Karlovy Vary and South Bohemia – the Czech Republic in the cool way is written by Jens Skovgaard Andersen. RejsRejsRejs had CzechTourism as a partner on the trip. All positions are, as always, the editorial staff's own.
Experience Bohemia with Prague in the center
Are you looking at a map above Czech Republic, then you can see that the country consists of three large regions: Moravia and Silesia in the east and Bohemia in the west. Right in the middle of Bohemia lies the capital Prague, which attracts a lot of tourists and travelers. It is a really cozy and atmospheric city that many people have visited. But have you visited Bohemia's other cozy and atmospheric cities? You should.
With Prague as a starting point, there are really great experiences to be found within an hour or two, and in fact you can take the bus directly from Prague airport to many places in the region without having to turn around in the big city traffic.
Historic Bohemia has had a tumultuous history with plenty of kings, queens, princes and princesses, and this is clearly seen in the countless well-preserved medieval castles that the region is dotted with. No matter where you stop in Bohemia, you have history with you as a companion. and they are exciting stories you are told everywhere.
In the western part of Bohemia are the spa towns with the life-giving and healing springs, and in the south you will find impressive castles, a rich history and beautiful nature. Well, and one of the most famous breweries in the world, which is worth a visit in itself.
Karlovy Vary – wellness for both body and soul
Stick west of Prague on the way to Germany three of Europe's 11 spa towns are located on UNESCO World Heritage List: Karlovy Vary, Mariánské Lázně and Františkovy Lázně – also known as the spa triangle. The most famous of the spa towns is Karlovy Vary, which previously also went by the German name Karlsbad.
Beneath the cliffs of Karlovy Vary flow 13 springs which are said to have life-giving properties. The springs are very mineral-rich, and for centuries they have attracted spa guests who need something good for body and soul. In fact, in the Czech Republic you can go to your own doctor and be prescribed a spa stay for weeks in Karlovy Vary - then it's just before you want to be on a spa.
The hot springs are not only for bathing in and for external use. The special thing about the springs in Karlovy Vary is that they are also drinkable. Everywhere in the city you see spa guests with the recognizable small drinking jugs, which are filled with water from the various sources according to the doctors' advice. You can also take a sip, but be prepared that the water tastes of something. The mineral flavor is not for everyone.
If you need something to take the flavor out of the spa water, try a glass of what they call 'Karlovy Vary's 14th spring'; the liqueur Becherovka, which is produced in the city. A popular local cocktail variant is the Becherovka with tonic water – a so-called 'Be-ton'. It's actually not as heavy as it sounds.
Karlovy Vary is full of spa hotels, and they all have access to the springs. If you want the most James Bond-esque experience, check in on the historical Grand Hotel Pupp, which formed the setting for the movie Casino Royale. Grand Hotel Pupp is also a favorite of Hollywood stars when they are in town for the big film festival - you have no doubt about that when you stay at the hotel.
Karlovy Vary's film festival attracts a lot of people, and it is difficult to find room in the hotels and peace to be on the cure during those days. The film festivities themselves take place in the brutalist 1960s hotel Thermal, which has its own brutal charm and, not least, an excellent view of the city and valley from the spa department at the top. There is also access here for those who do not live at the hotel. It is clearly recommended from here.
Bohemia as a region is not least known for glass production, and Bohemian crystal is famous worldwide. Located in Karlovy Vary the world-famous glass factory Moser, which has a rather interesting guided tour through production and history – and of course you can also buy a unique souvenir to take home.
Roman spa and singing fountain in Mariánské Lázně
Not far from Karlovy Vary is the 'sister city' Mariánské Lázně - formerly Marienbad - which is also on the UNESCO list of spa towns. You should definitely pass by here as well. The city was especially a popular spa and holiday destination for countless celebrities and royalty in the time between the two world wars, before the dark winds of history really blew over the region.
The classic part of the city is laid out along a long park, which makes it ideal for a stroll, and the city is generally very green and inviting. Countless springs spring underground, and Mariánské Lázně is known for its springs to that extent. All over the central part of the city you will find taps and plaques with information about the mineral content of the water from that particular source. There are almost no limits to what water can do. Again, it's worth noting that it can taste quite strong.
Of course, the water is not just for drinking; it is also ideal to bathe in. You get the greatest experience in the Roman baths Hotel Nove Lazne. The decoration has been completed, and there is a guarantee that the heart rate will drop and the joie de vivre will rise. You should help yourself.
If you haven't had enough water, you can appropriately set course for the singing fountain in the middle of the city. The fountain springs to classical music and is a truly relaxing and dreamy experience. The music changes and the program is written on a board next to the fountain, so you know when to be in place.
