Marienbad celebrates its two-hundredth anniversary – World Meanderings (n°64)
By Annick Dournes & Frederic de Poligny
Marienbad is one of these names along with Karlsbad and Franzensbad, that instantly evoke an erstwhile way of life when aristocrats and wealthy people of Europe travelled from one spa town to another, enjoying the healing qualities of the Czech thermal waters and an idle life filled with parties, concerts and sport activities. Mitteleuropa times are long gone and today spa treatments have become more democratic, but when visiting Marienbad it seems that, in spite of the trials and tribulations of history, little has changed in this charming and quaint town.
Marienbad is located in Western Bohemia close to the German Border and it will only take you a two-hour drive to get there from Prague. The actual Czech name for Marienbad, which is its German name, is Marianske Lazne and definitely is the way to call it when talking with Czech people! Its thermal springs were known at least since the 14th century but these waters have been used for their healing qualities only from the 19th century on. Where there was nothing but forests, swamps and bogs, a town was created and meant from the beginning to be a spa town. This still shows in its architecture and in the way wide parks and gardens have a place of honour in the city centre. Marienbad was officially declared Spa Town in 1818 and is today willing to celebrate this important anniversary.
Its architecture and waters were an instant success and famous people of the time such as Goethe, Chopin, Gogol, Wagner, Edison…. And King Edward VII proclaimed that it was the most beautiful place on earth. It was built on a hillside mainly situated over 600 metres in altitude and was designed by one famous landscaper of the time, Skalnik. Seven hundreds hectares of wasteland were turned into a magnificent park where luxury hotels and spa areas, blooming flower beds, fountains, statues and a rococo casino appeared out of the blue.
Of all these buildings, the Neo-Baroque colonnade built between 1888 and 1889, is a landmark of Marienbad. It was designed by two Viennese architects Miksch and Niedzielsky, who designed a cast iron structure of impressive dimensions of 119 x 12 metres, beautifully adorned with ceiling frescoes strangely depicting the human desire to fly. This is where you will find taps of mineral waters from different springs where people having hydrotherapy come several time each day to drink water. As in the old days you will see them with their kalisek (a small bone china mug with a small spout) in hand walking up and down the colonnade and in the surrounding gardens filled with rhododendrons. Feel free to imitate them and taste the ferrous acidulous water!
In communist times all the hotels and spa houses were nationalized and open to “deserving workers” and to the “nomenklatura”. Over the last thirty years they have been sold to private investors who have restored them and they are getting more and more popular amongst people of the whole world. Today Marienbad not only is a health destination for serious illnesses such as urologic diseases, treatment after hip joint or knee joint replacement, respiratory illnesses, chronic diseases of the locomotive system diabetic diseases, skin or neurologic diseases… it can also help you for just an annoying ailment and provide wellness treatments.
So, even if you stay there for just a few days you can enjoy the benefits of the healing waters the way aristocrats of the 19th and early 20th centuries did. At “Nova Lazne Hotel” that is now part of the Danubius Company well known for its expertise in spa treatments all over Europe, you can even have your treatment in the cabin especially designed for King Edward VII, beautifully adorned with colourful mosaics, and bath in his huge copper tub! In that same hotel you will also be able to swim in the splendid Roman Baths surrounded by marble pillars, that have miraculously outlived the vicissitudes of history, then get a full body massage with scented oils, honey, hot stones, mud or chocolate. Indulge yourself! www.danubiushotels.com/en/our-hotels-marianske-lazne
Marienbad also proposes many outdoor activities. Its golf course founded by Edward VII in 1905 is the oldest golf course in Central Europe and its reputation has attained an international level. Hikers find in the surrounding mountains miles of sign-posted tracks. You can also discover the area riding horses or bikes and in wintertime several ski slopes of different levels await you. Situated at the top of the ski slopes and surrounded by the “Slavskovsky Forest”, the “Rubezahl Historical Castle Hotel” is like a fairy tale romantic castle. Badly neglected for decades it was almost crumbling to the ground before being completely restored in 2015. Rubezahl was a gentle giant of Bohemian mythology and it is said that he helped good people, providing them with medical knowledge. In the same time he exacted severe revenge upon those who were bad or unkind. His 3,5 metres tall statue was set in the park surrounding the hotel when the castle was first built in the early 20th century.
The Rubezahl Hotel building is a fantasy castle mixing classical architecture with gothic towers, donjons, domes and fairy tale characters’ sculptures. The 43 rooms have a warm comfortable Czech decoration and the hotel also has a wellness centre and a wonderful chef making a tasty and inventive cuisine that will come as a nice change in a country where too many restaurants serve plain filling food based on meat ragout, sauerkraut and potatoes… Rubezahl Luxury Hotel is the perfect place to discover Marienbad and its surrounding while enjoying a peaceful and restful stay in a cocoon-like hotel. www.rubezahl-marienbad.com
More information: www.marienbad.cz and http://www.czechtourism.com/home/
Text ©Annick Dournes
Photos ©Frederic de Poligny & Annick Dournes