to the top of the Height of Friendship. Here is the Diana Viewing Tower and its coffee shop (the best in town with the Viennese styled Café Elefant): the panorama on the spa gardens and its distant environs is dramatic. If you enjoyed –or may be even loved- Karlsbad, do not forget that in the same area you can also discover two elegant old fashioned spa cities: Marienbad (Marianske Lazne) and Frantiskovy Lazne. Both of them being easily reachable by a 30 minutes bus journey.