Animals are a common theme of my travels. The reason for that is my daughter, who is obsessed with animals. I guess that’s common with 10 year-old girls, but I truly believe my daughter has taken animal love to a new level. I guess we are pretty easy prey for travel marketers. Show us a critter and make it look cute and we’re sold.
When we were looking for a destination to spend a few days in during Easter break, my wife found a place in Western Czechia that advertised a stay in a boarding house setting with various animals living on the perimeter, the deal was set. We were going to Czechia. Which suited me just fine, because I had come to like the country a year earlier when we had visited Prague.
- Cheb, Karlovy Vary, Marianske Lazne, Western Czechia
- Travelled there: end of March 2016
- Stayed at: Pension Mansky Dvur, Dolni Zandov
Having been welcomed by the friendly host family and roaming the perimeter, I pointed out a woman carrying a shovel to my wife, jokingly remarking that the blue bundle she was carrying was probably containing the remains of the ferret that had been announced on the pension’s website yet could not be found by us upon inspection of the animal enclosures.
A few days later, we would find out that I had been right. By then however, it didn’t matter much anymore that one of the animals we had been expecting to encounter wasn’t with us anymore. We had fallen in love with the place already. I guess Mansky Dvur is what you’d call an insider tip. Located in the triangle between three historic spa towns and surrounded by forests, ponds and wide-open areas, the pension has an ace in the hole in its extremely friendly hosts, one of whom would every night cook a homemade dinner from scratch for us, using fresh local ingredients. Yes, it tasted exactly as great as that sounds. The pension is located off the road amid fields and pastures, leaving plenty of room for kids to roam about, ride their bikes or just play outside. For rainy days, there is a gym with lots of options ranging from basketball to volleyball, tennis and climbing.
This area is dotted with small towns that are famous for their long history of being places to heal. Feeding on thermal springs, the three towns of Karlovy Vary (Carlsbad), Marianske Lazne and Frantiskovy Lazne make up the so-called spa triangle, welcoming thousands of visitors annually.
Karlovy Vary is the largest and most famous of them. It is arguably also the prettiest one. They have a renowned international film festival here and more importantly, they have a beautiful townscape along the Tepla river. Drawing from a storied history with German, Austrian, and Soviet influences, Karlovy Vary has a number of carefully renovated historic structures that combine for a very picturesque townscape. Visitors can wander from one encased thermal spring to the next, many of them sipping from small cups and other receptacles that are being sold everywhere. On a side note, my daughter chose a miniature porcelaine carafe in the form of a cat, which required the user to sip from the tail end… You get the picture.
Marianske Lazne is actually just as beautiful as Karlovy Vary, plus it appeared to be a bit less crowded. Again, the town impresses with beautifully maintained historic houses and a town center adorned with green spaces. There were many Russians and Germans here when we visited, which gave me the impression that Marianske Lazne is a trifle too touristy for my taste, but I may be mistaken. It is definitely a delight to take a walk here. There are 40 thermal springs in town, mostly centered around the Colonnade (the white structure in the picture). About fifteen minutes from here by foot, you’ll get to a skiing area with an aerial railway, which is also a nice spot to visit in the summertime.
Frantiskovy Lazne is the third town of the triangle. The beautiful promenade called “narodni trida” is the center piece of the small city which had a very quiet, calm atmosphere. Like the other places in this area, Frantiskovy Lazne suffered from the Nazi regime first and long years of neglect thereafter, but has also made the turnaround to become a gem of a town, showcasing rows of beautiful houses from the 19th century. There is a wetland preservation area just outside of town, which we had to pass on because of the weather.
It should be mentioned that you don’t have to count yourself among the sickly to enjoy the offerings of the spa triangle. Apart from the beautiful towns that’ll give your camera’s batteries a lot of work, I also recommend making use of the public pools and spas. Most of those are fairly new and come with great features and offerings to give you a few hours of relaxation.
In summary: Czechia is a country that remains high on my list of favorite places. Prague is a must-see for everyone, but it’s also very much worth taking a trip outside of the capital.