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Czech Spas: Looking For The 'Elixir Of Life' In Bohemia

To spa or not to spa, that is the question. Now, Ludwig van Beethoven and Marie Curie might not automatically spring to mind as spa goers. Born almost 100 years apart, one of the most recognised and influential of all composers and the double Nobel Prize winner frequented spa towns in what is now modern day Czech Republic, though for very different reasons.

In the Czech Republic at Jáchymov, which until 1945 was known by its German name of Sankt Joachimsthal or Joachimsthal (meaning Saint Joachim's Valley') and a spa town in the Karlovy Vary region of western Bohemia close to the German border, is where Marie Curie discovered the element radium in 1898 in tons of pitchblende, a radioactive, uranium-rich mineral and ore, containing uraninite.

At the impressive 5-star Savoy Westend Hotel (see: https://savoywestend.cz), the only accredited hotel in the town by the Ministry of Health of the Czech Republic, one can swim in their 25m pool and partake in shiatsu and other treatments.

It was for the radon discovery with her husband Pierre that Madame Curie (Skłodowska) won the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1911. They were certainly looking for something special in the waters at Jáchymov (see: www.czechtourism.com/t/jachymov/). As it turned out it was radioactive - and remains so even today. But elixir of life? Humans have been seeking the elixir of life since time immemorial. Yet, what is it one might ask?

Jan Štěrba, a senior consultant at the Beethoven Spa House and medical supervisor at the THERMALIUM facility at Spa Teplice (see: www.lazneteplice.cz/) some 80km north of Prague, commenting said: "Since ancient times everyone has sought something that will keep a person in excellent health, beautiful and successful." This is not a swimming pool, but a new therapeutic bath (450 m2) and opened on 5 December 2018, where it is claimed nothing is as important as the cuperative element.

He added: “I don’t need the philosopher’s stone to realize over the years what Teplice water is capable of. And, I consider the THERMALIUM and its natural spring to be the elixir of life.” The waters here from the ancient spring, rises in shaft dug below the Beethoven Spa House to a depth of 51 metres. The spring itself rise around 1 kilometre below the surface of the earth.

Here the curative waters have gushed since 1583, But the legend of the Teplice springs is recorded as far back as 762 AD (making it the probably the oldest spa in Czech Republic), has it that a herdsboy released a piglet from the hot spring and stream from crack in the land. After he had washed his hand several times in these water "his painful joint was healed." From that point on it was called the Ancient Spring. Today, services at Teplice are provided in three spa houses: Imperial Spa, Spa House Beethoven and Stone Spa.

The first radon spa in the world was founded at Jáchymov in 1906, joining the famous spas of the region in the so-called ‘Spa Triangle’ of western Bohemia, which include Karlsbad, Franzenbad and Mariánské Lázně (Marienbad), from which the French-Italian film of 1961, 'L'Année dernière à Marienbad' (''Last Year at Marienbad') was based on. The film, which won the Golden Lion at the 1961 Venice Film Festival, is set in a palace in a park that has been converted into a luxury hotel.

Marienbad saw celebrities during its 'Golden Era' in and from the second half of the 19th century including Mark Twain, Goethe, Frédéric Chopin, Alfred Nobel, Winston Churchill and King Edward VII enjoy the curative carbon dioxide springs. The British king took his annual holidays here and there is a 'Royal' golf to be found. It is the only one in the whole of the Czech Republic with such designation.

Until World War One the Jáchymov valley was the foremost source of radium in the world. Some have even suggested that had the Czechs controlled the output of uranium in the mines in the hills around Jáchymov - rather than the Soviets after 1945 - the nation could have potentially been as rich as Switzerland.

Beethoven, on other hand, travelled to Lázně Teplice in northern Bohemia in the early 1800's. And, it was here on 23 July 1812 that the only meeting of two giants of European culture - Beethoven and Goethe - took place. At the intersection of two spa malls in the Teplice Chateau Garden they met Empress Maria Ludovika.

