Karlovy Vary is a very ‘once upon a time’ kind of place

Karlovy Vary — formerly called Karlsbad — in the Czech Republic is a very "once upon a time" kind of place. Its main avenue, alongside the steaming Tepla River, and its hilly residential areas are lined by villas, hotels and small palaces designed in rococo, neo-baroque and art nouveau styles, all painted in confectioners’ colours.

KARLOVY VARY, Czech Republic — This town — formerly called Karlsbad — is a very “once upon a time” kind of place.

Its main avenue, alongside the steaming Tepla River, and its hilly residential areas are lined by villas, hotels and small palaces designed in rococo, neo-baroque and art nouveau styles, all painted in confectioners’ colours.

In the 18th and 19th centuries, when most of them were built, no one had heard the term “Disneyesque,” but new arrivals would have understood that they’d wandered into a fairytale kingdom.

In those days, Karlsbad was one of Europe’s premiere spas. Royalty came here: Russian czars, Prussian kings and Austrian empresses. So did the cultural elite: the German playwright Johann Goethe visited 13 times. Composers loved it: Bach, Beethoven, Brahms, Wagner, Tchaikovsky, Schumann, Liszt and Grieg walked its streets, presumably humming. Goethe and Beethoven used to take strolls together.

What drew visitors, initially at least, were the waters. The town’s many hot springs pour out a liquid rich in minerals that, since the 1500s, has been believed to benefit those with digestive and metabolic ailments.

In the 19th century Karlsbad became a place to see and be seen, do business, conduct affairs (that was one reason Goethe kept coming back) and buy things. Two of the most desirable items for purchase were Moser glassware and Becherovka liqueur.

Both are still available: Moser makes a non-lead crystal that’s become very popular; Becherovka is a combination of water from the springs and herbal additions, concocted in the 1800s as a medicinal drink, but today bought mostly as a souvenir.

Two world wars ended Karlsbad’s glory days as a haunt of European royalty. In their place came working-class Germans and, after the Soviet Union tightened its hold on Eastern Europe, Russians. For them, a spa week was a reward for outstanding service to Communism.

Milos Curlik, a Prague-based guide, remembers that the grateful winners of such trips were always chaperoned by more smartly dressed handlers from the KGB.

Today, the Russians are still coming. On the main shopping street many of the signs are first in Russian, then in Czech.

The Savoy Westend, a hotel made up of five lovely mini-palaces, next to the Russian consulate and around the corner from the exquisite Orthodox Church and its golden domes, is popular with them.

But not so many people arrive for a full treatment regime — that’s not what the current generation travels for. (And it doesn’t help that in the 1970s the Communists tore down the old thermal baths in the town centre and replaced them with an ugly spa-bunker.)

Consequently, Karlovy Vary has found new ways to attract a younger clientele, notably the Karolvy Vary International Film Festival. Held in early July, it has brought such big names as Gus van Sant, Michael Douglas and Morgan Freeman.

Films are shot as well as screened here: the neo-baroque façade of the Grandhotel Pupp, for example, appears in the casino scenes of Casino Royale.

There may not be royalty to make the town cool anymore, but there is James Bond.


For more information on Karlovy Vary (Karlsbad) and travel in the Czech Republic visit the Czech Tourism website at www.czechtourism.com.


Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

New bench boss re-builds Comox Valley Glacier Kings

The new head coach/general manager of the beleaguered Comox Valley Glacier Kings… Continue reading

Courtenay clothing store continues to thrive 25 years later

Sharon Anderson continues to see some of the same customers she served… Continue reading

Float-plane crash near Oyster River leaves pilot injured

The plane crashed shortly after take-off from a private property and had no other passengers on board

B.C. salmon farms challenge activists’ demands for site closures

News reporting also unfair, inaccurate and distorted

BC Liberal Party leader Andrew Wilkinson in Courtenay to campaign with Brennan Day

BC Liberal Party leader Andrew Wilkinson was in Courtenay Tuesday, helping local… Continue reading

B.C. counts 125 new COVID-19 cases, up to 1,284 active

No new deaths or health care facility outbreaks

Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Lessons from a pandemic: How to design a nursing home that’s safe and love-filled

A look at how one care home is battling the pandemic with the social needs of the elderly in their care

B.C. salmon farm opponents demand answers from DFO

First Nations, conservation groups dismayed by omission of sea lice in risk assessments

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Health Canada green-lights rapid COVID-19 test

Health Canada approved the BCube test from Hyris Ltd. in the United Kingdom Sept. 23

First Nations Health Authority chief medical officer concerned with rising COVID-19 cases

“There’s still so much we don’t know and we’re learning everyday about this particular virus.”

FINLAYSON: COVID-related job losses concentrated in urban areas… especially Metro Vancouver

The biggest job losses, in absolute terms, have been in Metro Vancouver

Most Read