Wellness spas have long been a Central European tradition, and their usage can be traced back to the medieval, and perhaps even Roman era, when health-seekers traveled to bubbling springs in search of cures for any number of ailments. Today, many of the region’s top resorts are reinventing their spa services to attract overworked, modern spa-goers who seek relaxation, pampering, and, above all, stress reduction. There’s no better time than winter to treat your mind and body to a weekend of rejuvenation, and numerous spas are now offering special deals to bring in guests during the slow, snowy months. Whether you plan your spa session as part of a ski trip, tour of the Christmas markets, or simply as a post-holiday breather, we’ve selected a handful of destinations in the Czech Republic and beyond that promise luxurious relaxation in a storybook setting.
In the Czech Republic
The Augustine Hotel
Prague is a windfall for superlative hotel spas. One of the relatively new and notable entries on the city’s spa circuit is the Augustine Hotel in Prague’s picturesque Malá Strana district. With luxurious treatments inspired by ancient recipes from unlikely beauty gurus—the Augustinian order of monks—it doesn’t get much more relaxing than a day or two spent in the hotel’s ecclesiastical splendor. The St. Thomas Beer Body Forming treatment employs organic St. Thomas beer, brewed at a nearby monastery, and finely ground hops to exfoliate and nourish skin. A host of additional treatments, such as the White Chocolate and Rose Peel, are a bit more sinful but no less rejuvenating. Guests will also want to unwind in the Finnish sauna and steam room with color and aromatherapy or on the Hammam massage table. Choose from a variety of holiday- and winter-themed packages that include drinks and Czech-style tapas at Thomas’s Brewery Bar and deep discounts at the spa and sauna.
The Czech-Moravian highlands are home to the village of Počátky and its ancient St. Kateřina spring, from which flow medicinal waters used as a curative since the 16th century. The Svatá Kateřina spa, 100 km east of Prague, has existed on the village’s outskirts in its current incarnation since the mid-19th century. Recently renamed the Svatá Kateřina Resort, its streamlined, contemporary rooms and collection of fine dining establishments are a draw, with many of the resort’s interiors affording views of the legendary spring and Baroque church of Počátky. On-site yoga and pilates classes, as well as special weight-loss weekends, adhere to the spa’s original wellness mission, but the offerings have certainly changed with the times. Now, one can explore a range of luxurious spa refreshers from lemongrass and rosemary baths to honey massages. A special Christmas relaxation package includes a three-day stay with meals in the resort’s sleek VODA restaurant, while discounts on seasonal spa treatments (choose from Christmas chocolate or Christmas aromatherapy massage) and horse-drawn sleigh rides promise to put you in the spirit.
Located at the edge of the St. George forest, just outside the postcard-perfect village of Mcely, the 17th-century Chateau Mcely, once a hunting lodge for Thurn-Taxis nobles, boasts an elegantly manicured English garden and award-winning restaurant, Piano Nobile. But the self-proclaimed “eco-chic” chateau has primarily made a name for itself as a premiere organic spa destination. Escape to the Bohemian countryside at one of Chateau Mcely’s calming spa suites—dubbed Silk, Honey, and Pearl to denote their specialities—for green treatments that make use of herbs grown on the chateau’s grounds. A variety of seasonal packages makes it possible for the whole family to enjoy a little winter r&r, with nanny-supervised tree trimming and caroling for children, and grown-up delights such as gourmet dinners and spa sessions for parents. Indulge in aromatherapeutic massages and wraps with essential oils blended in the Chateau Mcely laboratory using ancient Bohemian alchemical techniques. Just 60 km from Prague.
Dvořák Spa Hotel
Historically, people have flocked to Karlovy Vary, 100 km outside of Prague, to take the waters of the city’s renowned mineral springs. Today’s crowds come out each July in well-heeled droves for the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival, the biggest of its kind in Central Europe. Visit now to avoid the heat and relentless crowds of the festival circuit while taking advantage of lower rates for accommodation and spa treatments, as well as the festive winter balls and gala performances that are tradition here. The Dvořák Spa Hotel is one spa that’s offering package deals for wintertime guests. Nestled on the Tepla, nearby the city’s famed colonnades, the Dvořák’s Christmas Days package features a three-night stay plus Christmas dinner, concerts, and, of course, pampering spa treatments that run the gamut from healing to full-on luxurious. Visit the in-house hair salon and beauty and cosmetics expert for a holiday makeover or simply lounge around the indoor pool, sauna or steam bath.
