6) Luhačovice - “the pearl of Moravia”

Jurkovič House

Nicknamed “the pearl of Moravia”, Luhačovice takes great pride in its renowned spas and mineralized cold spring water, which is considered among Europe’s best and sold as a popular medicine in pharmacies throughout the country. Over the years, Luhačovice has retained a uniquely folksy atmosphere and can boast architectural gems built in the early 1900s by the Slovak architect Dušan Jurkovič. It was also Czech composer Leoš Janáček’s favourite retreat.

The heart of Luhačovice spa life lies in an area known as the “spa valley”. Here, on sandy paths lined with potted palm trees, guests shuffle to and from spas and wellness hotels that straddle the Šťávnice, a small stream that flows through the area. On the way, guests can stop for a drink at numerous fountains, fed by natural springs that bubble out of the ground. Jiří Dědek of Luhačovice Spas told Czech Radio about the pride of Luhačovice – the local mineral water.

Vincentka spring | Photo: Pudelek,  Wikimedia Commons,  CC BY-SA 4.0

“The spring water in Luhačovice is known for its saltiness and high mineral content. We have thirteen springs in total, and guests can directly drink from seven of them. The rest are piped into our spas and used for baths and other healing treatments, such as water inhalation.”

With a temperature of 10 to 12 degrees Celsius, the mineral water is sourced from several springs, including the Ottovka, Aloiska and Amandka. But the most famous local spring is the Vincentka. Its water is sold in pharmacies around the Czech Republic. Jiří Dědek explains that the medicinal usage of spring water in Luhačovice goes back to the 17th century.

“The springs have a history of over 350 years. The first written mention of them comes from the 1669 Latin publication Tartaro Mastix Moraviae, which refers to their salty water as the ‘Moravian Whip for Sediment’. It was supposed to whip sediments, or disease, out of the body.”

Hotel Společenský dům | Photo: Pudelek,  Wikimedia Commons,  CC BY-SA 4.0

In those days, the land in and around Luhačovice was owned by the Counts of Serényi, a noble family who profited from selling the mineral water throughout the Austrian Empire, including at the royal court in Vienna. Vincentka water was also very popular in Viennese cafés and supposedly even used to make wine.

The Serényi family also founded the local spas, building, in 1789, the wooden bathhouse and hostel that became the first spa resort in Luhačovice. Twenty years later, the resort hired its first specialized doctor and acquired a reputation for being the place to go for the treatment of respiratory problems.

Since then, the number of spas and wellness hotels in Luhačovice has steadily grown, and local balneotherapy has retained an excellent reputation to this day. Jana Mahdalíková, the head doctor at the spa valley’s Miramare Hotel, told Czech Radio about the healing techniques perfected in the town over the centuries.

František Šťastný's spring | Photo: Karla Karla,  Panoramio,  CC BY-SA 3.0

“Our healing source is carbonized mineral water. Bathing in it has a beneficial effect on the skin and the tissue beneath it, as well as on other organs, as the carbon dioxide is subsumed by the body.

“The water is also used in drinking cures and for inhalation, where it heals the airways and digestive tract, adjusting its PH levels and preventing mucus from forming. Doing so, it improves digestion and the production of digestive juices, the lack of which can cause bloating and related problems.”

Besides being top-class balneological institutions, the Luhačovice spas and hotels are also architectural landmarks. The town owes much of its idiosyncratic architecture to František Veselý, an ambitious physician from Brno who bought the local spas from their aristocratic owners in the early 20th century.

Bedřich Smetana House and Brussels fountain | Photo: Radek Linner,  Wikimedia Commons,  CC BY-SA 3.0 nl

Veselý was a proponent of the 19th century Czech National Revival movement and wanted to make Luhačovice a gathering spot for the country’s intelligentsia and leading cultural figures. With that goal in mind, he hired the Slovakian architect Dušan Jurkovič to infuse local buildings with an updated yet traditionally Moravian style. Blanka Petráková, the director of the Luhačovcické Zálesí Museum, told Czech Radio about the architect’s most famous work in town – the Jurkovič House.

“In total, Jurkovič worked on fifteen buildings in Luhačovice, and his most famous work was the reconstruction of the originally empire-style “Jan’s House”. Jurkovič transformed its façade, interiors, and colours in a very interesting way. The building was subsequently renamed after him and is an architectural gem that Luhačovice prides itself on.”

The Augustinian House is another local building combining new and old. Built in 1904, the historicist-style hotel was inspired by English country houses. Blanka Petráková says that composer Leoš Janáček was a frequent guest.

Luhačovice colonnade | Photo: Veronika Žeravová,  Czech Radio

“Janáček would compose during his stays when it was too rainy to go on one of his beloved walks outside. And Luhačovice can boast that he wrote the first sketches of the Glagolitic Mass here.”

The Moravian composer reportedly visited Luhačovice at least twenty-four times, by some estimates spending as much as sixty weeks in the town. And some of his other works are connected to Luhačovice too. The first act of the opera Destiny takes place on the town’s colonnade, and, during one stay, Janáček fell madly in love with Kamila Stösslová, a married woman forty years his junior who inspired main characters in three of his other operas.

With Luhačovice the setting for an opera by one of the greatest Czech composers ever, Dr Veselý succeeded in turning it into a spa town of national significance. According to Luhačovice Spas general manager Eduard Bláha, the town retains its quintessentially Czech character to this day.

“Luhačovice is special because it remains a mainly Czecho-Slovak spa town. There isn’t that multiculturalism here that the West Bohemian spa towns have, where there are guests from Germany, the Russian-speaking countries, Israel, and the Arab world.

Leoš Janáček in 1904 | Photo: Wikimedia Commons,  Public Domain

“Luhačovice is magical in that it is still mostly Czechs and Slovaks who meet up here. They understand each other well and cherish their stay.”

Mr Bláha adds that a loyal clientele of spa guests of all ages is another factor that contributes to the atmosphere in contemporary Luhačovice.

“It is not only the elderly and ailing that come to stay here. Thanks to the children’s spas, we have guests who first come as kids and then regularly return as they get older. So, it’s mix of all generations, just like it used to be during the First Czechoslovak Republic.

“Luhačovice has kept its old timey atmosphere, and it is not unusual to come across women with fancy hats and men with canes strolling around, looking like characters in an old movie.”

Outside of the spas, Luhačovice offers numerous hiking opportunities. Visitors can choose to follow marked tourist trails out of the spa valley into the Vizovické Highlands, where, in addition to a great view, the ruins of the gothic Old Světlov Castle wait to be explored.

Hotel Palace | Photo: Veronika Žeravová,  Czech Radio
On the other side of the valley, tourists can traverse paths into the Luhačovice Highlands. There the hike leads through the romantic forests and meadows of the White Carpathians Protected Landscape Area. In the summer months, another favourite destination is the Luhačovice Lake on the town’s northside, which offers swimming and other water sports.

Those wanting to learn more about the whole region around Luhačovice can do so without leaving the town at the Luhačovické Zálesí Museum. It showcases folk culture and dress as well as historical paintings of the surrounding nature, including Art Nouveau and impressionist masterpieces by the famed Czech painter Joža Uprka.

While not everyone will have sixty weeks to spare like Leoš Janáček, it is certainly worth spending a day or two in Luhačovice within any trip to southern Moravia. With its excellent spring water and renowned spas, it has certainly earned its place among the top Czech spa towns.