Can't-miss Czech Experiences, Part 1

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

It seems every cobblestone in the Czech Republic leads you to a new way to spark the senses, from the aroma of roasting pork knuckle in a forested village to glittery Art Nouveau cafes crowning Prague’s historical center. The country is all at once rooted in Slavic tradition yet brimming with artistic and civic innovations.

Yes, the tales of perfect and plentiful cheap Czech beer do ring true, but this central European gem is so much more than that. Imagine soaking in spas, sleeping in castles and hiking to a subterranean river.

1. Soak in Bohemian Spas
Spa colonnades in Karlovy Vary
The warm, mineral-rich groundwater of West Bohemia has been renowned for its relaxing and restorative prowess for centuries; Beethoven, Goethe and Casanova were all devotees.  Three Czech towns – Karlovy Vary, Mariánské Lázně and Františkovy Lázně – form an opulent “spa triangle”, and treatments can be found for a steal compared to Western prices.
Aside from the curative elements of a visit, the cake frosting-esque colonnades and frescoes bedecking these spa centers are pure eye candy. In Karlovy Vary, purchase a porcelain cup and follow the locals around to decorative fountains for swigs of spring water, or visit Moser glassworks or the factory that produces the Czech herbal liqueur Becherovka. And then go for another massage.
For another, more “hoppy” wellness option, head 10km south of Mariánské Lázně for a proper spa experience in a bath of – you guessed it – Czech beer. Connect with the Chodovar Brewery for more information.

2. Roam ‘round  Adršpach -Teplice rock cities
Let's rock!
Along the Czech-Polish border, cities of rock rise from the Earth, ready to charm and cradle visitors eager to see their peaks and crags. It’s the stuff of Czech fairytales – sandstone formations named things like “mouse hole,” “sugar loaf,” and “elephant square” – and they're utterly enchanting. Within the Adršpach -Teplicerock region, one can find waterfalls, a turquoise lake with local boat rides and cozy pubs to quench explorers’ thirst.
Interestingly, the area is home to one of Europe’s largest breeding sites for the Peregrine Falcon, which is protected by federal law. You’ll also most likely see rock climbers and jumpers. Stay the night in Trutnov and take a train to the rocks early in the morning so you and the falcons can have them all to yourselves. Walking trails vary from easy to more arduous; e-mail for more information on specific routes.

3. Go “houby hunting”
Dezidor / Wikimedia Commons
Forget beer – Czechs and mushrooms (houby) go hand-in-hand. Wild mushroom foraging May through October is a national hobby that not only gets people out into fresh air but also provides a bit of earthy nature on the dinner table. Ample areas around Prague include the Kunratice Forest and Obora Hvězda, though weather conditions and numbers of pickers can dictate where the ‘shrooms are most prolific. The best rule of thumb for anywhere in the country is to head into woodsy areas that get decent sun the day after a good rain. But beware! Poisonous varieties do exist, and it's imperative that one consults a field guide and/or knowledgeable local. Consult the Czech Mycological Society for assistance and check out this Prague TV guide for photos. If you’d like to access a tour guide, consider Prague Off the Map’s alternative tours. Don't forget a sharp knife, a clean basket and a big appetite.

4. Behold the bones (and more)
A bony coat of arms
While spending time with skeletons may not sound seductive, the “bone church” in Sedlec, near Kutná Hora, really is a sight to behold. Bedecked in the bones of tens of thousands of plague and war victims, the Gothic church and its basement ossuary are fetching in a macabre sort of way. Fibulas, ribs, skulls and even malleus (those are ear bones) form ornate pyramids, chandeliers and even a coat of arms.
The adjoining church was built on its spot thanks to a Cistercian abbot who sprinkled dirt from the Holy Land there. When the plague hit in the mid-14th century, it became a highly sought-after burial place. Around 1511, a half-blind monk exhumed skeletons and stacked the bones, and in 1870, a local woodcarver was employed to put them in order; he arranged them into the elaborate designs you can see today.
The town of Kutná Hora has more to offer, as well; the stunning St. Barbara Cathedral, a lovely historic center, and a medieval silver mine make for a perfect day excursion outside of Prague. Tour companies offer trips, but it’s cheaper and quite easy to go by train yourself.

5. Catch some Zs in a Czech castle
Chateau Hruba Skala by Marzper / Wikimedia Commons
Castles and chateaus aren't just for princesses. Slip into royal slumber after eating, drinking and being merry in one of many stately structures around the country. Suggestions? At Chateau Herálec, unwind above a 17th century orangery.  Snooze elegantly on a 14th century foundation in the Chateau Hrubá Skála. At Štiřín Castle, check out the chapel's Baroque alter festooned with Venetian mirrors. And for a more Spartan experience, the Cejkovice Chateau has basic rooms from the era of the Knights Templar, in the Czech Republic’s wine region. A bit of online research will turn up myriad options.

Travel Tuesday

This post is part of the Travel Tuesday linkup, hosted by Bonnie Rose and friends!


  1. I'm so into Prague right now, this isn't helping at all! Great list!

    1. Hey thanks, Polly! I'll post Part 2 in a couple of days. I like playing guidebook on this Travel Tuesday thing :)

  2. I've heard so much about those spa towns! I don't feel "old enough" to visit but I'm sure they're beautiful! Thanks for sharing!

    1. Cheers, Van! All ages welcome :) They're really reasonable compared with any spa I ever saw in the U.S., especially the "Laznes."

  3. Wow, the bone church looks interesting! Something different from the usual European churches

    1. Hi Sammy! Yeah, it's a sight to behold. Not very big, but definitely worth the trip from Prague. One of the oddest things I've seen as a traveler...

  4. I'd love to travel around the Czech Republic!

    1. Do it Do it Do it! It's a truly beautiful country with loads of quaint little spots :)

  5. That's so cool! I didn't know about most of those things and now I feel a need to experience them all! That bone church looks so weird and amazing! I mean not sure how I would feel having it in front of me, but I just find it fascinating though! And would love to stay at a Czech castle, that yellow terrace looks exquisite! :)

    1. Yeah, I was a bit timid about the bones, too, but they look more artistic than macabre. Yes to sleeping in castles! :)


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