Girls weekend away amongst natural springs, wild forests, old wooden houses and impressive spa towns
30.03.2012 - 01.04.2012 8 °C
By definition, girls’ spa weekends are supposed to be relaxing and fun. On a sliding scale, spa weekends with your mum are probably slightly less ‘relaxing and fun’ then with your friends. And when it comes to spa weekends with your sister, your mum and your sister’s mother-in-law to be, your guess is as good as mine.But hey, a good deal is a good deal. Sis got us all a weekend away in the East of Czech so here I am, driving to Skalná near Františkovy Láznĕ (picturesque spa town), making a conscious effort to be on my best behaviour, whilst my mum is desperately trying to stay awake on the passenger seat next to me.
Ever since the fab weekend in Šumperk last year, sis and I have been plotting a similar retreat for our mum. Conscious that we might need someone ‘neutral’ with us to dilute the family-atmosphere and to engage my mum in non-controversial discussion topics, sis suggested we invite her future mother-in-law (lets call her Mrs G.).This could either be very good, or very very bad. But with my sis having more at stake then me, I went along with it, equipped with six bottles of Shiraz in the back of my car to ease the pain if needed.
The drive from my parent’s house is roughly four hours without any breaks. Feeling in a holiday mood already, we set off around midday on Friday but didn’t get very far. Our first break was mere half an hour later in České Budĕjovice. It was lunchtime. This is also where I witnessed my mother being shamelessly hit on by an elderly parking attendant. There are some things children should never have to see and this is one of them.
It was two hours later when we were back on the road, satisfyingly full and surprisingly alert. Despite the grimy weather forecast, the sun was making the occasional appearance and before we knew it, we passed Plzeň (Pilsen) - home of the famous Pilsner Urquell beer. The plan was to meet my sis and her mother in law at the hotel around 7pm, so with ample time to spare, we decided to make a little detour.
Czech roads, just like roads in any other European country, are adorned with brown signs announcing the proximity of some natural, historical or otherwise seeing-worthy sights. Our curiosity was aroused by a pointer towards a Rural Monument Reserve Doubrava. Whilst we have already heard about the traditional half-timbered farmstead architecture in the Cheb district of Bohemia, neither of us has seen any before.Little did we know that Doubrava, with its beautifully decorated wooden houses and colourful paintings is one of the best preserved farmstead complexes in the Czech Republic. Not a bad start to our weekend.
When on a road trip, I generally try to take the small roads and enjoy the less touristy areas of where I am travelling. So it was by a pure chance we came across a spectacular half-derelict country house. I couldn’t help thinking that if this beauty was standing in the UK, so conveniently located in the most popular Czech spa district, property developers would be all over it like a rush. Who knows, maybe that was exactly what was happening with it here too, although we could see no evidence of that yet.
After another brief stop to take a closer look at this architecture gem, we pressed on and finally arrived at the Hotel Garni Valdštejn in Skalná around six o’clock in the afternoon. We just about managed to check-in, park our car and drop off our bags, when my sister and Mrs G. arrived.
I did mention this weekend was a good deal. The deal included a bottle of wine, complimentary Jacuzzi session and an hour in sauna, with optional massage or other beauty treatments. Having said that, for the last three months, sis and I tried to get a pricelist of the beauty treatments to fill-up any remaining time we might have in the hotel with delicious pampering experiences. Unfortunately, courtesy of the sloppy hotel customer service and their repeated failure to email us anything of that sort, we eventually decided to give it a miss. Still, the weekend turned out to be just packed enough so it probably worked out for the best.
Our first night in Skalná was in sign of talking, eating, drinking, talking, talking, more drinking, some more eating and of course, talking. Despite being on the tired side, the evening stretched until way past midnight and it soon became clear that it was going to be a good weekend.
Having started Saturday with a hearty breakfast and a couple of hours in the sauna, it was 1pm when we got out of the hotel. Now, you might be wondering how come our sauna stint was not one but two hours. Ahemp. It was an honest mistake, honest. But the schedule didn’t show anyone was booked in after us, and the sauna was sooo decadently relaxing, and we kept talking, and chilling and talking. And before we knew it, two hours were gone. Fortunately, our hosts didn’t notice and if they did, they didn’t tell. Nor did we. Aaaaaah. Bliss.
