Czech Republic, Travel

Surviving a Czech Spa

Surviving and spa don’t usually go in the same sentence. But that’s because Czech spas are different than the type of spa that most Americans picture. These spas are more medical and wellness spas than pampering, so the ones not attached to fancy hotels, aren’t always the most luxurious and the treatments are more medically oriented than relaxation. That didn’t stop my friend Mei and I from trying it out during our weekend in Karlovy Vary, one of the famous Czech spa towns. After sightseeing on Friday and Saturday, we used our last day to try out one of the few spas not connected to a hotel—The Elizabeth Spa (or Spa 5).

The Elizabeth Spa is over 100 years old and the building certainly shows it. It is not a magical palace of relaxation, but a place where people go to take care of their health (and relax some). Some treatments include cryotherapy, mouth irrigation, shockwave treatment, oxygen therapy, and others. There are also your standard massages, though the usual time is twenty minutes vs. sixty, and baths using the famous mineral waters. Many of the treatments require a prescription, which can be obtained on site because the spa also includes doctors and nurses to help create a treatment plan if you are in fact there for an ailment or maintaining your health instead of just curiosity.

Personally, I decided to choose a treatment you wouldn’t find at a traditional spa. Initially I wanted something called a paraffin pack, a treatment where they put warm paraffin along your back to help with joint and muscle pain, but it wasn’t being offered. So I chose an even more unique sounding treatment—an anti-cellulite cinnamon pack and cupping massage. Now I’m not really someone who is concerned with whether I have cellulite or not, but the treatment just sounded weird and interesting (with the added bonus of it wasn’t expensive!). I didn’t really know what I was signing up for, other than knowing I probably would not be relaxed.

We arrived at the spa on Sunday, about twenty minutes before our treatments and explored a little. The inside was better maintained than the exterior of the building, and was quite lovely, but was still showing its age. While the exterior had paint chipping and some apparent cracks in the foundation and other potential issues, the interior just looked faded and dated. But you could feel the history and I could picture upper class men and women in the 1910s to 1920s visiting to try to cure themselves of various illnesses.

Just before noon, I went to the room I was assigned for my treatment. My therapist, dressed in white scrubs and crocs, let me in to a changing room. The room reminded me a bit of a locker room and had a shower and a desk. She led me to another room that was like a room in a physical therapist’s office, that they tried to decorate a little with some Zen looking posters, for the treatment. The radio was playing Czech music interrupted occasionally for advertisements. Like I had thought, this was not going to be relaxing.

I laid on the table on my stomach on top of some plastic. The therapist spread a jelly like substance on my thighs which I assumed correctly was the cinnamon pack. I flipped over and she applied it to the fronts as well. She then wrapped the plastic around my legs and then wrapped me in a blanket and left me to cook.

And oh my God, it felt like I was cooking. The cinnamon pack burned! I was lying there wondering if this was normal, if I was actually getting burned from this, if I was having an allergic reaction. I half thought I was going to walk away with second degree burns. So I peeked under the blanket. My legs were red, but that was the shade of the jelly/lotion. I touched them. They were cool. Ok, so I wasn’t being burned. That knowledge actually helped lessen the pain and let me enjoy the treatment a bit. I was just starting to relax into it when the therapist came back to begin the cupping massage.

She unwrapped me and then used some form of oil to partially clean my legs and also get the skin ready for the cupping massage (or at least that’s what I assume, she didn’t speak much English). The burning stopped, which was a welcome change, and the cupping began on one leg. It actually hurt much less than I anticipated, in fact it was quite nice for most of the time. Then again, nothing was going to hurt in comparison to the cinnamon pack. I had been kind of hoping I’d end up with those circles you saw on the Olympic swimmers during the Rio Games, but she moved the cups around too much for that. After both legs were done, I got up and got dressed. I inspected my legs first. They were red from the pack, but had no evidence of cupping. They were also visibly smoother. I was quite impressed as I hadn’t been expecting getting any results, and didn’t really care if I did.

After my treatment I made my way to the pool area to relax and meet up with Mei. I had read they had a whirlpool, swimming pool, relaxing pool with water massage areas, a sauna, and a steam room. I assumed that the whirlpool meant a hot tub. I was wrong. It had the jets, but it was a lukewarm temperature. I then tried the relaxing pool. This was warmer, though still not hot, and incredibly cool! There were four seated massage areas where small jets made their way up your body. There was a waterfall jet to massage your neck as well as various high pressure jets for your feet, legs, and back. I tried them all. I struggled with the seated one, being short, because the jets kept pushing me to the surface since my legs couldn’t hold on the edge. After turning into prunes in the pool, we decided it was time for a sauna and steam, though it turned out to be just a sauna because the steam room was broken. To finish off the sauna, I dunked in the cold pool which is refreshing and painful all at the same time.

While I had spent my first ten minutes thinking I was going to leave with horrible burns, I did quite enjoy my time at the spa and would definitely go back! The town itself is gorgeous and has lots of hiking that we unfortunately did not get to do. You can also try the water for yourself by purchasing a special cup. We tried it out of curiosity—each area is a different temperature and mineral content, meaning some tastes disgusting and others ok. We didn’t taste any that we actually liked. Overall, I give massive credit to those who drink a lot of it looking for a cure, they have a stronger palate than me!

If you want to check out Karlovy Vary for yourself, it’s super easy to do so. There are plenty of buses and trains from Prague and an abundance of lodging options from budget to luxury. Some hotels have their own spas, though the Elizabeth Spa is a good option if you stay at a location without a spa. The prices are affordable and the staff friendly.

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