The spa town of Podebrady

The historical spa town of Podebrady lies on the river Elbe just 50km east of Prague. Surrounded by meadows, woods and a natural park, the town is ideal for recreation and outdoor sports. In 1905, an exceptionally powerful spring of curative mineral water was discovered in the courtyard of the Podebrady castle. The carbonic spas with their ferrous water have been curing illnesses of the heart, circulatory system, and blood vessels, since 1908.

Along the colonnade in the middle of the spa park near the famous flower clock - a clock made of arranged flowers - lies the Bellevue Hotel complex. Situated ideally in the heart of Podebrady, the Bellevue Hotel offers its guests numerous activities. It has 49 double rooms, 29 extra beds, 2 single rooms and 8 suites, all of which are equipped with a toilet, shower or bath, satellite TV, radio, minibar and telephone. But most visitors make minimal use of their room's facilities as their main aim is to relax in the hotel's rehabilitation centre, that has been set up to cure illnesses, using the town's Podebradka mineral water. Gabriela Vanova has been working at the Bellevue Hotel for ten years:

"We have our own two springs in our hotel. The mineral water is pumped directly into the hotel's rehabilitation centre for warm carbonic baths. It is also pumped into the kitchen of our restaurant, where it is used for drinking cures. Guests of the hotel get to drink it fresh for lunch and dinner to cure heart problems and reduce blood sugar levels."

"My name is Marta Spechtova and I am originally from Prague. I'm staying here in Podebrady now, in the hotel Bellevue, and I go back and forth to the United States because I live there too. I took my husband here and we love it, we know all the people now. It's beautiful here and it's ideal for us. Prague and Podebrady are nice for retirement. Podebrady is quiet, there is a lot of nature, there are not too many cars and it's not business-like, not too promoted. It's also not too far from Prague. You have facilities like the bus and the train and around here you have small buses which take you on tours from any hotel. So, for the older people it's ideal and even for the younger people. You also have the spa, where they take care of you too. They are very good here."

The Bellevue Hotel is made up of three buildings. One houses the restaurant, reception, and most of the rooms in the hotel. The second complex offers various above-standard cosmetic services such as dry and wet pedicures, manicures, a hair salon, a sauna and a solarium. It also has a congress centre and four more lounges, which have been designed to seat close to 300 people. Equipped with conference technology, they can be used for meetings, seminars and various celebrations.

But the most important part of the hotel is its third complex with the rehabilitation centre on the ground floor. Here, hotel guests and visitors receive professional medical care upon their request. Gabriela Vanova:

"When a guest comes to us for treatment, he automatically goes through a medical check-up. This includes measuring their blood pressure, testing their blood, and taking an ECG. Our doctor then draws up a medical treatment plan that's most suitable for the guest. A person should stay in the spa for at least fourteen days in order for our treatment to be effective. Doctors recommend a three week stay. A month would be ideal but most people can't afford that. Since our service is private we can only give medical insurance clients limited treatment. If they want to stay in our hotel, they have to pay for it themselves. Many people from our town and its surroundings just come for individual medical procedures without staying in our hotel. But with our capacity being limited, the head nurse decide how many medical insurance clients we can accept. Those who pay for the entire service themselves, the hotel's guests, of course have priority."

Since the Podebradka mineral water is believed to be the only one in the country suited to the treatment of heart problems, the Bellevue Hotel cannot complain of a lack of guests, most of whom come from neighbouring Germany or Austria as well as Russia and the United States. Gabriela Vanova:

"Most guests make use of our special baths that are filled with the Podebradka spring water. Its bubbles form a film on the patient and move through the skin into the circulating system to stimulate the blood circulation, thereby increasing the heart activity. It's also quite effective in lowering blood pressure. Other hydrotherapeutical facilities are underwater massages, where 180 fountains massage the body from the spine at the neck up to the feet. We also have a pool, which is quite small but effective as it has a strong water current that makes a few minutes of swimming feel like you've swum across a whole lake. The water temperature is very pleasant at 29 degrees Celsius. We also have the classic warm jacuzzi baths, electrotherapy, and inhalation facilities. Our physiotherapist helps patients with exercises and various massages. Those with muscle pain can make use of our very effective gas injections."

"One very popular form of relaxation is our music therapy - a bed made of special wood that contains 27 speakers. The wood is covered with a cushion that is formed according to the human body. When switched on, soothing classical music plays from the speakers, triggering co-ordinating movements of the cushion. Another popular procedure is called floating, also known as the Dead Sea treatment. Here, an egg-shaped large bath is filled with water that contains enough salt to allow a person to float on it. The patient lies inside the egg for an hour to cure skin problems such as psoriasis or the common skin rash as well as injuries to the motor system following accidents. For this form of treatment, it is imperative to consult a physician."

The rehabilitation centre is open seven days a week from 7 am to 7 pm. Upon their arrival, hotel guests make up a plan which is built around their outdoor programme. So, while undergoing treatment, they can still take part in boat cruises down the river Elbe, take tours of the town and its surroundings or go to the popular golf course to play golf. For those guests in the hotel who have not come to use the spa and are busy during the day with meetings, the hotel administration is willing to extend its hours until 9pm.

Those just visiting the town can also spend an evening at the Bellevue hotel's wine cellar, which offers over 120 types of top quality wines, wine tastings and live music. The hotel also has a restaurant with a wide selection of Czech and European dishes as well as a cafe serving traditional Czech deserts. From the month of May, guests can also sit in the garden, overlooking the colonnade.

But the town of Podebrady also boasts a beautiful setting for outdoor activities such as swimming in the lake, tennis courts and a riding school where one can hire horses for the day. Carriages are available for rides around the town or the parkland areas. Those who love to cycle can follow the marked routes which lead through the picturesque countryside. Along the colonnades, visitors can hear symphony orchestra concerts, chamber music recitals, or brass band concerts. Although Podebrady may sound like a place for the older generation, a Charles University project - in which foreign pupils from all over the world spend a semester in the town to prepare for their studies in Czech - proves that even the younger generation can have fun in Podebrady. Michelle Specht, one of the teachers coordinating the project, explains why:

"First of all, it's situated close to Prague. It's only fifty kilometres away, so that's only a 45minute drive, so students usually go there on the week-ends. In the town of Podebrady, we have three lakes so when the weather picks up and it's nice, they can go swimming, we've had parties at the lake and we also have a beautiful river. Students are able to rent bicycles and can take nice rides along the river. We have a bowling centre, three fitness centres. The students can go to a nearby town to swim in pools. There are also two discos and nice restaurants. The students have a nice time, they enjoy it. For me, it's pleasurable to see the young mix with the old."