Bathe where Edward VII once revitalised himself, with a visit to the spa town of Marianske Lazne in the Czech Republic
George Washington never slept in Marienbad but England’s Edward VII had that pleasure several times. He bathed there as well. And you can too, in the very same bath.
Kings and springs
Edward (1841-1910) was born in the Victorian era, son of the very woman who gave her name to that period renowned for prudishness and repression. Edward fell far from the tree. Never one to repress a desire, he indulged himself to excess with wine, women, food and alcohol. His body paid the price and, after he became king, he made annual visits to Marianske Lazne – to use its current Czech name - seeking relief in its curative mineral waters.
Health tourism today involves the general public looking for bargain operations and dental treatment. In Edward’s era, and throughout most of the 20th century, spa visits were limited mostly to the wealthy. Marianske Lazne’s guest book includes heads of state such as the Russian Czar Peter and Austro-Hungarian Emperor Franz Joseph I. Celebrity guests include American humorist Mark Twain, German writer Goethe, and the composers Frederic Chopin, Richard Wagner and Johann Strauss.
Notwithstanding their king’s example, relatively few British people followed his lead, but many American socialites made sure to be seen here during the season, attracted by the publicity and cachet engendered by Edward VII’s visits.
Located about 100 miles east of Prague, near the German border, this stunning neo-Classical town evolved from a single modest healing bungalow built to exploit the local mineral springs. The name Marianske Lazne – Mary’s Bath - derives from its founder, the abbot of a local monastery, who was paying homage to the Virgin Mary. The famed Czech resort celebrated its 200th birthday in 2008.
Marianske Lazne today is a city of nearly 15,000, its health spas still the main attraction. But there is plenty to do and see in the town itself and the surrounding countryside. Massages and beauty, fitness and relaxation therapy are on the menu along with medicinal treatments. And if you overindulge in the many restaurants and cafes, the spa treatments can help you burn off those extra calories.
Where does it hurt?
Marianske Lazne has dozens of springs in its immediate vicinity, and more than a hundred in the surrounding mountains. The springs vary both in the kinds of minerals they contain, and in their concentrations. These differences enable specific treatments for a wide spectrum of ailments.
The Caroline Spring – one of a handful of major springs in Marienbad itself – has plenty of magnesium and is used to treat kidney stones and other urological disorders. Troublesome digestive tract? Water from the Cross Spring is loaded with sulphates and carbon dioxide and is used to treat obesity, gout, diabetes and other abdominal ailments. Peat mud baths use locally sourced peat that is heated, then stored for a period of time to allow it to naturally oxidise. It is then mixed with mineral water and heated. Peat mud is made into wraps and used to treat sterility and other gynaecological problems.
Many hotels similarly have their own specialities. The Hotel Nove Lazne, for instance, focuses on the kidney, urinary tract and prostate gland. Many forms of treatment are familiar: swimming, relaxation baths, massages, saunas, aromatherapy, steam baths and fitness exercises. Visitors can book a bath-relaxation-massage treatment in the actual bath used by Edward VII in the Hotel Nove Lazne.
Some treatments have a unique Marienbad touch: special porcelain cups have handles that double as straws, enabling you to drink sulphurous mineral water without having to smell it. Even more unusual is a gas treatment in which the patient crawls into a large plastic bag that looks and feels like - and likely is - an ordinary rubbish bag. An attendant ties the bag around your body to prevent leakage, and mineral-spring gas is pumped into the bag and – via osmosis - into you.
I didn’t have the pleasure of the rubbish bag treatment, nor – being neither pregnant nor a sufferer of gout, infertility or sexual dysfunction – did I avail myself of the myriad forms of treatment available. But simple massages and mineral baths did me more good than harm. I can’t say that the many pastries and other calorie-rich comestibles too readily available in the town’s many alluring cafes helped the cause of my good health much. But fitness is also part of the offering of Marianske Lazne, and tennis and other activities came to the rescue.
Other nourishment for mind, body and spirit
Treatments range from short term – a few days – up to a stay of three to four weeks for more intensive therapy. In either instance, medical treatment is likely to last no more than an hour or two per day. That leaves a lot of free time. Fortunately, there is plenty to do and see in Marianske Lazne, which has a rich medical as well as architectural history.
There are walking tours in the town itself, and hiking and bicycling trails in the nearby forest, along with golf, tennis and horse riding and – in winter – skiing and cross-country skiing. The concert hall in Marianske Lazne also hosts frequent classical performances.
Several interesting attractions are nearby. At the huge Chodovar brewery, you can drink their beer, or bathe in it - this being Bohemia, for health reasons, of course. It also features a restaurant in a cave. Other picturesque if more traditional nearby attractions include the Kladska nature reserve, the Baroque Kynžvart Chateau, which was rebuilt by Austrian Chancellor Prince Metternich, and the 12th-century Tepla Monastery.
Where to stay
Hotel Nove Lazne: centrally located near the Colonnade and the parks, and location of Edward VII’s Royal Cabin.
Hotel Centralni Lazne: also centrally located but cheaper than the Nove Lazne.
Hotel Grandhotel Pacifik: located on the high street and convenient for cafes, shops and bars.
Hotel Villa Butterfly: in the centre of town, and home to La Fontaine restaurant, which serves international and Czech cuisine; diners are quietly serenaded by a harp player.
Where to eat
Chodovar Restaurant: a large restaurant located in a cave and serving locally sourced game and other food.