I feel as if I’m in some paradise of innocence and spontaneity,” wrote Goethe, who spent sixteen summers in Karlovy Vary, more commonly known abroad by its German name, Carlsbad. That Beethoven, Brahms,
Bach, Liszt, and many others all found inspiration during frequent visits to this spa town speaks volumes.
Thanks to the Czech Republic’s geological fault lines, there are more than thirty spa towns in the area still in operation. Carlsbad is the largest and most renowned. Only its centuries-old competitor Marianske Lazne (Marienbad) comes close to rivaling its fame. For more than 400 years, the world’s rich and famous have come to “take the waters” of Carlsbad’s twelve natural thermal springs, which range from 76 to 161 degrees Fahrenheit. (The “thirteenth spring” is Becherovka, a well-known locally produced herb-and-mineral liqueur, also said to be curative.) Situated in a beautiful and wooded valley, Carlsbad retains an elegant, important air, dominated by handsome 19th-century architecture.
Dating from 1701, the starred Grand Hotel Pupp was once one of Europe’s most famous hotels, with countless celebrities, including Goethe, Paganini, and Freud, filling its guest register. Use this as your regal base, and drive forty-five minutes south to the smaller, quieter Marienbad, whose thirty-some mineral springs were the favorite choice of Kafka, Chopin, and England’s King Edward VII. Given its rather lazy ambience, the fact that the town boasts a top-ranked golf course (the country’s finest) may come as something of a surprise. For the curious with time and wheels, the third and smallest of the local trio of well-known spa towns is Frantiskovy Lazne (Franzenbad),almost at the German border.