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One of Karlovy Vary's many charms is its exquisite setting along the narrow valley of the Teplar Valley.
In addition to taking the waters, spa towns promoted other healthy activities such as walking, and the surrounding beech forests are crisscrossed with a network of hiking trails - apparently there are more than 130km of pathways and mountain bike tracks.
Be warned that although the section of the town along the river is relatively flat and easy strolling, the slopes of the valley are very steep. For those of a less athletic disposition, it is possible to catch a funincular railway up to the Diana viewpoint from the Grand Hotel Pupp - follow this link for operating times, which change depending on the season.
Follow the website link below for more information on other viewpoints and attractions in the surrounding woodlands, including the Deep Leap and Three Crosses.
If taking the funicular makes you feel as though you've cheated (which of course you have), then you could then assuage your guilt by walking back down into town: the woodland is exquisite.
Updated Dec 26, 2012
Karlovy Vary - the former Carlsbad - was named for Holy Roman Emperor (and King of Bohemia) Charles IV, who founded the town in 1370. It is renowned for its curative waters that have supported a fashionable spa culture for several centuries, but have you ever stopped to consider why there are hot springs there in the first place?
The town is located at the confluence of the Ohre and Tepla Rivers, and was established around 13 main springs and about 300 minor springs. The Vøídlo ("Hot Spring") is the hottest with the temperature of 73°C (163°F) and the others have cooler temperatures (of 60°C or less). As a result of inflow from these thermal springs, the Tepla River is actually warm to the touch.
The clue to why there are hot springs here is provided by the picture above. The giveaway is the course of the river, which consists of straight sections that then sharply change direction. A quick glance at a geological map confirms that the river course follows the trace of faults, which are more easily eroded than the surrounding unfractured granite.
The same faults that control the course of the Tepla River also provide a pathway of fractures along which water from surface can move down to a depth of 2km, where it encounters hot rock. Once the water heats up, it is less dense than cooler water and thus rises back to surface and 'daylights' as hot springs.
In line with the usual hyperbolic claims about the curative properties of spa water, the following claims are made for Karlovy Vary water:
"Karlovy Vary water is used In Europe to heal severe chronic problems of the gallbladder, urinary bladder, liver, pancreas, and prostate, including cholecystitis, colitis, pancreatitis, gallstones, chronic hepatitis, and early stages of liver cirrhosis, gastritis, stomach ulcers, etc.
"It is also recommended for obesity, diabetes, gout, high cholesterol, skin diseases arid allergies. The water is recommended for healthy people for whole body cleansing and to help prevent illness. It is widely used in cosmetics, colon hydrotherapy, mouth and nasal rinsing, and bath preparations."
Whew! Maybe it would have been quicker to state what it couldn't cure ...
For those interested in learning more about this aspect of Karlovy Vary's natural history, there is a 1.5km geological trail that you can follow through the glorious Slavkovský Forest that surrounds the town - yet one more excuse for a stroll in this gorgeous setting!
Updated Nov 21, 2011
One of the most easily identified landmarks in Karlovy Vary is the picture perfect Orthodox Church of St. Peter and Paul, whose gilded domes are visible from most points across the town.
Churches in spa towns tend to be particularly well endowed, either by patients giving thanks for miraculous cures - or those hoping to invoke divine intervention in achieving one. This church is particularly lavishly decorated and apparently features a relief of Russian Czar Peter the Great, although it was unfortunately closed when I visited.
Updated Nov 21, 2011
Address: Krále Jiøího Street
One of the defining features of European spa towns is that they were almost invariably wealthy places and thus almost always boast exceptional architecture.
Karlovy Vary is no exception to this, and I particularly enjoyed the Art Nouveau/Deco influence on many buildings.
The narrowness of the valley and the steepness of the surrounding slopes mean that the town has developed as a narrow 'ribbon' along the valley, and the contrast of tall elegant houses and shallow tumbling river against a backdrop of slopes clad in beech forest (my favourite kind) is particularly pleasing.
It would be beautiful at any time of the year, but if you have a choice, Karlovy Vary would be particularly lovely in spring, when the beech trees are in new leaf or - best of all - in fall, when the leaves are on the turn and a riot of autumnal colour.
Updated Nov 21, 2011
The natural hot water springs are what made Karlovy Vary famous, the hottest i saw was 65 C. People stroll from one fountain to another with there own personal mug with a spout to drink from. Some use plastic cups or bottles. There are several water foutains under the Collanades. The water is supposed to have health giving uses.
Written Oct 23, 2011
The funicular station for the observation tower is up a passageway [ narrow street ] at the end of Karlovy Vary near the Grand Pupp Hotel. Fare is 70 Kc return.. The tower has a lift no charge. The views are good, there are plenty of walk routes. Funicular at regular times.
Updated Oct 23, 2011
On the promenade Stará Louka along the river you'll hear the sound of small bells now and then and wonder where it comes from. There are no bells to be seen anywhere. Nevertheless the sound is rather loud and can also be heard from the opposite river bank.
The solution to the riddle is an innocent-looking pattern of nine metal squares in the pavement. This is a glockenspiel that you can play with your feet. Each of the metal squares has a different tone. Step on them to make them ring. Try dancing on them. Talented musicians may even be able to play some melodies.
Here is a video of the thing (courtesy of german_eagle)
Location: river promenade roughly opposite the theater.
Updated Oct 18, 2011
Karlovy Vary's theater is a neobaroque structure, built in 1886 on the river bank in the middle of the spa quarter. The architects were Fellner and Helmer who also designed the Park and Market Colonnade. The facades bear some resemblance to the State Opera in Vienna, though at a smaller scale - there clearly was some ambition behind the project.
We saw the theater only from the outside but the facades are promising a lot. The interior can be expected to show even mroe belle epoque splendour.
Written Oct 16, 2011
The "mill" colonnade is the largest covered walkway in the spa quarter. The neorenaissance building extends parallel to the river bank. 124 corinthian columns carry the flat roof. The colonnade was planned by the renowned architect Josef Zitek and built in 1871-1881. A decade later it was extended to a total length of 132 metres.
The colonnade has a roof terrace and a shorter second storey with another terrace on top, but there was no access, unfortunately. Must be pleasant to promenade up there.
The hall covers five thermal springs. Do some tasting, they all have a different taste, and use your cup with the long beak: The temperature of the waters vary between 53 and 65°C. And take care not to stumble over the small basins (especially the one in front of the stage is easily overlooked if you are staring at the musicians).
If you want to listen to some music, there is a stage for musicians in the middle of the hall. I cannot tell if musuicians are playing there all day long, but they did when we passed.
Written Oct 16, 2011
The beautiful Sadová colonnade, built in 1880, once belonged to a larger pavillon which has been demolished. Luckily this pretty architecture has stayed and been renovated. It is probably the most elaborate structure among the galleries in the spa quarter. The ornaments of the railings, arches and the domes of the two small pavillons look like lace. They are made from cast iron, just like the slender columns.
Three springs rise under the colonnade or in its close vicinity - reason to stay and promenade for a while with a cup of water.
Next to the colonnade there is the largest park of the spa quarter with flower beds, lawns and old trees. The park is named after the popular Czech composer Antonin Dvorák. His statue can be found in the middle of the park. (Apologies to Mr Dvorák for the missing brevis on the r which VT won't let me type.)
Updated Oct 16, 2011
6 Reviews and 116 Opinions The Grand Hotel Pupp is the paramount of Karlovy Vary accommodation and it truly is a grand hotel in...
1 Review and 50 Opinions good location, service, breakfast, staff and beautiful