How Carlsbad came into existence is the stuff of legend. The story is that Charles IV, King of Bohemia and Holy Roman Emperor – after whom the resort is named – stumbled on its hot springs while on a hunting trip in the area, and was so impressed with their healing power that he ordered a settlement to be built there, granting it the privileges of a royal town in 1370.
Whatever the true story, it is undeniable that Carlsbad has grown up around its thermal waters. Occupying a scenic location in western Bohemia, 130km west of Prague on the confluence of the rivers Ohře and Teplá, it has one of the highest concentrations of mineral springs in the world, with 15 main sources and a far larger number of smaller ones. The fame of these spread slowly over time, but from around the middle of the 18th century the town began to grow rapidly in size and fame, due largely to the endorsement of respected doctors of the day.
Drinking or bathing in the mineral waters was increasingly thought to cure a wide variety of ailments, from metabolic to locomotive complaints, and discerning visitors flocked here to enjoy the restorative properties of these rare natural phenomena. The springs became more and more popular among the well-heeled of Europe – from public figures to the aristocracy – and by the end of the 19th century, Carlsbad was attracting many thousands of visitors each year.
Now, as then, Carlsbad is a must-visit destination for anyone looking for rest and relaxation during a trip to the Czech Republic. The town has modernised, of course. From fine restaurants to high-end boutiques, it offers everything the contemporary traveller could need. Yet it is the sense of history – of a past beautifully preserved and maintained – that gives the city its unique charm, and at the heart of this is the enduring appeal of its mineral springs.
Water of life
The most important of these is the Hot spring, a high-pressure geyser that yields an average of 2,000 litres of mineral water per minute and reaches a height of almost 12 metres. It is currently the only spring in Carlsbad used directly for baths, and its thermal water – which reaches a very high temperature – is also cooled for drinking, as well as being supplied to spa facilities throughout the town. Situated in the very centre of the town, it is housed in a colonnade of glass and reinforced concrete: a very modern setting for a very ancient natural phenomenon.
The famous colonnades of Carlsbad were created to encourage patients to combine their mineral-water treatments with light exercise, and the pedigree of such visitors is reflected in the grandeur of the colonnades, which have become as much of an attraction as the springs themselves. The Mill colonnade, which is the largest, was built in neo-Renaissance style between 1871 and 1881. This stunning sandstone structure, which is decorated with 12 statues representing the months of the year, is home to the Mill spring, the Rusalka spring, the Prince Wenceslas spring, the Libuše spring and the Rock spring. Strikingly different, the Market colonnade – opened in 1883 – is an intricately carved wooden structure designed in the Swiss style. Inside you will find the Charles IV, Lower Castle and Market springs.
Thanks to its healing waters, Carlsbad is home to world-class spas. Visitors should look out for Zámecké Lázně, which is housed in the Castle colonnade, a beautiful art nouveau building dating from the early 20th century. Indulgent and restorative treatments include massages – classical and underwater – soothing baths, electrotherapy, hydrotherapy, oxygen therapy and much more. Visitors are welcome to reserve one-day sessions, though the most health-conscious should be sure to book in advance for one of the residential programmes at its award-winning and luxurious sister establishment, Carlsbad Plaza Medical Spa & Wellness hotel.
Room with a view
Once fully rejuvenated, nothing is more refreshing than a walk, so let yours lead you to the Grandhotel Pupp, from where you can take the funicular railway to the top of the Diana observation tower. Open all year except January, the tower is the perfect place to take in a view you’ll never forget of Carlsbad at its most picturesque, surrounded by lush greenery and filled with postcard-ready buildings old and new.