In a letter to a friend a few years after both artists died, Bettina von Arnim, the lioness of the salons in early 19th century, cited what Beethoven had told her about this incident: “Yesterday on the way home we met the whole Imperial family. Goethe slipped away from me, and stood on one side. I could not induce him to advance another step, so I pushed my hat on my head, buttoned up my overcoat, and went, arms folded, into the thickest of the crowd while Goethe stood at the side, deeply bowing.”

Beethoven's proudness and Goethe's servility caused estrangement between them and renunciation of an already agreed cooperation. This, it is said, was why the 'Ode to Joy' lyrics were written by Schiller.

Today there are around 30 spa towns and resorts spread across the Czech Republic, which offer remedies for relaxation and recuperation to deep intensive treatments for those with severe medical ailments and injuries. Of course, it would be exhaustive to go into detail about each of these spa resorts. So I've confined myself to mentioning a few key highlights besides 'The Spa Triangle' on the western side of the country.

Karlova Studánka, a mountain spa in the Moravian-Silesian region in north-east of the country, was popular for its quality with Václav Havel, the playwright, dissident and President of the country. Having paid a visit myself a few years ago, you will notice that that all the springs have a high proportion of carbon dioxide through peat bogs.

In this, the second smallest town in Czech Republic (see: www.czechtourism.com/t/karlova-studanka/) and a stones throw from the Jeseniky mountains along the Polish border, it is possible to taste and draw water from the healing springs in the Drinking Pavilion where the Wilhelm spring is located, or in the house of Libuše. But if you were thinking of taking a few bottles home, be careful as the tops could blow off from the pressure of the water, we were reliably told by our guide.

Of Teplice Spa resort, Petr Sedláček, the architect and creator of the THERMALIUM said: "There are not many sectors like the spa industry that love architecture as much. I simply tried to design real baths, in order to suitably complement something that has been working for centuries." The concept itself - THERMALIUM - is not only new in the spa world but in the architecture dictionary too.

Despite the fact that there are many sources of water and thermal spring all over the world, it is claimed that there is "no location comparable" to Teplice - not even in the Czech basin, an area which is unusually rich in natiural resources. In particular, this spa resort is considered one of the leaders in the treatment of musculoskeletal and nervous system diseases. Indeed, the doctors here even claim a positive change in the state of health of 96.1% of spa guests. But besides treating adults, the resort is also considered a world leader in treating children.

Yveta Slišková, Sales Director at Lázně Teplice, speaking at a 'Regional Gateway 2019' roadshow organised by Czech Tourism at the Czech Embassy this October in London, said: "Today we receive visitors from around sixty countries to our spa town. However, we would like to extend our offer to the United Kingdom and people from Britain." The typical per night cost that includes several spa treatments can be around the €90-€100 mark, but all depends on the specific package and hotel chosen. The capacity of hotel accomodation comprises 679 beds across 4*, 3* and affiliated accommodation facilities.

Her colleague, Radek Popovič, Chairman of the Board of Lázně Teplice v Čechách a.s., also on hand in the British capital, remarked: "I hope that even people who have never been to a THERMALIUM will decide to visit and see how relaxing the healing spring is for the mind and body."

PREMIANT City Tour (www.premiant.cz), based in Prague that has been offering tours in and outside the capital since 1992, is currently the only travel agency providing guided trips to Teplice Spa. Their day tour from Prague to the spa resort with an expert guide costs €35.60 per person (adults/students up to 26) and can be conducted in seven languages - Czech, English, French, German, Italian, Russian, and Spanish. A free boat trip is even thrown in for the price as a gift. The meeting point for this tour is at Na Příkopě 23, Praha 1.

For more info on spas and wellness in the Czech Republic see: https://www.czechtourism.com/health-spa/

About the author: Roger Aitken is a freelance writer for various titles and has contributed to Forbes (www.forbes.com/sites/rogeraitken). For a number of years he worked at the FT as a staff writer. He has been awarded a State Street Institutional (UK) press prize for covering regulatory issues in financial markets.

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