Hanging Loose Karlovy Vary Czech Republic
Mal Tattersall gets the cold shoulder in Karlovy Vary spa hotel in the Czech Republic (or Czechia), and discovers some old relics.
I soon get a bit hot and bothered when I wander down to the basement spa to try out the rather posh sauna at my five-star hotel in the Czech Republic.
Everybody scowls as I walk in before some burly German geezer points at my trunks, angrily mumbling something I don’t quite catch. So, I look around and realise to my horror that all five people in there – three men and two women – are completely nude.
Now, not wanting to be a party-pooper and thinking perhaps I have gate-crashed some bizarre swingers’ party, I quickly pull off my shorts too.
Whereupon all five of them get up and quickly walk out.
Now perhaps they don’t think I quite measure up for whatever fun and games they had in mind. Still, I’m not too bothered and just stretch out on my towel to relax and enjoy the glorious heat. But a few minutes later two plump elderly matrons, both straining their bathing costumes to the very limits, bounce in.
For a moment they stare horrified at me lying there totally naked.
Then, looking aghast, they mutter something in a language that I don’t understand before beating a hasty retreat. So, a little shame-faced, I pull my trunks back on and shuffle out the sauna to try one of the hot tubs instead.
But no sooner do I sit down in there than everybody else gets out. Then, to add insult to injury, all the bubbles stop. By now, rather embarrassed and also feeling a little unloved, I get dressed and do what one normally does in such situations.
Hotel Imperial – Karlovy Vary Spa Hotel
Which of course, is to go for a drink at the bar of the extremely splendid Hotel Imperial in the spa resort of Karlovy Vary.
This place is so posh it even has its own cable car to save guests the trouble of strolling down the hill into town.
Movie stars Sharon Stone, Morgan Freeman, Michael Douglas and Mary Pickford have all stayed here to sample the town’s health-giving waters.
So too, many years ago did famous authors Kafka and Gogol, as well as the composer Dvorak and psycho-analyst Sigmund Freud.
Czech Beer and Becherovka
I’m sipping a rather nice red wine today – the Czechs have some excellent vineyards in their South Moravia region. But, of course, the country is better known for its beers – Pilsner Urquell, Budweiser Budvar, Gambrinus, Regency and many more.
Indeed, the good citizens sup more foaming pints of the lovely stuff than any other nation in the world.
Karlovy Vary, however, also happens to be the home of a delicious liqueur called Becherovka, which has been brewed here since the 18th century.
Only two people in the world know the secret recipe used to blend more than 20 herbs and spices. But it tastes divine.
The original Becherovka factory has now been converted into a visitors’ centre where you can learn all about its history – and, even better, sample the stuff.
Largest of the Czech Spa Resorts
Karlovy Vary, known as Carlsbad during German-speaking times before the last world war, is the oldest and largest of the Czech spa resorts and is now a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Nearly 450 gallons of slightly salty water bubbles up from two miles underground to gush out of scores of springs every minute – spurting high into the air from one spectacular hot geyser in the high street.
That’s enough to fill an Olympic-size swimming pool in just 24 hours.
Every litre contains 6.5gms of mineral salts which are reputed to cure all sorts of ailments from stomach trouble to diabetes and even degenerative disorders of the spine.
My sprightly 74-year-old guide Jitka swears by the stuff and reckons a few sips before breakfast keep both her and her hubby in the most robust of health. Although she warns that to gain the most benefit people should only take it for three weeks at a time before having a break.
Anyway, you drink it from strange porcelain mugs with a handle and a spout, which look like miniature teapots. A few miles away in the little village of Loket, the Hotel Ferdinand claims to have the world’s largest collection of them.
This region of West Bohemia, full of ancient castles, grand monasteries and imposing chateaux, has long been famed as a land of stories and legends.
One of those castles, towering over Loket, used to be known as, “the impenetrable fortress of Bohemia” and a ferocious dragon was said to dwell in the tower.
These days the dungeons boast a rather graphic display of torture implements while upstairs are stunning replicas of the Czech crown jewels.
The originals – including the solid gold, gem-encrusted Wencelas crown, – are safely locked away in Prague Castle.
But legend has it that if anybody other than the rightful king wears them, then he will die within a year.
Cruel Nazi tyrant Reinhard Heydrich, who ruled the country with a rod of iron during the war, stupidly sneered at the story and tried the crown on.
Then, even more foolishly, he placed it on the head of his young son Klaus.
Seven months later Heydrich was assassinated by Czech partisans – and shortly afterwards his son died when a truck hit his bicycle.
Goethe and Ulrike
Another of Loket’s claim to fame is that German author Goethe celebrated his 74th birthday there is 1823 by proposing to the 17-year-old daughter of a local duke.
Probably wisely, although sadly for broken-hearted Goethe, Ulrike turned him down. So, she became his muse instead.
Ulrike always denied any sexual liaison with Goethe but although she lived to the ripe old age of 95, she never married. So, who knows?
Relics at Bečov
Down the road at Bečov a magnificent Renaissance palace and a Baroque chapel have been built on to the 14th century Gothic castle.
Stored here in a little shrine, locked away behind a heavy oak door, is the country’s second most valuable treasure after the crown jewels.
A silver-plated, diamond-encrusted 1,900-year-old reliquary, or casket contains the headless body of the 5th century monk St Maurus, the patron saint of the disabled.
It is also reputed to house the head of the apostle St Timothy, the finger of John the Baptist and some remains of the virgin martyr St Apollonia.
And just in case you doubt the authenticity of these venerable relics, there is a crumbling parchment certificate signed by some ancient bishop in 1483 guaranteeing it.
So, they’re all genuine. Make no bones about it …!
Karlovy Vary Czech Republic
For more details about the Czech Republic, see visitczechrepublic.com.
Information about the Imperial Hotel can be found at spa-hotel-imperial.cz/en