7) Teplice – Boasting historic spas that drew the likes of Beethoven
The Ústí nad Labem Region in northwest Czechia is best known for coalmining and heavy industry. It is also home to Teplice, the second-largest Czech spa town after Karlovy Vary. Teplice’s storied spas specialize in the treatment of muscles, joints, and nerves. And, since this year, a programme aimed at helping people recover from Covid-19 is also on offer.
Situated in a basin between the Ore Mountains and the Central Bohemian Highlands, Teplice possesses a wealth of thermal water. The town’s name even means hot spring in old Czech and balneology goes back centuries in the area. According to legend, the first spa in Teplice was founded in the year 762, after a farmer noticed that his pig had recovered from a broken leg by rolling around in the mud next to a spring.
Founding myths aside, archaeological findings of old Celtic coins in the area suggest that people knew about the thermal water sources since at least the first century AD. Taking a wide perspective on local history, Yveta Slišková, the commercial director of the Teplice Spas, told Czech Radio about the origins of the town’s spa tradition.
“When you talk about our history, you must realize the thermal water that we now use in our spa baths and pools began as rainwater falling on the Ore Mountains some 18,000 years ago. The origins of the spas themselves date to the 12th century, when the Bohemian Queen Judith of Thuringia established a convent here.”
The cloister offered balneological treatments to the poor and unwell, and because it was established a century before the spas in Karlovy Vary, Teplice can justifiably boast being the oldest Czech spa town. The early treatments at the abbey used thermal water from the Pravřídlo hot spring, which Ms Slišková says has strong healing effects.
“The water contains mainly sodium bisulphate, as well as fluorine, radon, and precious metals. It is this combination of minerals that heals muscle tissue, acts as an anti-inflammatory, and can be used to help people tackle chronic issues and help rehabilitation after injuries or surgery.”
Teplice’s most prosperous period began at the end of the 18th century when the likes of Beethoven, Goethe, and Peter the Great visited the town. Due to its acclaimed spa clientele and potent cultural life, Teplice was often called the “grand salon” and “little Paris”. During the Napoleonic wars, spa resorts were busy treating wounded soldiers, and the town even became the scene for high politics when, in 1813, the leaders of Russia, Austria, Prussia, and the British prince agreed in a local hotel to form the final coalition against Napoleon.
With almost 50 000 inhabitants, the population of Teplice is today about on par with Karlovy Vary, the biggest Czech spa town. Karel Vaigl of the Teplice Spa Company told Czech Radio about the most important local balneological institutions, which stand on narrow streets in the historical centre.
“We have three main spas: the Beethoven Spa, a complex of 11 buildings; the Emperor’s Spa, which is, smaller but now serves as our flagship spa house; and the Stone Spa, which is one of the most beautiful spa buildings that you will see anywhere. The youngest spa in Teplice is the New Spa, which is a children’s spa.”
The Beethoven Spa takes its name from the famous German composer, who was a guest between the years 1811 and 1812. Standing adjacent to the former convent grounds, the Spa is connected to the Pravřídlo Spring, the water from which is pumped directly into the spa baths. Ms Šlísková describes the standard procedures on offer in Teplice.
“Our basic healing method combines the use of therapies based on mineral water – the unique content of which provides for a great healing effect – with other complementary procedures. We call it our ‘golden combination’ and it consists of a thermal bath followed by a body wrap and massage. It is a really effective method, because the warm water prepares the organism for the sensitive fingers of the masseur and amplifies the effect of the massage.”
Ms Slišková also emphasizes an important part of the local spa philosophy, stressing that baths and massages alone cannot fix chronic muscle and joint problems.
“Besides our basic procedures, we must mention exercise. The active work of the clients themselves is crucial when it comes to the musco-skeletal system. Whoever thinks that just getting a massage will solve a muscle problem, for example, is mistaken. They must also train the right movement patterns that strengthen the muscle and increase the range of motion after an injury. Besides those basic principles, we can add procedures such as electric, magnetic, or laser therapies depending on the individual needs of the clients.”
Besides standard baths, guests can also make use of Thermalium, the largest mineral water pool in Czechia. Opened two years ago, the pool is a stunning work of architecture and an especially pleasant place for a swim.
Recently, spas in Teplice have added a new treatment to their repertoire. The Post-Covid Convalescence Programme aims to help with the after-effects of the coronavirus, known as post-COVID-19 syndrome, or simply long covid.
Oldřich Marek, the head of rehabilitation treatments at the Beethoven Spa, explains that the therapy can help with chronic shortness of breath, one of the most common symptoms of long covid.
“We teach our clients how to breathe properly again by loosening up the whole system of muscles that assist in breathing. It helps our guests control their breathing and do so with ease. Because the muscles that control the chest, and enable us to breathe, atrophy when we have Covid-19. They become weak and contracted, so we must expand the chest and loosen them up again.”
Before the pandemic caused a sharp drop in tourism, Teplice welcomed over 10,000 spa guests each year. Foreign visitors came from nearby Germany as well as from the Persian Gulf countries, in particular Kuwait. Teplice’s popularity with Arab tourists goes back to the 1990s, and the town is also home to one of Czechia’s bigger Muslim communities, whose members often work as medical professionals in the spas or nearby hospitals.
Even though Teplice has a more urban feel than smaller Czech spa towns, it does not suffer from a shortage of greenery. The town’s parks form a fountain-filled oasis in the busy centre, and spa guests can also retreat to the lush gardens of the Teplice Castle, which is now the seat of the Regional Museum and worth visiting for its vast historical interiors
Next to the Beethoven Spa stands another noteworthy building, the Krušnohorské Theatre. The unmissable modernist landmark is a reminder of the integral part that culture has played in Teplice throughout the years, with Johan Wolfgang Goethe once writing a play especially for the local troupe of actors.
Visitors can comfortably explore the historical centre of Teplice on the Humboldt Tourist Train, a scenic ride that starts and ends at the Castle, making a loop around town with a stop at the botanical garden.
Unfortunately, not all of the historical centre has been preserved. There is no trace of the old Jewish Quarter, which in the 1930s was home to the second-largest Jewish community in the Czech lands. The synagogue that once overlooked the town was burnt down in 1939, and the whole Quarter was demolished and built over in the Communist era.
For a bird’s eye view of Teplice, take a hike or short drive up to Doubrava Hill. Standing right next to town, the Hill is shrouded with legend and mystery. It was supposedly the site of pagan sacrificial and burial grounds, and, later, a medieval castle. Today, a 19th-century neo-gothic castle with an observation tower stands on the peak, offering the best panorama of Teplice and the surrounding countryside.
In the town of Duchcov, around 10 kilometres from Teplice, there is another castle worth seeing. From the middle of the 18th century, it served as the residence of Friedrich Schiller and other prominent figures undergoing treatment in Teplice. The Count of Waldstein, the Castle’s owner, even employed as a librarian the Italian adventurer Giacomo Casanova, who spent the last 13 years of his life at Duchcov, writing his biography during the stay.
Teplice’s advantage over the Bohemian Spa Triangle (comprising Karlovy Vary, Františkánské Lázně, and Mariánské Lázně) is that it can be reached faster and more conveniently from Prague. The drive from the Czech capital takes just over an hour, and a journey via train 90 minutes. With its great culture, history, and balneology, it is worth making a trip to the “grand salon” – and not just when recovering from the coronavirus.