I have covered myself in mud in a Rasul Mud Chamber in Windsor London, dunked myself in the various temperature medical plunge pools in Budapest, been pampered in a underground cave in Prague and massaged until I fell asleep in Vietnam. But I have never been on a full on spa weekend experience, so I decided to take the opportunity to explore the famous spa town of Karlovy Vary, a small town in the south west of the Czech Republic that is infamous for its thermal springs and its abundance of high class spas.
Known as Karlsbad in German, the grandeur of this once royal spa town is immediately apparent with its extravagant colored mansions, colonnades, luxury boutique shops and large 4×4 Porsche and BMW’s that speed around its quiet back lanes. Walking around Karlovy Vary is like being transported into a fairy tale town that has been given a multi-million pound make over, as if a billionaire threw up all over a Disney set.
Walking around Karlovy Vary is like being transported into a fairy tale town that has been given a multi-million pound make over, as if a billionaire threw up all over a Disney set.
Local legend has it that Karlovy Vary was founded by the great Czech King Charles IV in the 14th Century. It was while he was out on a hunting trip chasing a stag that he stumbled upon a a healing spring which he claimed to of healed his open wound on his leg. Soon after he ordered a town to be built around the spring and the stories of Karlovy Vary’s (meaning Charles Spring) healing springs spread throughout Bohemia and over the borders, bringing people with all sorts of skin problems and disorders to be treated. Over the centuries it became so popular that quaint parks, public houses and grand restaurants were also established as a way of entertainment between treatments.
In the past it has welcomed the fashionable and the elite including such figures as Goethe, Beethoven, Gogol, Paganini, Casanova, and even Mozart.
Things aren’t very different in its present day as I discovered last weekend on a trip with my partner for our annual Easter break. After a lengthy 3 half hour train ride we arrived in a not so fancy train station, took a not so fancy taxi (who ripped us off) and arrived at a very fancy five star resort called The Savoy Westend having passed a whole street of pastel colored mansions and a peaceful looking wood with shady pavilions.
Consisting of five “Art Nouveau” villas dating back to 1897, The Savoy Westend is rated as one of the most luxurious resorts in Karlovy Vary. Having gone through a careful renovation, the historic collection of buildings now have modern technology and state of the art spa facilities that we were dying to try out. After a quick check in and a tour of the facilities we were ready for our weekend of detox and treatments to begin.
We scheduled our appointments and we notice how everything (and I mean everything) has been written in both Czech and Russian, with hardly a single English advert or leaflet to be seen. The spa staff struggle with English and we spend at least half an hour trying to arrange our treatments. It appears as if most visitors stay at the resort for more than just a weekend, as the resort offers a whole range of packages that are for an entire week. Packages vary from stress relief to slimming programmes, detox and specific medical programmes for women’s health and cosmetic treatments.
I have to say one thing this resort does well is you never have to reach very far for a new fresh towel or a glass or water mit or bez lemon! There are water containers everywhere as well as tea desks offering a range of refreshing detox friendly teas or “Caj”. In our fresh and plush robes we flip flopped our way to the pool which is surprising empty for the beginning of the spa season. But then again it is Easter and I can imagine most religious Russians would be at home with their families.
Having been to a range of spas in my time I notice how well designed and thought out this resort is. It has managed to maintain its classical style but also cleverly incorporated two floors of spa facilities that are accessible for guests via a round elevator joining the upstairs pool, jacuzzi and changing rooms to the downstairs treatments rooms, sauna, steam room and plunge pools. There is no walking around communal areas in your two pieces and dripping with water here!
After a few hours of skipping in and out of the pool, Jacuzzi and sauna like a kid at Disney skipping between rides, we headed for our evening mint bath which came complimentary with the package we booked. A full 20 minutes of relaxing time, lying in a hot steamy bath of mint was just what we needed before heading for our Easter Buffet. We were in a five star hotel after all, so preparation was needed to look our very best for dinner.
Called into the treatment room I was disappointed to find a very sterile looking bath tub with murky green tinged water and a very sour looking woman telling me to undress. Feeling as if I had been given an order I derobed and jumped into the tub. I sat lying in a cold room that looked and smelt like a hospital, the air thick with the smell of bleach. I lay listening to the ticking of the egg timer that sat on the side board with a single candle. No music and no soothing lighting. Just a sky light that allowed the cloudy white skies to make the room appear even more clinical.
The water turned cold and I was beginning to shiver. The sour lady was nowhere to be seen and the taps were locked so I couldn’t add hot water. I jumped out of my skin as the timer abruptly sang its tune telling me my time was up. Stupidly I expected the lady to mysteriously reappear to hand me a towel, you know like a five star hotel should? Wrong. I sat for a minute longer wondering whether I should wait or get out and find my robe next door. I sat for another minute and no one reappeared. Just as I was getting out the tub bearing my birthday suit a different lady reappeared telling me to leave so she should clean. My relaxing evening bath felt like I was having a sterile treatment and no one wanted contact with me. I grabbed my robe and left meeting my partner outside who explained his experience was somewhat similar.
My relaxing evening bath felt like I was having a sterile treatment and no one wanted contact with me.
Putting our evening bath experience behind us we enjoyed a delightful buffet dinner accompanied by a harpist and a delicious bottle of wine which we carried on drinking until the early hours of the morning in bed. Perfect.
