Also known as “Carlsbad,” this Czech town is situated about two hours west of Prague, on the way to the German border. It’s most famous for its hundreds of hot springs, which in turn have made it a spa town– as a result, plenty of tourists from Germany, Russia, and the Czech Republic flock to Karlovy Vary for a rejuvenating, fancy getaway.
I’d first heard about Karlovy Vary from the film Last Holiday (the 2006 remake with Queen Latifah). The film was actually shot in the spa town, and I fell in love with the gorgeous scenery with the snowy hills and opulent architecture. The Grandhotel Pupp was a marvel to look at, and since then, I was keen on going to Karlovy Vary when I had the chance.
That said, it was convenient that I was in Prague this January– there were Flixbus journeys for cheap (about 5,50€ one way), so I booked them before hopping on the 8:30 bus over. Two hours later, I arrived at the Karlovy Vary bus station; from there headed over to the town center, which was about 20 minutes on foot.
Along the way, I made a few stops at notable landmarks– besides its hot springs, Karlovy Vary is also known for its colonnades, which are a series of columns supporting a roof. While it doesn’t sound particularly interesting, in fact, the architecture is quite impressive with different designs both inside and outside.
Right before visiting them, I made a stop at the Saint Peter and Paul Cathedral, a Russian Orthodox church with colorful onion domes. Although quite small, it was still lovely to look at– plus, going inside was a way to get warm, as it was snowing that day.
First colonnade I visited was the Park Colonnade, which contains the remnants of the former concert and restaurant hall called Blanenský Pavilion. Created by Viennese architects, the colonnade put cast-iron to good use, resulting in a long, grand walkway to stroll under. The Snake Spring was placed under the colonnade in 2001, and it offers fresh hot spring water that can actually be drunk right there! I got some for the road, and it was surprisingly warm– certainly helped to beat away the chilly weather!
I made it into the town center where I paused to purchase a souvenir from one of the touristy stands. Considering that the hot spring water is drinkable, the people of Karlovy Vary have created a hot spring cup to take and drink the water from. The cup itself is quite distinctive, as it has a thin opening and an overall curved shape. They’re also well-designed with hand-painted scenery of the town’s natural surroundings and temperature gradients to measure the water’s warmth (but really, it’s just for decorative purposes). I bought two– one for myself and another for one of my colleagues as a gift.
If I’d thought that it was snowing pretty badly upon arriving in town, then that was an understatement while I was in the center. It really started to snow, as I trudged through piles of white snow– granted, it was better that I did, since the proper sidewalk was frozen over and incredibly slippery, so I didn’t want to take my chances with falling. Although I’ve experienced my fair share of snow while traveling, I’m still not used to walking in it, let alone dealing with it– that said, my walk in town made for a cautious, awkward stepping game (will I fall or not?).
Any case, I visited the Market Colonnade, which was built in Swiss style. Made out of wooden, it was richly-decorated from column to ceiling, and it was perhaps my favorite colonnade I saw. There were three seeps of hot springs inside, as I saw many tourists grab a drink before continuing on with their visit.
Final colonnade I visited in town was the Mill Colonnade. Although a bit plainer than the other two I’d seen, nevertheless it contained some lovely statues which were allegorical of the months of the year, all 12 of them. Weaving through the columns, I stayed underneath for some time, as there wasn’t snow and I needed a break from walking in it, let alone slipping on it.
As I’d mentioned before, I’d been keen on visiting the Grandhotel Pupp, as it’d inspired me to go to Karlovy Vary in the first place. After the colonnades, I conveniently made my way over, as it was situated at the turn of the Teplá river. Despite the snowy, rather overcast weather, the hotel itself was still imposingly gorgeous, as it looked exactly how I’d seen it in Last Holiday. In contrast, the lobby inside was significantly smaller than I’d imagined in the film, as it was just two small desks in the circular room– pretty sure that the film used another lobby instead!
Wandering through the hotel, I saw the lounge room and the dining room– both were dazzling with their chandeliers, trimmed carpets, and leather chairs. There was also a cafe which looked fancy, and I made a mental note to return for an afternoon pastry. For the fun of it, I looked at the menu for the dining room– it wasn’t so pricey, but the food choices weren’t that interesting to me, so I opted to get lunch somewhere else.
I headed out and crossed over to the other side of the Teplá where I popped into one of the restaurants nearby for lunch. I wanted to have duck, as I’d heard that it’s something worth trying while in the Czech Republic, so I ordered that as my lunch. The portion was massive, as I not only got half of a duck, but also plenty of sauerkraut and a beet salad to boot– I was definitely stuffed afterwards, but when on vacation, it was permissible!
Besides seeing the Grandhotel Pupp, another thing I wanted to do was to get panoramic views of Karlovy Vary from above. The town itself is located in the hills, so plenty of houses and hotels are situated on them, giving a rather “stacked” look to the town. Plus, it’s filled with plenty of colorful buildings, which make it charming– sort of like a miniature Prague.
I’d been informed that the place for the best views was at the Diana Lookout Tower– unfortunately, it was closed for January, so I settled on the Deer Jump Lookout, which was opened all year-round– while not as high up as the Diana Lookout Tower, it would have to do for my visit. The walk up wasn’t too bad, even with the snow; the view at the top was pretty, although it was on the overcast side. Perhaps when the weather gets better, i.e. spring time, I will return!
Descending the hill, I decided to return to the Grandhotel Pupp for my afternoon break at its cafe. I ordered what’s considered the hotel’s signature cake, the Dort Pupp. What makes it special is that it’s made from a combination of chocolate icing, apricot jam, and coconut. I’m not the hugest fan of apricot or coconut, but the cake itself was pretty tasty, and I got to enjoy it with a cup of chai on the side. Certainly felt fancy as heck there!
By the time I finished my afternoon break, it was about time to head back to the bus stop to return to Prague. I headed over, passing by the colonnades and catching the 16:00 Flixbus back, returning around 18:00. It’d been a few hours in Karlovy Vary and, while the weather wasn’t the most ideal to explore the town, nevertheless the snow made for a winter wonderland-like experience that I thought was quite magical. Plus, I got to eat cake in the Grandhotel Pupp, and overall, the town itself made me feel rich (for once!).
Last installment of my January holidays to come soon. Next up: Olomouc, Czech Republic!