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The Healing Waters of Karlovy Vary

Mill Colonnade

It has long been said that drinking the waters from the hot springs of youth will bring life and vigor back to your bones, curing all sorts of ailments. As such, Karlovy Vary has been a popular destination and spa town for past several centuries, with nobility, politicians, and other people of influence and fame coming to partake in its healing waters. We visited the city of Karlovy Vary on Emily’s eighteenth birthday and our second day in the Czech Republic during our November 2021 trip. It was a place that I had been curious to see, not so much for its supposed healing waters, but more for the exploratory value of this hotbed of geothermal activity and the beauty of the woods above it.

Karlovy Vary was established back in the 14th century and was named after King Charles IV. The town is called Karlsbad in German, and actually has as one of its sister cities our very own Carlsbad, California. There are 13 hot springs that can be visited by walking through the intricate colonnades, however there are many more that are not as accessible, as well as the warm-flowing Teplá River that flows through town.

The Tepla River

We arrived in Karlovy Vary at about 9 am after a two-hour RegioJet bus ride from Prague, which is about 75 miles east. We hopped off and made our way to the main part of town, stopping at McDonalds for some breakfast and WiFi to orient ourselves with the city. Karlovy Vary proved to be relatively easy to navigate, and after about a half-mile walk, we found the Mill Colonnade toward the center of town. The Mill Colonnade is the largest of the spa houses. It covers five of the accessible hot springs and is huge, built in a Renaissance style with Corinthian columns and intricate detailing. Like many, we walked up and put our hands in the water. It was indeed hot, and felt good on my hands on a very chilly day.

We continued our trek up the main street and visited the Swiss-styled Market Colonnade as well as the modern build Hot Spring Colonnade. I did not realize that the glass and reinforced concrete structure was actually a colonnade housing a hot spring. Inside the pavilion is a geyser that has the ability to shoot hot water up to 12 meters high. The structures are located right by the Teplá River, and there is a large fountain with hot spring water feeding it that Sami expressed wanting to splash in. Up until she realized that she would have to get out into the freezing cold of the Czech winter air.

We stopped for lunch at the Old Carlsbad Grill and did some shopping at Manufaktura before heading up to the funicular train to the Diana Observation Tower and Svatý Linhart, which will be the subject of the next post. It is very cold in the Czech Republic in November, and my hands were taking a beating with the chilled air, so I needed some new lotions to help protect them. Of course we couldn’t leave the store with just one thing; the girls had to do some shopping of their own. After that detour, we headed up over the luxurious and historic Grandhotel Pupp and to the forests above Karlovy Vary. Returning back to the main part of town and its hot springs, one of the most memorable parts of the trip to Karlovy Vary was trying the water. Like many tourists of a more matured age, we purchased from one of the local vendors two porcelain straw-handled spa cups in order to try the water. After filling one of our cups with some steaming water from one of the springs within the Mill Colonnade, we all took turns tasting the water:

Emily tries the waters of Karlovy Vary for the first- and probably last- time.

This was no wine-tasting in Napa. The experience gave me a new take on the phrase ‘mineral water.’ Like Emily stated in the video, drinking from the hot spring was like sipping on rusty dirt. It was not pleasant, and certainly not what I expected. I had assumed that because of the water’s temperature that there would be a higher quantity of dissolved minerals as well as mineral salts than in say, our cool San Gabriel Mountain spring water, but nothing prepared me for how strong the ferrous flavor actually was. And the kicker for us was that there were a number of folks standing around sipping from their spa cups like the water was coffee or a fine tea. I think there’s something I’m definitely missing in this fountain of youth thing. If drinking earthy, hot spring water is what’s necessary to hang onto youth, I prefer to keep aging myself with coffee and wine if it’s all the same, thank you.

At any rate, young or more acquainted with years, it was a fun experience together as a family, and we got a good laugh out of each other’s reactions. After all, what keeps us most young, and at the same time most wise, are those experiences with family and good friends. So whether it’s with a glass of merlot, a cup of coffee, or a pitcher of rusty-tasting Karlovy Vary hot spring water, here’s to adventures meant to be shared!

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