Outside the Czech Republic
Sheraton Bratislava Shine Spa
If you haven’t yet visited Bratislava, resolve to do so this holiday season. This often-overlooked Slovakian city on the Danube has undergone a renaissance in recent years with a clutch of trendy shops and eateries dominating its rejuvenated city center. This time of year, the Christmas markets on Františkánske námestie beckon with traditional handicrafts and the promise of goose-liver-filled potato lokše. Tie in your travels with a spa splurge at the Sheraton Bratislava’s Shine Spa in the heart of central Bratislava. Whether you opt for a day-spa treatment or choose to spend an indulgent weekend at the hotel, your anguished winter skin will thank you for Shine Face, a 24-hour deep “hydramemory” treatment, the spa’s “aromasoul” massage, or a complete Spa Sampler package. The Sheraton’s Christmas package, complete with dinner at Brasserie Anjou and Christmas cookies in your room, can be upgraded to include Shine Spa treatments for men, women, or couples.
Salzburg, Austria’s majestic second city, appeals during the winter months with its advent markets and picturesque mountain backdrop. It’s also a nice starting point for a restorative weekend getaway; just 90 km from Salzburg in Bad Hofgastein, accessible via train or car, awaits Alpentherme Gastein an impressive thermal resort comprised of various “worlds” (Relax World, Ladies World, Family World, Gusto World, etc.). Spread over 32,000 sq. meters with panoramic mountain views, a sauna replete with mountain lake, a spa and wellness center, and a glassed-in sky bar, it’s a tranquil haven amid stunning natural surrounds. Try the traditional Austrian brine grotto or the Swiss Stone sauna, crafted from the wood of the same name that’s said to release a number of essential oils. Other unique treatments include Champagne facials, beer skincare baths, and special body wraps called “Softpacks” that soften with goat’s butter or milk and oil. Reasonable deals for Christmas and throughout the winter months generally include a two-night stay plus access to the spa and wellness center and vouchers for the beauty “residence”.
Spa vacationing in Hungary stretches back to Roman times. The country’s rich mineral springs make it a must on the circuit of Central Europe’s baths. While the traditional baths in Budapest have much to recommend them, those who seek a restful break in the countryside will find Hertelendy Kastély, about 130 km outside the capital, well-suited to the task. (It’s also worth noting that if you book a three-night stay, transport via mini-bus is available from Vienna and Budapest.) Here you can undergo nourishing spa procedures that range from facials to massages based on tropics-inspired St. Barthes products or try the original Finnish Kelo sauna imported from the Lapland that is one-of-a-kind in Hungary. The restaurant here consistently ranks in the top-20 in the country and the hotel offers not only spa packages but gastronomy-focused weekends, too. Specials are available leading up to the new year.
Gräflicher Park Hotel & Spa
Located 150 km from Hanover, Germany, this Bad Driburg spa is a bit of a jaunt, but for serious spa-goers well worth the trip. An historic spa known for healing the aristocracy for over 200 years, Gräflicher Park Hotel & Spa features pristine English landscaping, recently renovated rooms and a number of elegant dining options, including a stable transformed into a rustic restaurant. Treatments in the newly designed lavish spa area draw on the area’s rich mineral sources and mudpacks cut from the bogs of its own moor. Luxury spa suites allow for more intimate couple’s treatments and, as a finishing touch, facials and body wraps using exclusive Clarins products. A current “Winter Wonderland” package gives guests full access to the garden spa with heated outdoor pool, sauna, and a cozy, fireplace-warmed relaxation room, and includes dinners and holiday punch.
Those are our tips. Where do you go for winter rest & relaxation?