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 Travelogues

Official Name

Karlovy Vary. The German name can be found quite often as well: Karlsbad (Charles' spa). 'Var' means 'simmer', 'Vary' sounds like the plural form. According to legends, the name derives from the discoverer of the springs - King Charles (in German Karl) the IV. There are many spas in Western Bohemia (most of them characterised by the word -lázně in the place name), but Karlovy Vary is the number one by all means.

Location

Location of Karlovy Vary
Karlovy Vary

The town is kocated around 120 km west of →Prague, in West Bohemia at the confluence of Ohře (Eger) river and the smaller Teplá. Parts of the city stretch out across the up to 700 m high mountains.

Population

Around 55,000 people live in Karlovy Vary, which is hard to believe when you walk trough the city centre (i.e. tourist related part) - it looks much less.

Orientation

Most of the sources concentrate along the small river Teplá, which is flowing from south to the north. Here, all the famous colonnades, places where people can drink the mineral water, some hotels and other tourism related facilities line up. Additionally there are some churches. This stretch is simply elegant - only a few modern buildings disturb the chic centre. Many colonnades and hotels were built during the 19th century and are well preserved.

Karlovy Vary has two train stations. The dolní nádraží (lower station) is for local trains, running to Mariánské Lázně (Maria's spa) and other less famous places. More important is the horní nádraží (upper station) for long-distance distance trains, e.g. to →Prague and →Cheb. The lower station faces the right bank of the Ohře (Eger) river, adjacent to the bus terminal. From there it's less than 5 minutes to the city centre. The upper train station is atop a hill on the other side of the river. From there, it takes around 15 minutes to walk to the centre. The suburbs mainly spread to the east and north-west. However, as a visitor to the mineral sources one won't notice the suburbs at all.

History

As far as the legends go, king Charles the Fourth discovered the first hot springs in the year 1350 coincidentally while he was hunting. In 1358, he built the first hunting lodge. The real boom didn't start before the 19th century, when Karlovy Vary, at that time better known as 'Karlsbad', started to be a chic spa. Doctors understood that the mineral water coming from deep in the earth has healing powers, and so Karlovy Vary's water became very famous. Hotels and colonnades mushroomed, and many famous people from all over Europe relaxed in Karlovy Vary - from Goethe to Tolstoy, from Bismarck to Marx - everyone was there. It's claim to faim was not just limited to the mineral water. In 1857, Ludvík Moser started to produce high-quality glass in Karlsbad. Today, the glass is known as Bohemian crystal and as famous as the springs themselves.

Even in socialist times Karlovy Vary could preserve its image as an exclusive and popular spot. After 1990, the number of visitors started increasing steadily. There is almost no need at all for advertising the place. Nice restaurants and exchange booths (don't use them! rather stick to your credit car!!!) as well as souvenir shops mushroomed all over the place.

Getting there / transportation

There are several express trains to Karlovy Vary, although 'express' is slightly exaggerated. International connections are limited to some direct trains (mostly night trains with sleeper berths) to →Slovakian cities, e.g. →Košice. It's not very easy to get to Germany by train - most connections are via →Cheb, which is one hour away. If you're heading for places in the south, for example Plzeň or →České Budějovice (Budweis), it would be better to take the bus. The same can be said about →Prague - although only 120 km away, it takes 3 to 4 hours to get there.

 

 

There are around 100 hot springs in and around Karlovy Vary, but only 12 are used commercially. Most of the springs were put into so-called colonnades (usually the name for a row of columns, but in Karlovy Vary the name for all buildings around springs). All springs are accessible to the public and the water is free of charge. You can drink it from beakers, for free, or stylish from lázeňský póharek - tiny white and blue china pots, which can be bought as a souvenir or rented for a few crowns. The springs deliver mostly sodium-bicarbonate-sulphuric acidulous waters, the water temperatur ranges between 30 and 72 degrees Celsius. The water includes around 40 different mineral substances. Detailed analyze reports are usually on display near the springs. One important question remains - does it taste good? Not really. As has been proved, drinking cures can be used to ease digestive tract problems, metabolic disorder (incl. diabetes) and circulatory disturbances as well as several problems with the limbs. Additionally, the invigorating mountain air is good for the lungs.

The baroque Maria Magdalena church
The baroque Maria Magdalena church

If you do not believe in drinking tepid salt water, you may stick to the so-called 13th spring - the (in)famous Becherovka (Karlsbader Becher) - an odd-tasting, light herb liquor.

If you are in Karlovary Vary just for one day, simply walk along the small Teplá river and enjoy the parks and colonnades. You can enjoy a view over the valley from the Rozhledna Diana (Diana observation tower), accessible on foot and via ropeway. In the Vřídelní (Sprudel) colonnade you can admire the hottest spring (72 degrees Celsius). Every minute, some 2000 liters come out from a layer 2500 meters deep with a fountain that shoots up 12 meters. The building housing the spring is comparatively new. Inside the hall you can pull a cup of water by yourself from different taps with different temperatures. Among the most impressive colonnades, the Tržní (market) colonnade and the Mlýnská (miller) colonnade should be mentioned - both are quite old and charming.

BTW: I visited Karlovy Vary three times or so but mostly without my camera. Thus only one, not very nice picture - more will follow after another visit....

 

 

I've never stayed inside the city, therefore no recommendation. One thing is for sure - to stay in Karlovy Vary is more expensive than staying in other cities. One of the reasons is a health resort tax of 15 Kč per night and person. There seems to be no pension or hotel charging less than 350 Kč. Especially during the summer months it's better to book in advance since the city might get crowded.

 

Do you have or do you know a good website about Karlovy Vary? Don't hesitate, let me know! After checking it, I would love to add it to the link list. You can submit a link by using the →contact form. Note that commercial websites will be treated differently.

 

 

 

 

 

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