Think of the Czech Republic and it’s likely that Prague, city of spires, astronomical clocks and frothy pints of Pilsner Urquell, springs to mind. But just west of the capital is the green and sedate spa town triad of Karlovy Vary, Mariánské Lázně and Františkovy Lázně, which comprises the West Bohemia Spa Triangle.
Home to the world’s largest concentration of hot springs and healing springs, the area is a place of natural and architectural beauty, with tall pastel-toned townhouses nestled below high hills and densely forested slopes, and has a rich history dating back hundreds of years, due to the healing properties of its natural mineral waters.
The annual opening of spa season takes place in mid-May in the town of Mariánské Lázně, and this year gave extra reason to celebrate, as the West Bohemian Spa Triangle was recently featured in the tentative UNESCO list of the Great Spas of Europe.
From the hot mineral springs of Karlovy Vary to the prehistoric-esque landscapes of the SOOS Nature Reserve, here’s we breakdown of the historic wellness triad.
Karlovy Vary : the largest of West Bohemia’s spa towns
The largest of West Bohemia’s spa towns (and frequently referred to as the ‘jewel’ of the trio) was named after Emperor Charles (Karel) IV and has been famed for the healing properties of its waters since the Middle Ages. Criss-crossed by the world’s largest concentration of hot mineral springs, this cosmopolitan town is located in the valley of the Teplá River, its apricot and shell-pink houses crowned with tall wooded hills. Here, visitors can sample the mineral waters – head inside the historic Hot Springs Colonnade, where taps dispense water cooled to a drinkable temperature (free of charge).
Architectural highlights include the gold domed Russian and Byzantine Orthodox Church of St Peter and Paul, the Gothic and Baroque Church of Saint Mary Magdalene, and the imposing grandeur of the Mill Colonnade. Karlovy Vary gained popularity as a spa destination in the 1900s, and planning laws mean that the old part of the town has been beautifully preserved. Imposing villas, summer houses and lookout towers punctuate the town’s residential areas, and there’s an abundance of green space too, from landscaped gardens to larger wooded parks, with plenty of walking routes to explore. Climb the Diana Lookout Tower for spectacular views of the town below.
Mariánské Lázně : gorgeous wooded vistas
With its bloom-filled parks, long colonnade and singing water fountain, Mariánské Lázně, located a 40-minute drive south of Karlovy Vary, has bags of charm. The Cheb District’s Kladská Lake, with its glittering waters and hunting lodge, is a particular highlight, surrounded by easy walking trails and deep evergreen forests.
The town is home to the longest colonnade in Czechoslovakia, built between 1888 and 1889, and the neo-Baroque structure is one of the symbols of the town, along with the circular flower-form fountain in the town centre. Playing classical music every odd hour of the day, the stone fountain’s final two shows (9 and 10pm) are accompanied by a light installation. Climb up to the Hamelika hill for gorgeous wooded vistas from the Hamelika lookout tower at the top.
Františkovy Lázně : under protection from development since 1992
35 kilometres north-west of Mariánské Lázně lies Františkovy Lázně, a town of buttercup yellow houses, quiet streets, formal gardens and fountains. The historic town centre has been under protection from development since 1992, and is a candidate for UNESCO World Heritage status. From here, travellers can visit the nearby SOOS Nature Reserve (adult admission fee, CZK 70). Once a salt-water lake, the area is now made up of mineral salt marshes and peat bogs. This vast wetland is home to a multitude of protected animal species and can be navigated via a long planked walkway, perched above the mineral-rich mud and tawny reeds.
Words: Mary-Jane Wiltsher