If you look at the map, you will see that Skalná is very much at the border with Germany. It is also an area with great natural beauty and multitude of mineral springs making their way to the surface of the extensive peat-bog. Many natural reserves have long been established here to protect this unique natural setting, the SOOS National nature park being one of them. Keen to see what it’s all about, we put on our walking shoes, boarded my sis’s car and set off in the general direction of the SOOS, closely following instructions generously given to us by a friendly lady-cleaner with an impressive moustache. Ahemp. Yes, we did stop for lunch on the way.
The SOOS park covers an area with more than 200 natural springs of various temperatures, mineral consistency and size, rising through water and mud, creating pools of bubbling water or just CO2 gas springs. Clad with sturdy pair of shoes, we were ready to rumble.The SOOS sports a couple of trails. An animal trail is a mini-detour just off the ticket booth to a sanctuary with native birds and other small animals. Having walked around this tiny ZOO designed to care for predominantly ill or injured birds, we set off on an educational two kilometres round walk through the peat bogs, taking care not to stray of the wooden-platform path.
Despite the apparent hostility of the landscape, there is something invigorating about the plethora of bubbling pools and alien surfaces. We took our time having a look around, taking the occasional photo to capture the foreign-looking surroundings. Starting to feel numb with cold, we slowly came to an end of the loop-trail and took a refuge in a museum next to the SOOS car park, hosting an exhibition of native animals and other natural artefacts.
As soon as we got back into the car, the heavens opened and cold rain started to hammer down on our bonnet. It was time to get back to the hotel and enjoy an hour of doing absolutely nothing, before reporting for duty at the Jacuzzi at 5pm.
I don’t know how about you, but the combination of sauna and Jacuzzi makes me drowsy. Energy levels were noticeably low following our morning sauna adventure, and having just spent an hour in Jacuzzi, given the opportunity, none of us would have said no to an afternoon nap. So we had one. It was already 8pm when we left the hotel in search of some food. With general consensus amongst us that a big night out is unlikely to take place, we indulged in some delicious traditional Czech food and several cups of tea (yup tea, not wine!), before heading back to the hotel to play cards and a couple of board games.
Yes, I know. Playing board games on a spa weekend away with the girls does not sound like the most hard-core fun thing to do.Normally I would agree, but it was nice to just chill in the warmth of our room over a game of cards, chatting away and not having to pretend we really want to be out there living it up to the stereotype of a girl’s weekend away. So. There you have it.
The arrival of Sunday morning signified the end of our unconventional ‘girls’ weekend away. Just like us, Mrs G confessed that her husband was unsure about her embarking on a long weekend away with three semi-strange women, without an apparent escape route should it turn out awkward, boring or otherwise off. To our great delight, she loved our mini adventure as much as we did. Not yet ready to depart to our home destinations, we checked-out from the hotel in Skalná and drove to the nearby spy town of Františkovy Láznĕ a mere ten minutes down the road.
Františkovy Láznĕ is known for its multitude of healthy mineral springs, beautifully maintained spa houses and the statue of little František promising that whoever touches his little willy will conceive an offspring before a year is gone. With the tom tom out of depth when it came to looking for the historical centre of the town, we parked our cars in a pleasant looking neighbourhood and set to explore the town on foot. Luckily, Františkovy Láznĕ is rather small and so it came to pass, that within five minutes we were making our way through the picturesque streets of the old town, browsing through hibernating greeneries and towards the yellow-coloured halls hosting many of the famous hot springs.
It would not be a proper trip to the spa towns of Bohemia, if we didn’t buy few boxes of the legendary lázeňské oplatky (pancake-sized biscuit with nut, sugar, cinnamon or chocolate filling). The added benefit of visiting the shop was that we had a chance to warm-up a little, before continuing making our way through the colonnade and little park, where we eventually found the sought-after statue of František. Not one to easily resist temptation, I briefly stroked his sub-optimally sized albeit well-polished manhood before we left in search of the nearest café.
Our parking ticket was to expire at midday and whilst we were not hungry for lunch yet, tea and cake was just what the doctor prescribed, before we all went our own ways.