Set among the rolling green hills of West Bohemia, this little sister of Karlovy Vary was visited by the elite of Europe and beyond. Goethe, Bismarck, Chopin and HRH King Edward II all gave it glowing recommendations and Mark Twain was even tempted to become a hypochondriac here.
But isn’t it better to visit a spa in the summer to take advantage of the hiking, biking and sports opportunities? Well, no. In the first place, one doesn’t visit a spa to rush about sweating. One does so to calmly take the waters, show off one’s wardrobe on the promenade, dress for dinner and, above all else, get pampered, dahling!
In the second place, in summer the “Mariánky” are overrun by foreigners, but in the wintertime we “Czechs” have it to ourselves. Besides, after a snowfall the town turns into a winter wonderland that would make even Rudolph’s nose glow green with envy. Moreover, the dead season between New Year’s and Easter is the best time to get deals on accommodations.
1. Free passes to the Roman Baths
Among those deals are free passes to the Roman baths which come when you book with most hotels. A loll in the whirlpools amidst marble columns and Neo-Renaissance arcades would make Nero himself gurgle with delight. Then, munching on a bunch of chilled grapes, he would waddle over to the sauna or steam baths, or paddle about in one of the three warm (32 degree Celsius) water pools or just sit on the edge, dangling his plump feet in the water, sipping a glass of wine. He might even pull out all the stops with an underwater massage in the original royal cabinet of HRH Edward II.
2. The hotels
If you’re going to splurge, do it in royal fashion, like HRH Edward II, at the Nove Lazne or “New Spa” Hotel. The name is relative, as this grande dame has been queening it over the colonnade since 1903. In addition to 97 rooms furnished in lavish Biedermeier style, the hotel offers a wellness center with an on-site mineral spring and a Mariánky speciality, the dry carbon gas bath. In the afternoon you can take tea in the renowned Viennese Café or play chess, cards or board games in the lobby bar.
If you find the 97 rooms in the Nove Lazne a mite overwhelming, turn the corner to the Villa Patriot. With only 15 rooms, this little classical gem set in the middle of lush gardens guarantees you the personal attention you crave. The hotel’s chic restaurant serves Czech specialties made from farm fresh local produce, paired with the best wines Moravia has to offer.
3. The mud
Mariánky is surrounded by acres and acres of bogs full of top-quality mud. Chock full of minerals, it eases achy joints, boosts circulation, relieves muscular cramps and slows the aging process. You can get a mud pack cure at one of the many spa houses or buy a jar full to take home from the Konopná Apatyka on Hlavní 309. (Note: people with heart problems should opt out, as they increase blood pressure.)
4. The Casino Bellevue
In the evening, why not don a tux and gown and play James Bond and Vesper Lynd in one of Europe’s most beautiful casinos? From the 180-year-old cut crystal chandelier hovering above the marble lobby, to the marble pillars and stuccoed ceilings, the Casino Bellevue is a living tribute to Belle Epoque over-the-topness. The entrance fee, a paltry ten Euros redeemable in chips, is money well spent even if you don’t choose to spend the evening waltzing with Lady Luck. You can sip cocktails in the bar (forgive the regrettable hot pink bar stools) or eat an excellent meal in the casino’s Restaurant Chopin.
5. The Colonnade
While much of the original spa architecture the center of town has been modernized or streamlined to suit modern tastes, the cast iron colonnade remains, a tribute to a time when form was on par with function. Built in 1889, its iron ribs and soaring vaults are reminiscent of the upturned nave of a ship. Underneath it, spa visitors still promenade in fair weather or foul, sipping the waters, munching the yummy Marienbad wafers and listening to string quartets playing tunes from times when life and style were synonymous. Out front, from April to November, you can watch the Singinging Fountain play world famous compositions every odd hour.
6. The ski area
Granted, it’s not the Val d Isere, but with 1.6 kilometers of pistes, a cabin-lift, a bunny slope and children’s ski school, the Skiareal Mariánky on the slopes of the Krakonoska “mountain” is a nice place to ditch the kids for a morning of shopping. Or you can go night skiing and follow it up with drinks at the cozy bar at the bottom of the slope.
7. The sports scene
If you must sweat, do it at the ice stadium, located a few blocks away from Hlavní on Tyršova 621, right across from the Hotel Monty. Or stroll out to the Skalnik Tennis Club, it’s a 15 minute walk from the Singing Fountain on Chopinova 685, officially designated “the most beautiful” in the country when they opened in 1895. In the winter the indoor courts are open from 0900 to 2200. Or, if you want to savor the winter landscape rent some cross country skis at the Yellow Point Ski and Snowboard School at the bottom of the ski lift. There are some beautiful trails in the vicinity of the Villa Patriot or in the nearby Slavkov Forest.
8. Beer and beer baths
Do you love beer so much you could swim in it? A fifteen minute train ride to the village of Chodova Planá, or rather to the Chodovar brewery, will make your dream come true. You can either use their beer to wash down a huge plate of goulash with dumplings in the 11th century cellar restaurant, or you can marinate in it. The friendly staff will run you a tub full of the hot, foamy hops-infused liquid, let you soak while sipping – what else? – a mug full of their 10 percent lager, then bundle you in sheepskins and let you sleep it off in their salt cave.
9. Your health
Pampering aside, Mariánské lázně is a health spa, complete with real doctors and nurses who treat real ailments. In the town itself, there are over 50 springs successfully used to treat disorders of everything ranging from the nerves to the kidneys. They’ll even help you shift a few of those post-Christmas kilos. But take care: not all springs are for everyone. Read the plaques and don’t drink more than 200 ml. Better yet, consult a doctor on the premises. Also note that you might feel worse a few days after you start “taking the waters.” This “Spa Reaction” is actually a good thing: it shows the waters are doing their work.
10. Those cute cups
Those funny flat cups everybody’s sucking on – a purely Czech invention, btw – are a perfect marriage of form and function. The flat shape makes them easy to tuck into a jacket pocket or handbag, the jutting handle prevents you from getting scalded when dipping the cup into the really hot springs and the genial built-in straw in the handle protects both your teeth (the water can damage tooth enamel) and the general public: the part of the cup that touches the mouth never comes in contact with the water.
Have you hit the West Bohemian spa triangle?