HIDDEN SECRETS OF EUROPE

CZECH REPUBLIC

KARLOVY VARY

This is a historic Czech spa destination since the 14th century. The healing springs are like gold threads running through a rare tapestry of public fountains. It is hard to resist Karlovy Vary’s carefree spirit and the sense of stately calm on the promenade that runs between the splendid façade of grand houses and richly decorated colonnades. Knowing that Peter the Great, Marie Theresa, Bach, Goethe, Casanova and Beethoven have taken the waters here just adds to the experience.

The most renowned spas are located here and in neighboring Marianske Lazne and Franiskovy Lazne. Karlovy Vary itself has 12 hot healing springs, with their most famous one that gushes up is metres in the air. Ascending a spa trail through woods to a height above the town and seeing it laid out deep beneath you is equally enchanting. You’ll also love discovering its hidden corners, romantic views, elegant spa buildings with their original architecture, and the charm of concerts on the promenade, or the quiet parks lined with benches. What’s more, there are kilometers of marked hiking and biking trails around each spa location. And several golf courses, too.

CELEBRITIES UP CLOSE! The International Film Festival in Karlovy Vary is a highly prestigious one, and come every July, you’ll see the best and most cutting edge film makers and stars strolling around town, and walking the red carpet.

NEARBY: BECOV CASTLE: On the banks of a the Tepla River, in the midst of the romantic Slavkovsky Forest, you’ll find the picturesque little town of Becov nad Teplou. There, in a chateau of the same name, lies a gem that experts consider the second greatest treasure in the Czech Republic, right after the crown jewels—the St Maurus reliquary. The reliquary comes with an unusual history and an exciting detective story. It’s worth the detour and you won’t regret it.

MARIANSKE LAZNE

In August, you can enjoy classical music concerts at the international festival honoring the genius Polish composer and pianist Chopin. You’ll find out more about his life and his relationship to this region at his monument at the Chopin House.

BEER IN PLZEN

Plzen’s location between Prague and the country’s western border provided for rapid economic growth of the region. But Plzen is also associated with rich cultural events including a fantastic puppet festival and the great Pilsner Fest. The city’s own Plzensky Prazdroj (Pilsner Urquell) is without exaggeration a world-renowned beer with a secret recipe. Here you can experience the story of beer right from the Middle Ages to how it’s brewed today.

Underneath the Brewery Museum lies a whole maze of city streets—in some places up to three levels deep. While there isn’t so much to see down there, they’ve done a great job adding miscellaneous bits and pieces of history throughout the walk. And the best part? They’ve got a free app (for both iOS and Android) that allows you to follow along while your guide addresses the group in Czech! It’s well narrated and offers a great glimpse into the city’s history, both above and below the streets. Not far from Plezn is Zatec, where there’s actually a beer temple that rises from its famous green-gold fields of hops. Be sure to book ahead as tours fill up fast and if you want to take pictures, you’ll need to get a photography pass, available where you buy tickets (cost: 100 Czech Crowns).

Kutna Hora

Kutna Hora, a silver town, deserves the second title ‘the country’s treasure chest’: Its silver mining wealth helped the Czech kingdom to flourish.

Its mysteries include cathedrals, monasteries, noblemen’s houses, clandestine corners, vaulted cellars and gems of Gothic and Baroque architecture, urban planning and sculpture. In the Middle Ages, silver was mined there, coins were minted, trade blossomed and it was even the seat of Czech kings.

Standing beneath the arches of the Church of St Barbara, one of the most beautiful Gothic cathedrals in Europe, is an awe-inspiring experience. You can also stroll through the courtyard and chambers of the Italian Court, once the palace of King Wenceslas IV, or descend with bated breath into the ossuary of a Cistercian monastery, taking in with a mixture of awe and unease its altars, coats of arms, chandeliers, pyramids, and obelisks made from the bones of plague victims. Another attraction is the unique Gothic Stone House, where you can become a medieval craftsman or cook for a while.

On the museum tour you will pass—equipped only with a lamp, helmet and miner’s tunic—through the 250-metre tunnel of a medieval mine.

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