Mariánské Lázně is easy to get to as there are direct trains from Prague. The town is also connected to Karlovy Vary via a local train, so it is obvious to combine the two spa towns west of Prague on the same trip.
On the way between the two cities, it is obvious to stop in the impressively beautiful medieval town of Loket, which impresses from the first sight. The town is situated on a cliff with steep sides down to a river and is like something out of a movie. In fact, James Bond has also visited here when part of Casino Royale was filmed in Loket. The view from the castle is good, but the best view is actually of the city from a distance, where you can really feel the dramatic location of the city.
A taste of South Bohemia
While the Karlovy Vary region is the spa hotspot of the Czech Republic and Europe, South Bohemia is where you should go to experience medieval fortified towns and castles. And then you must also enjoy a real Budvar beer, which also comes from here.
The capital of South Bohemia is České Budějovice, which in German is called Budweis. For the beer-loving traveler, the German name in particular probably rings a bell, as it is here that the American beer Budweiser has taken its cue. The American beer, however, has nothing to do with the city, but instead you will find here the Czech Republic's own pride, the brewery Budvar. Beer has been brewed in České Budějovice since the 13th century, and they are good at it. A Budvar just tastes better in the hometown - you can try it yourself.
As a city, České Budějovice has everything you need on holiday, and especially the large central square named after King Ottokar II of Bohemia is worth seeking out. Czech cuisine is worth exploring, and you're guaranteed not to go to bed hungry here. Dark or light Czech beer with food is always good, but in addition, don't cheat yourself for the local wine from the neighboring region of Moravia; they actually produce really good wine.
České Budějovice has a sense of youth about it, especially along the banks of the Malše and Moldau rivers, which meet in the city and form the framework for park fun and activities for the many students, families with children and residents in general.
Out in nature, down underground and right into history
When food. beer and wine need to be worked off again, so set course for South Bohemia's hiking and cycling routes. Plug north of České Budějovice starts a walking route which is the only one in the Czech Republic on the list of Europe's best. From the town of Týn nad Vltavou, you can follow the route for 55 kilometers via the historic towns of Bechyně and Tábor to Planá nad Lužnicí. The trip can advantageously be taken in stages, and it is absolutely worth making a stop along the way in, for example, the medieval town of Tábor.
In Tábor you will be greeted by an exciting and often gloomy history, and one of the biggest attractions you will find underground. From the city's town hall, you can go underground and follow the kilometer-long underground passages that connect the entire medieval city, and which were formerly home to widows and homeless citizens, among other things, and which have also been used to seek shelter from enemies. A guided tour underground and back in history is definitely recommended.
Just on the outskirts of České Budějovice, you can become a part of history at the impressive castle Hluboká nad Vltavou in the town of the same name. The castle is one of the most beautiful in the country and in Central Europe, and you really get a good feel for how the noble Schwarzenberg family in particular has lived through the centuries. For history buffs there is plenty to do, and for garden enthusiasts there is also something to find in the beautiful park that surrounds the castle.
On a sunny day in Hluboká, you almost feel ready for a Disney film or a fairy tale by the Brothers Grimm. All that is missing is a princess and perhaps a dangerous dragon to fight.
Český Krumlov – an idyllic corner in South Bohemia
With all the mentioned highlights in the Karlovy Vary region and in South Bohemia, it can be difficult to choose where to go. But we have actually saved the best for last: Český Krumlov.
Český Krumlov is perhaps the most picturesque and charming medieval town you can find. For the same reason, the entire city's old center and the castle are included in UNESCO's World Heritage List. Set aside a few hours to stroll around the old streets and dream back to a time before cars and smartphones, when life was lived in streets and squares and along the banks of the river.
The impressive castle – where you can meet bears in the moat – is the city's landmark and not to be missed as a tourist. One of the best ways to see the city is from the water. Český Krumlov is bordered by the river Vltava, on which you can sail. Either in a kayak, in an inflatable boat or on rafts, which even dock at an inn along the way, so you can have a mug of beer with you on the trip.
Rafting has even just made it onto the UNESCO World Heritage List because it is such an integral part of the local river culture.
The city looks really impressive from the river perspective, and it's a perfect way to sit back with a beer and learn about the history of the city and the area at the same time.
The Czech Republic has a lot more to offer than city break in Prague, and there are many great experiences within an hour or two from the capital. Head west and cool off in the Karlovy Vary region's spas and thermal baths, go on a culinary journey with both floating and fixed menus, and experience the coziness of the charming medieval surroundings of South Bohemia. There is enough to tackle - have a good trip!
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