We slept in late the next morning. The mixture of wine, champagne and the abundance of food we stuffed ourselves with probably helped and the uncomfortable bed that kept me awake helped too. As the sun shone in through the windows I had to remind myself that I was meant to be in a five star hotel but after the uncomfortable night I had it was hard to tell. Following what can only be described as the healthiest breakfast buffet I have ever seen I hurried off to schedule my first ever cosmetic treatment.
Slightly nervous at the thought of having Non-Invasive Lipo (more on that in another post!) I was hoping for some reassurance on the procedure only to be left disappointed to be handed a small leaflet highlighting the benefits of the procedure and no information on how and what they would be doing to me. Confirming my appointment I scurried off to my room to do some quick googling of the treatment. Luckily it all went fine and there were no problems but you would think a five star hotel that offered such an extensive list of cosmetic treatments and services would be able to provide just a little more information on them. For instance, it would have been great to know how red my thighs would be and how I would look like I had been beaten across my backside for two hours post treatment. I was grateful for the empty spa when I sheepishly undressed into my bathing suit ready for another afternoon of poolside relaxation. Only today with an added dose of throbbing in my backside.
We decided to take things easy and opt for an afternoon nap before waking up to prepare ourselves for dinner. We had been in Karlovy Vary for over 24 hours and we had yet to leave the resort so we decided to dine out for a bit of a change. What we didn’t know is how early restaurants closed here as we arrived at a highly rated restaurant called at 9pm and told they would close at 10. Ooops. I guess the whole detox and purification notion here means early mornings and early nights to ensure maximum rest and rejuvenation. We must of missed the memo on that one.
However for me the next morning did start early with a 7.30 appointment with the masseuse and the highlight of the trip. My chocolate massage. Friends raved about it, celebrities rave about it and I wanted to rave about it too, so out of the myriad of relaxing massages on offer I decided to pay the extortionate rate for a chocolate massage. After all this was my first real spa experience so why not complete it with a luxurious chocolate smothered massage. Plus it was Easter and I was craving for all things chocolaty having resisted eating the chocolate bunny in our welcome gift.
My big fat grin and my chocolate dream was about to be turned upside down. I enter a room of bright lights and clinical smell again. Having only woken up ten minutes prior to my appointment I was still in my dazed half asleep phase but the light drenched room and the annoying Czech folk music woke me up quick and sharp. I undress and lie on the bed of towels that had been covered with a plastic sheet. I guess all that chocolate must make a mess so it made sense.
The woman lightly touches my skin and I sink into the softness of the bed. It hadn’t started so relaxing but perhaps it wasn’t going to be bad after all. I could smell the aroma of melted dark chocolate lingering in the air, then the heat of it being smothered all over my back. A little trickle ran down my neck to the corner of my face and I wondered for a moment whether to lick it off. Deciding not to I faced down looking at the floor trying to keep my eyes shut to block out the mass of light. Slick with chocolate and oil I slipped into a deep state of relaxation. The smell and the massage was divine.
Just as I had relaxed she stopped and covered me with the plastic sheet and the towels to keep me warm and the room fell silent. I looked up and she was nowhere to be seen. I laid there thinking this must be part of the relaxation, so the chocolate could set or something. The Czech Folk music was getting louder and more annoying and I suddenly hear the sound of her banging around and making tea in the room next door. This went on for about half an hour. I could hear her sipping her tea next to me and the staff chatting outside. It was hardly the relaxing state I thought I would be in. I laid there a little longer when finally she arose from her squeaky chair. Perhaps she was going to massage me a little longer I thought. Not a chance.
She quickly took the layers of towels and the plastic sheet off and ordered me into the side room which could only be described as a staff room with a corner shower. Cold and a little embarrassed I stood in the shower as she began washing me down with chilly water, washing parts of my body that only I should wash, before handing me the shower head and telling me to wash myself. Perhaps she picked up on m ridged body covered in goose pimples. Turning the heat up I finish washing off the chocolate and step out of the shower to dry myself off. Thinking I had 20 minutes left of my appointment I headed back into the room where only now she had lit candles and dimmed the lights. She handed my robe to me and told me the appointment had finished and began changing the bed towels.
That was it. My dream of a chocolate covered massage was over. 10 minutes of massage followed by abandonment and a freezing cold shower. Disappointment was not the word. I slipped on my flip flops and headed back to my room where I dressed for breakfast. Only after a full healthy breakfast and a hot cup of peppermint tea was I able to relax and calm down. I thought about complaining to the staff but the reminder that they probably wouldn’t understand stopped me. As my partner left for his Thai Oil Massage (which apparently was amazing) I headed back to my room to continue my water intake and take a small nap. Detox and rejuvenation at its finest.
I left Karlovy Vary in the afternoon unsure of how my first real spa experience had been. My body ached more then it did when I arrived and the only true relaxation I had was sat by the pool in my fluffy robe and asleep in my room. Both of which I am sure I could of done back in Prague for a fraction of the price. As for the chocolate massage, I would give it a miss. At the end of the day my partner could of done better with a melted chocolate massage at home, only I know it would of been followed by a relaxing and romantic bath with candles, dimmed lights and soothing music, a glass of wine and a comfortable bed to retire to. Who needs a five star spa resort anyway?
You can read my full hotel review of The Savoy Westend here..